In the Army, there are a few bad apples. You probably know who I am talking about. Visit any company sized element and you will probably find 3-7 Soldiers that cause 90% of the problems. These “problem Soldiers” are a significant problem for the chain of command. Not only do they cause the problems, but they also take up a lot of their leader’s time!
In this chapter, I want to share some tips on how to get rid of your bad Soldiers. Before we get too deep into the topic, I want you to understand a few things. Here are some key points for you to consider:
– All Soldiers have some good points and bad points about them
– A good Soldier can turn into a bad Soldier
– A bad Soldier can turn into a good Soldier
– Most bad Soldiers can be rehabilitated with some mentorship and guidance
– Not everyone in the military should BE IN the military
– Your job as a leader is to mentor everyone and give everyone a chance to prove themselves
– Ultimately, you should strive to retain the quality Soldiers and weed out the bad apples
Before you decide to get rid of your bad Soldiers here are a few tips for success:
Tip # 1: Set Clear Expectations
First and foremost, you need to set clear expectations with ALL of your Soldiers. You should do this from day one. You need to outline your personal and professional expectations for each Soldier. They deserve to know what you expect of them and what will happen if they exceed the standards and what will happen if they fail to meet the standards. This needs to be done formally, via written counseling. If a Soldier has a question about what is expected of them, make sure you explain it to them so they understand.
Depending upon your rank, you might want to consider an SOP or Written Policy Letter too. This something you can post on the Unit Bulletin Board. You can also give every Soldier under your authority a copy to read.
If your Soldiers do not know what is expected of them, you really have no right to punish them. In fact, if they don’t know what is expected of them, you have FAILED at your job as a leader.
Tip # 2: Enforce the Standards
There is only one standard in the Army, and that standard is the Army Standard. As a leader, your job is to enforce the Army Standards equally to everyone you supervise. That means when you see something wrong, you should address it immediately. For instance, if one of your Soldiers walks by an Officer and doesn’t salute, you should pull the Soldier aside immediately to address the problem.
I’ve met lots of NCOs (and officers) who were scared to confront Soldiers. Some of these NCOs and Officers were natural introverts who disliked confrontation. Even if you are introverted and dislike confrontation, you have a job to do. That’s part of being a leader. You have to be able to look someone in the eye when they do something wrong and address the problem. If you are to scared or aren’t willing to do that, you should probably get out of the Army.
In addition, don’t play favorites. Hold everyone under your authority to the same standard. Don’t let a “higher ranking” subordinate get away with something that you wouldn’t tolerate from another subordinate.
Tip # 3: Put Everything in Writing
I call it the “Power of the Pen.” There are few things more effective than the Power of the Pen. When you put things in writing, people take you seriously. They realize there is written evidence about what is going on and this normally forces them into reality rather quickly.
Most importantly, this creates a paper trail. If the poor behavior continues, and you want to recommend a serious punishment to the chain of command, you now have a paper trail to support your claims. Most novice leaders don’t do this. So when a problem gets serious, or when an evaluation report is due, they don’t have anything in writing to justify their claims. As a result, the offender slips through the cracks and advances their career. This is one of the biggest issues in the Army today.
There are so many ineffective leaders in the Army because, at one time or another, someone couldn’t look someone that person in the eye and hold them accountable for their actions. In other words, their leader failed them. We all know that problem children normally turn into problem adults. The same holds true in the Army. If you don’t teach Soldiers what the standard is from day one of their career, you are doing them a huge injustice.
Always put everything in writing to include the good, the bad, and the ugly. Use the Magic Bullet Statement. Educate yourself, collect the facts, and put it in writing! This might just be the most important thing you can do to get rid of the bad Soldiers. Without a paper trail, don’t expect your chain of command to support your recommendations.
Tip # 4: Educate Yourself about the Rules and Regulations
As a leader, you need to educate yourself. You need to read the rules and regulations to find out the proper procedures for dealing with certain issues. You should read regulations, unit policy letters and get guidance from your superior, JAG and the S1 Office. The last thing you want to do is make uninformed decisions.
