18 Things I Look For in a Senior Rater

Last week, one of my favorite blogs – From the Green Notebook – ran a guest piece called, 31 Things Your Senior Rater Would Like You to Know That He Probably Won’t Tell You. Quite a mouthful. While I disagreed with nearly everything that the author said, he did start a good conversation on leadership styles that has bloomed into additional posts and responses, such as a very thoughtful and mature response from Steve Leonard – the erstwhile creator of Doctrine Man! – here.

For many of us junior officers, the original post threw up a lot of red flags. The author seemed to care more about appearances than substantive leadership, or to put it more simply, he wanted form over function. It got me thinking about what I look for from my senior rater. Granted, no lieutenant colonel is going to change his or her ways because of the opinion of a lieutenant. I realize this. But mid-level leaders do need to engage their troops, just as we junior officers engage our enlisted soldiers. You can’t mentor us if we’re not listening, after all.

So, not unlike a Tinder profile, here is what junior officers look for in a senior rater.

Please don’t be this kind of senior rater. (John Robinson/AP)

Okay, not Tinder, bad example.

1. Counseling. Ever.

There’s this nifty part of the new Officer Evaluation Report Support Form where the rater has to include the dates that she or he has counseled the rated soldier. It would be pretty fantastic if the senior rater counseled the rated officer, even if it was just once. That face-to-face session would accomplish more then ten officer professional development meetings packed into one.

2. Do you let my troops and I do our job or do you demand we stop everything to cater to you?

Everyone loves a distinguished visitor visit to their training area. It usually comes with a cessation of training, or some canned training that does no one any good and should irritate the visiting leader. The best leaders stop in quickly, ask a few pointed questions of soldiers, but let the training continue. Troops enjoy showing off what they’re good at, but they don’t want to feel like performing monkeys.

3. Do you play favorites?

We junior officers are a fairly perceptive bunch, and when you start showing favoritism, it can result in a loss of respect for the senior leader. Especially since the officer that is often considered the favorite is usually adept at the ancient art of kissing ass. You have your favorites, everyone does, just try not to display it openly.

4. Is your staff supportive or are they always putting up roadblocks?

Battalion and brigade staffs are usually a reflection of the commander, so if the staff spends more time asking me for minute data or telling me no, I’m going to assume that they are reflecting your priorities.

5. Are you going to back me up or pin me to the wall as an example?

We talk a lot about assuming risk to enhance training. Will you back me up if I assume some reasonable risk for a high payoff training event, or will you be “by-the-book” and throw me under the Army bus?

6. What is your priority, looking good or being good?

We all know the units that look really good on the outside but are rotten in the center. That rot will show up under pressure. Do you want us to look good, or do you want us to kick ass at our mission? There’s a difference between being good and looking good, and we’d prefer the former.

7. Is your command sergeant major there because of their knowledge and skills, or just because you wanted someone who was abrasive and would keep first sergeants angry?

Too often we see command sergeants major who seem to have been picked because of their uncanny ability to pick out the one person in formation without a relfective belt, or who excel at yelling. The role of CSM is incredibly important, as they are the advocates for the enlisted and non-commissioned officer corps, ensure that standards are being enforced to maintain the health and welfare of soldiers, and be the voice of reason to often unreasonable officers. A good, thoughtful, and fair CSM can be a force multiplier.

8. Your spouse does not outrank my spouse, and vice versa

Our spouses decided to be with us because they like us, not because they get excited about pulling rank on other spouses. If your spouse decides that he or she outranks my spouse, I can tell you that my significant other will be significantly absent from most unit events and that I will significantly back them up on that decision.

9. We are going to judge you by how you treat your staff

Word gets around inside the battalion. If staff officers enjoy coming to visit the line units because they offer a better command climate, we’re going to hear about it. And staff officers are people too, no matter how sad and miserable their lives are.

10. Is your OPD actually for development or is it clearly checking the box?

Everyone loves some professional development to put on their OER. It’s too easy to make everyone read “How I brought the message to Garcia” (which is also a great way to get everyone angry and malcontent). A good OPD that challenges the mind, furthers the profession, and engages our interest will keep us bought into your leadership philosophy.

11. Again with the, “Kids these days?”

Hi, I’m a Millenial, so are all the rest of the lieutenants. Don’t like it? Tough, we’re the future of the Army. So maybe use your experience and education to work with us, instead of telling us that our generation is lazy and demanding that we conform to your generation’s ideas of professionalism.

12. Don’t dictate superfluous purchases in the name of “dedication to the profession”

My finances are my business. If I am in debt and this damages my performance, then it becomes your business as well. However, if I decline to buy mess dress with bullion braiding because that $675 would be better spent on a future investment, paying down a car loan or spousal student loan, or a savings account for my children, then that’s none of your damn business.

13. Tell us the so-what

You’ve been around the Army for a while, you understand how all of this works. For new officers, and even those who have been around for a few years, the Army often seems like the rules are all made up and the points don’t matter. Obviously, that’s not how it works. Explain problems to us from your perspective, instead of saying, “Well, it is what it is.” Sure, some officers still won’t get it, but they’re probably the ones that never will. The rest of us will really appreciate the time and effort.

14. Your Support Form

This goes hand-in-hand with counseling. I know I’m supposed to have it, but let’s be honest, it’s like the multi-source feedback assessment: we all say we’ve done it, but have we ever seen the results?

