DA Form 4856: Tips about Counseling for Army Leaders

The DA Form 4856 (Counseling Statement) is one of the most important tools in the small unit leaders’ toolbox.  In the paragraphs below, I want to give you an overview of DA Form 4856 and show you how you can use this form to maximize the performance of the people working for you.

How I See It

Let me preface by telling you that counseling is a GOOD thing.  When you are on the receiving end counseling helps you identify your strengths, weaknesses, shortcomings and performance.  And when you are on the giving end, counseling shows your subordinates that you care because you took the time to do it.  I honestly believe that the only bad counseling is the counseling that doesn’t happen.

If more leaders made time in their schedule and actually use DA Form 4856 to conduct formal counseling with their subordinates, there would be fewer problems in the Army.  When used properly this form is a great way to reform bad behavior, recognize good behavior and provide feedback to the people you supervise.

When to Use DA Form 4856

DA Form 4856 can be used in a variety of different ways.  You can use it for:

1) Initial Counseling: When you start a new job (or have new people assigned under your supervision) you should sit down and counsel them within the first 30 days.  You can tell them your performance and professional expectations you have of them.

2) Follow up Counseling: If you are working with E4s and below, you can use this form for your monthly counseling.  This provides an assessment of the soldier’s performance for the month.  If you are working with E5s and above, you can use this for your quarterly counseling, in addition to the other resources available, such as a Support Form or JODSF.

3) Event Oriented Counseling: While most people use DA Form 4856 when a soldier does something wrong, it’s also a good idea to use it when a soldier does something well, too.  I’ve always believed that you should put everything in writing: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Some examples might include: failing the APFT, scoring a 300 on the APFT, being late for formation, shooting 40 of 40 of Weapons Qualification, or any discipline issue.

da form 4856
DA Form 4856

Sections on DA Form 4856

  • Admin Data: This includes the soldier’s name and personal information.  It’s pretty much self explanatory.
  • Purpose of Counseling: This provides the reason of the counseling.  The three most common reasons include performance, professional or event oriented.
  • Summary: This provides of summary of what happened, or gives the details of the situation you are talking about.
  • Plan of Action: This is the plan of attack, which covers what will happen to fix the problem.  It could be what you plan to do to the soldier for corrective behavior, or outlines an assignment/task they must do to remedy the situation.
  • Assessment: This is another important and often underutilized part of the form.  This is where you follow up on the action in the days to come to see how the soldier has resolved the issue or improved their behavior or completed the assigned tasks.

10 Tips for Success

Here are a few tips I can recommend for using DA Form 4856, based upon my experience.

  1. Don’t just focus on bad.  You can do counseling for good behavior too.
  2. Put EVERYTHING in writing.
  3. It’s okay to conduct the verbal counseling first, and then type this form up and have the soldier sign it.
  4. If the event (why you’re doing the counseling) made you angry or upset, make sure you wait to cool down before you do the counseling.
  5. Never put anything in writing that you will regret!
  6. Always keep copies for your records.  And keep them in a SECURE place.
  7. Never forget to FOLLOW UP and assess the soldier’s performance, within days or weeks after the counseling.
  8. Whenever you do a negative counseling, have a witness with you.
  9. If necessary, have your superior or a trusted friend proofread the document (for typos and legalities) before you use it.
  10. Don’t worry about perfection. These forms can be handwritten.  It’s more important to actually do it, than have it look perfect.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the DA Form 4856 is one of the most important documents in the small unit leader’s toolbox.  As a leader, you should use this form to help develop your subordinates, to provide feedback, to address bad behavior, to provide career advice and to show your followers that you care.  When used properly, this one document can have a huge impact on morale, discipline and esprit de corps among your followers.

On a side note, I would love to hear how you use DA Form 4856. Please share any success tips you might have with the rest of our community. Just leave a comment to this post to share your thoughts. Also, if you have any questions on the use of DA Form 4856, you can post them here and I will do my best to answer them.


17 thoughts on “DA Form 4856: Tips about Counseling for Army Leaders”

  1. This is really a great post Chuck. The DA 4856 should be your best friend. It allows you to do your job properly and fix issues when they arise. Knowing how to write a good DA 4856 is a very important skill to have. All leaders should take some time to educate themselves about how it works and what the form can be used for.

