How to Motivate Disgruntled Soldiers

In today’s post, I want to talk about how to motivate disgruntled Soldiers.  This was a question I received from one of my website visitors and I think it is a great question.  If you lead Soldiers, there’s a good chance that you will have a few disgruntled Soldiers from time-to-time.  Your job as a leader is think outside the box and to keep your team motivated.

In the paragraphs below, I want to share seven simple ways to motivate disgruntled Soldiers.  These are different techniques I used throughout my career that worked well for me.

# 1 Find Out Why They Are Disgruntled

Soldiers are disgruntled for different reasons.  Some might simply dislike the Army.  Others might have a problem with the unit’s mission or chain of command.  Some Soldiers might have been passed over for promotion or for a specific job they wanted.  Your job as a leader is to find out the “root cause” of the problem by sitting down with the Soldier and find out what is going on.  Only then can you really deal with the problem.

Motivate Disgruntled Soldiers# 2 Think Of Things From Their Perspective

It’s easy to judge others.  Before you are quick to form an opinion about your Soldier or their situation, try to think of things from their perspective.  You never really know what someone is going through until you see things from their perspective, or have walked a mile in their shoes.  Ask yourself, what would I do or what would I be thinking if I was Private Snuffy?  This will give you a reality check and help you be more objective.

# 3 Make Them Feel Appreciated

One of the greatest reasons that people feel disgruntled at work, in life, or in the military is because they don’t feel appreciated.  They feel that no one values their contributions to the organization.  As a leader, you can help change that.  Consider putting the Soldier in for an award (if they are worthy).  Tell them you appreciate them by writing them a thank you note.  Sit down with them at lunch during drill weekend and talk to them.  Find a creative way to recognize them in front of their peers.  Help them get promoted or find a school they want/need.  It’s true, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

# 4 Let Them Know They Are Part of a Team

Similar to rule # 3, people want to know they are part of something greater than themselves.  Your job as a leader is to SHOW your Soldiers how their actions and job fits into the bigger picture.  Show them that they add value to the organization (assuming they do) and that they are  an important part of the team.

# 5 Consider Transferring Them to Another Unit or Section

Sometimes a Soldier is unhappy with the unit or section.  If that is the case, and you’ve tried to remedy the situation doing other things, I highly suggest you transfer the Soldier to another section or unit.  Maybe they are unhappy with the unit or chain of command and want a second chance somewhere else.  Assuming they aren’t a dirt bag Soldier, I would rather let them transfer to a different unit than get out.  I’ve seen many Soldiers who transferred to a new unit, got a new beginning, and absolutely excelled in their new unit.

# 6 Realize that Some People Are Naturally Unhappy

You might not realize this yet, but some people are miserable, disgruntled or unhappy with the situation, no matter what.  Some folks are naturally depressed, have a bad attitude, or simply can’t find happiness.  If your Soldier is one of those folks, get them help, such as a mental health evaluation.

# 7 Leverage the Chaplain

The Chaplain is a great resource for small unit leaders.  They are trained in ways that you aren’t!  Consider having the Chaplain talk to the Soldier to get to the root cause of the problem.  They might get inside information from the disgruntled Soldier that you couldn’t get on your own.

BONUS TIP: My special bonus tip is to provide tough, realistic training.  Do some hooah things!  Get out of the armory and go do something fun in the field.  No one joined the Army to sit around the armory every drill weekend.  Units that do tough training normally have high morale and high discipline.  And realize this: if you have a bunch of disgruntled Soldiers in your unit, they are not the problem, YOU ARE.  Remember, units are a reflection of their leader.

Final Thoughts

These are just seven simple things you can do to motivate disgruntled Soldiers.  At the end of the day it’s your job to motivate and train your team.  Everyone on your team is different and requires different leadership and different motivation.  You need to invest the time to get to know your Soldiers and find out what makes them tick.  By following the seven tips mentioned above, you should be able to motivate your disgruntled Soldiers (and good Soldiers).

What are your thoughts? What do you do to motivate disgruntled Soldiers? Leave a comment and let us know.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes

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8 thoughts on “How to Motivate Disgruntled Soldiers”

  1. I like that your first point is to find out why the soldier (or any other subordinate) is disgruntled or unhappy. It may be that there will be absolutely nothing that you can do to resolve their issue except for letting them go somewhere else, or that the issue is just plain stupid. Perhaps giving the soldier just a chance to vent, or to feel recognized or validated can help. Either way, you can\’t address an issue until it is out in the open.

  2. It’s sad to say, but some people join the military simple because they are unhappy people looking for a way out. So in turn, they join and relieve all of their anger and issues through their position as a Soldier, which only hinders them in the long run, but can be a pain in the butt for everyone else trying to live out their jobs and duties.

    I think that embracing the person and making them feel appreciated is a great way to motivate and overcome these feelings, but that can be a daunting task. I was a manager at a frozen yogurt shop and had a very disgruntled employee who absolutely hated her job. She made life very difficult for me, because she was literally running customers out the door just as soon as they had walked in. We were losing business left and right, simply because she was rude and taking her aggression out on others. I later had to fire her but gave her chance after chance, with many meetings to try and find out what the issues were. She just hated life I guess.

    But to wrap things back around, sometimes being a leader to a disgruntled Soldier can become an issue and keep the other troops down and out. I personally think that the recruiting process needs to incorporate a survey or psychological assessment to make sure that each person who signs up for the military is screened to ensure they are entering for the right reasons.

  3. This post reminds me of something a friend of mine said recently. He mentioned that his time in the Navy became much more enjoyable when he stopped focusing on the destination and started being grateful for the ride. As you’ve stated, there’s a whole lot of hurry up and wait that seems to go on, and that’s a lot of opportunity for creating a content, cohesive team of enthusiastic Soldiers.
    There are a lot of corporations in the civilian world that would benefit from following your advice. I think what I appreciate most about your blog is that you speak from experience rather than simply reciting advice that hasn’t been field tested.

    1. I’m glad I could help. Learning how to “enjoy the moment” is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life. It’s great to have a plan, but make sure you have a little patience and enjoy each day along the way. You can learn something from every experience.

  4. Amy Skalicky

    I was thinking more about this post recently, and it strikes me that people sometimes join the military for the wrong reasons. Our country is suffering from diminished values on a number of fronts, and service to country is one of them. How many soldiers join the military to serve? Conversely, how many join because it is perceived as an easy solution to economic problems, they don’t have any other options, they want the benefits, they want an education, and so on? These are all realistic points and should certainly be taken into consideration when contemplating joining; however, I think the focus is heavily on “What is the military going to do for me?” and the other side of that coin “What can I do for the military and my country?” does not receive much thought. This narrow focus leads to discontentment, because realistic expectations of service as well as benefits are not set. It’s like getting married and focusing on the cool parts of it, but forgetting that there is work involved, and the conditions are not always optimal. Many choose to leave, often citing what they weren’t getting out of the relationship, but what were they putting into it? I think this thought process translates across a variety of arenas, including our military, and is one of the major root causes of solder discontentment.

  5. Amy Skalicky

    These are all great ideas, Chuck, but I would caution leadership to keep a healthy balance. Some soldiers are also immature, and you can easily find yourself working harder than they are towards resolving the issues. The added attention only feeds the problem. Too bad the military doesn’t have an official attitude training, involving a swift boot in the pants. Having said that, depression in men is often displayed as grumpiness (it’s the biology–I’m not picking on the guys), so a disgruntled soldier could have a serious issues that requires help. It’s always worth pursuing initially, just set boundaries when necessary, preventing leadership from enabling poor behavior.

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