15. Do you show interest in our troops?

Are you around, talking to the joes, showing an interest in their welfare, or do you only talk to senior NCO’s and officers?

16. Don’t make unit functions mandatory for family attendance

My wife and family have their own lives. We cannot drop everything to attend a battalion or unit function at the drop of a hat. Demonstrating that you realize that families have dynamics outside the Army will go a long way in building my family’s trust in the institution.

17. We’re not looking for your badges or patches, we just want to see the passion and drive to succeed

Most young officers are pretty hard-charging, all full of vim and vigor from their commissioning source. Yes, seeing a senior rater with all sorts of badges, tabs, patches, and doodads might excite some, but what really gets us motivated is a leader who is impassioned, eloquent, and can speak to the problems we see every day on the line.

18. Assume Risk

We all know that there isn’t enough time in the training calendar to get through all Army mandatory training, as well as individual and collective unit training. There are items, however, in AR 350-1, that are left up to the commander’s discretion. Assume some risk, come up with imaginative ways to mitigate the residual risk, and give us more days to do our jobs.

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7 Replies to “18 Things I Look For in a Senior Rater”

  1. Well this guy got the angry part right.

    As the old retired guy I can tell you I’ve seen both sides of this argument over the years. No, you don’t have to own the dress mess to be the best among your peers (I waited until I made O-5 to buy mine), but it does show that you’ve made a commitment to the institution. It shows you have skin in the game.

    You’re family has a separate life? That’s going to be an issue for you at some point. Not that they shouldn’t have a life or that they should live in your shadow. I’m simply going to offer that if your family isn’t involved in your career and the mandatory fun events they won’t be as invested in it as you are. Should your spouse have a career of her own? Absolutely. And you need to participate in all of events too.

    Your generation is different than mine, I get it. So does everyone else that watches the television news or has a social media account. Does that mean the world pivots to what your generation expects? No. It means you have to be as mentally agile as the news reports say you are and work on adapting to the structure you joined. And by the way, I was saying the same thing about the Army’s generation gap back when I was a lowly PFC in the 1980s Army. But yes, leaders have to adapt too, and most of them are.

    It strikes me that this article isn’t really an indictment of the Army at large. Instead it reads as if it is written about a certain individual. If that’s the case then the author needs to understand that’s he’s caught one of the bad ones. Thankfully there are more good than bad. Focus on that, because if you give it a year one of you will be rotating out.


  2. I didn’t see any requests to be catered to–just a demand to demonstrate the professionalism that is always being touted as one of our strengths. Strange that so many comments (on FB) have zeroed in on the millennial comment.

    So many of these can be categorized as “Be a genuine leader of the type you keep telling us the Army produces and values, doing and saying the things that you keep telling us are important.” Keep faith with us. That’s all there is.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. actually…I hadn’t zeroed in on the millennial comment per se, because it kinda fit with the rest of the tone. What was that tone? Well…without a better word to use…smug. There are some good things in here. But, to me…they were drown out because of that ringing tone. So, “Hi” back. I get it…you’re a millennial and I’m an old fart. I don’t care about what you think that entitles you to or how you are offended that so many people of the older generations see you that way. First: there’s actually good reasons that SO MANY people see it that way, but you’re in the thick of the trees…it’s hard for you to see it for yourself. Second: rise above yourself. You chose…CHOSE…to join this profession. This profession demands things that are above your individuality. A uniform – ONE FORM – is there to make it so that we all blend a bit. We sacrifice to put some skin into the game and become part of the larger gestalt. Now…I concur with what you’re thinking…that all sounds pretty smug too. Yup. But, I’m looking back over the years of scars made and sweat lost. I come by it honestly, as do a lot of the other folks that really would like to mentor the next generation to succeed us…but, you gotta meet us on common ground. That’s gonna require you to step down from the lofty high horse and walk several more miles in our boots. Just sayin’…


  4. Pretty good write up. I’d suggest, though, crosschecking numbers 11 and 17. Yes, the senior guys need to understand the lieutenants and use their experience to motivate and teach. However, let me point out that stereotypes exist for a reason and in this case it’s that a very large percentage of millennials -are- lazy and self centered. I’m dealing with one at work right now. Where’s the drive? Where’s the passion? Show your boss that and I’m betting he’ll be a lot more ready to work with you. If I have to drive a person with a cattle prod to get anything done and everything that person does he makes seem like a personal favor rather than his job, there’s going to be issues. Don’t like the old school definition of professionalism? Then come up with something better that the old school guys and the new guys can both accept. Can’t do that? Guess who’s definition is going to drive how your OPR is written.


  5. Hi, fellow millenial and Air Force CGO here, and I thought your arguments were sound and applied to senior raters in the Air Force as well.

    I’d add one more characteristic that I look for in a senior rater, which is the ability to provide clear expectations for duties. I suppose this complements your comment about making time for meaningful and productive counseling (which is rarely done in the AF too, most of mine have been pencil whipped on my evals).

    Without clear expectations, we as junior officers have no idea what to focus on and often flounder when OER (OPR) time rolls around. This is especially frustrating in a staff job when your duties are not as defined and you have no troops under you to keep you busy through out the day. A good senior rater will help give yo focus and direction which benefits you and the entire unit in the long run.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Given the frequency with which discussion circles back to families, I can’t help wondering if someone’s wife has pitched in with a military spouse’s perspective?


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