  2. Writing counseling statements takes a lot of time, but it is an important part of a leader’s job. You owe it to your people to formally counsel them when they do things right and/or wrong. Take the time and learn how to use the DA Form 4856 properly. If you know what you are doing, educate your peers and subordinates so they know how to use one too.

    1. Share your knowledge with others. It’s one of the best things you can do. If you don’t know what you are doing, find the smartest person in your unit (when it comes to counseling) and pick their brain. It will be time well spent.

  3. This is great advice for small unit leaders. I’ve always thought it’s a shame that people sometimes have negative opinions of counseling. Sometimes people see the need for counseling as a sign of weakness, but it’s far better to get the help you need than to struggle on alone and then suffer more serious consequences.

    1. Good points, Andrew. Counseling is not bad. If your boss is sitting down with you telling you what you are doing wrong, consider yourself lucky. At least you know where you stand. And at least you get a chance to correct your behavior/performance.

      If you have people working for you, you need to make the time for counseling. It is one of, if not the most important aspect of your job.

  4. These are some great counseling tips for Army leaders, Chuck.

    I never realized that putting everything in writing was so important. I figured that even a verbal counseling was good enough.

    I haven’t joined the Army yet, but I’ve had a variety of jobs in my life. And I’ve never received any type of counseling or job expectations in writing before. I can see the merits of doing it though.


    1. Good counseling is always in writing Alma. It creates a paper trail and shows the person you are serious. When you do counseling verbally, it’s simply a matter of your word vs. their word if something goes wrong.


  5. I’m a Captain in the Army Reserves and during my eight years as an Army Officer, not once have I received an initial counseling or any type of follow-up counseling in writing. From what I’ve seen, this is probably the norm in the military, at least in our unit.


    1. Janet,

      Unfortunately, what you described is the norm in most units. I’m hoping to change all that by educating other people about the importance of counseling.


  6. I’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t put everything in writing it normally comes back to bite you in the butt. My suggestion is to document everything. If you do a verbal counseling with a Solider, take an extra 10 minutes and type it up and have the Soldier sign it. Verbal counselings just aren’t anywhere near as effective as the written ones. When you create a paper trail, you have more leverage if you need to use it.


  7. I appreciate your focus on counseling for both good and bad events. Too often leaders forget to highlight the good that their soldiers do and the counseling becomes a dreaded event. This can backfire on the leader and hurt morale in the long term. Plus having those good counseling statements on hand makes writing awards easier as well.

    1. I’ve always believed that if you only focus on the bad, you will keep getting bad. Most Soldiers do 99 things right for every thing they do wrong. If you never address or praise the good behavior, and only address the bad behavior, you won’t get anywhere near the results that you couldf as a leader.

  8. Feedback, feedback, feedback. The saying in civilian HR is that an employee should never be surprised by being fired. Consistent counseling seems like a lot of work, and done properly yes, it does involve some effort. However, it provides a record that should simplify the process of writing an NCOER or filling out a leader’s evaluation for promotion points. It provides a paper trail to take successively stronger measures against problem soldiers and the backup when you want to recommend a soldier for a special benefit. Besides, if the chain of command is used properly, no one should ever have more than 3-4 soldiers to counsel. As a first sergeant I counsel my three platoon sergeants. My platoon sergeants counsel their squad leaders (3-4). Squad leaders counsel their two team leaders. Team leaders counsel their three (max) soldiers.

    1. I’ve found that “five” is the magic number. In just about every Army organization, leaders have no more than five people report directly to them. I personally think that’s all anyone can handle, and still get their job done.

  9. I’m not in the military, but I can tell you that these counseling tips apply to any supervisor out there. Sitting down with your people face-to-face, telling them what you expect of them, and putting everything in writing is very important. It helps you “get started” on the right foot and build a professional working relationship with your subordinates.

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing.


    1. I’m glad to hear that my counseling tips helped you out Calvin. All supervisors, in every profession, need to sit down face to face with their subordinates and do counseling with them. It’s part of being a leader. Best of all, it’s easy to do. The small amount of time you spend counseling your subordinates will pay huge dividends for you as the supervisor, for the person being counseled, and the company.


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