When you are presented with a Soldier issue, spend an hour or two to find out the proper way to deal with it (if you don’t already know the answer). This makes you look like a professional and it keeps you out of hot water! So many leaders never do this and they end up getting themselves in trouble, or the Soldier gets away with the bad behavior without being punished because the NCO did something wrong with the paperwork. Don’t let that happen to you!
Take the time to find out what right looks like. Always educate yourself before you put something in writing that could come back to haunt you.
Tip # 5: Talk with Chain of Command to Get On The Same Sheet of Paper
One of the best things you can do is to get on the same sheet of paper with your chain of command. Find out what their viewpoint is concerning certain issues. Find out what punishments they will enforce/give when Soldiers do certain things. Find out what issues they want you to bring to their attention and what issues they expect you to deal with at your level. Every chain of command is different. If you don’t ask, you will never know. At a minimum, sit down with your first line commander and First Sergeant/CSM and get their input. Hopefully, this will be part of your initial counseling with them. If it isn’t, make sure that you ask them to clarify their leadership style and viewpoint on these issues.
Every chain of command is different. If you don’t ask, you will never know. At a minimum, sit down with your first line commander and First Sergeant/CSM and get their input. Hopefully, this will be part of your initial counseling with them. If it isn’t, make sure that you ask them to clarify their leadership style and viewpoint on these issues.
The last thing you want to do is spend endless hours of your time counseling a Soldier and making a recommendation for punishment, only to find out that your chain of command WILL NOT support you on the issue. That’s why I recommend you handle as much as you can at your level and talk with your chain of command.
Tip # 6 Follow Through with What You Start
If you want to get rid of a bad Soldier, you have to follow through with what you start. Sometimes the separation process or disciplinary process will be a long, drawn-out process that requires a lot of your time and energy. If you aren’t willing to stick with your initial decision, and follow through with what you started, you shouldn’t recommend a Soldier for punishment to begin with.
I’ve seen some Soldier issues take up to 12 months to get resolved. That’s definitely not the norm, but you need to understand that it might take a few months to initiate and finish the punishment that you recommend, such as an Article 15, Court Martial, Administrative Reduction or something else. Have a backbone, a little bit of patience and follow through.
Tip # 7: Give Your Soldiers a Fair Chance to Rehabilitate Themselves First
Everyone deserves a chance. Sometimes two people will simply have a personality conflict that they cannot overcome. When that happens, the Soldier should be transferred to someone else’s authority and given a second chance. I’m by no means for passing around problem Soldiers from one section to another because the leader doesn’t want to address an issue. But I do believe everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves. And sometimes this isn’t possible when a Soldier is working for a boss they can’t get along with.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t counsel the Soldier and recommend punishment when they mess up. You should do that if their attitude and behavior are unacceptable. I’m just saying that before you separate a Soldier from the military, you should consider transferring them to a different unit first, to give them a last chance.
Tip # 8: Are You the Problem?
Are you the problem? If you have 10 Soldiers under your control and all 10 are giving you problems, you might be the problem! I hate to make you angry or upset you, but it might be true. A bad leader can turn good Soldiers into problem Soldiers. If everyone is misbehaving and doing things badly, you might need to adjust your leadership style.
Few leaders will ever admit they are ineffective (I’ve never met one). But the truth of the matter is one bad leader can ruin an entire unit or section. I’ve seen one bad NCO ruin 5-10 good Soldiers. I’ve also seen one stellar NCO transform 5-10 bad Soldiers into good Soldiers.
If you have repeated Soldier issues in your section, maybe you should take some time to look yourself in the mirror and determine if you are the real issue. Ask yourself some questions such as:
- Am I treating everyone with respect?
- Am I setting a good example?
- Am I playing favorites?
- Am I holding everyone accountable to the same standards?
- Would I want someone just like me working for me?
- Am I providing clear guidance, instructions and feedback?
You might even want to consider doing an “anonymous” climate survey. You could have your Soldiers fill out a questionnaire about your effectiveness as a leader. I’ve done this and learned a lot in the process.
At the end of the day, we all have areas that we can improve to become better leaders. Whenever you face a problem, the first thing you should always do is look yourself in the mirror to see if YOU are the real issue.
In conclusion, all Army leaders have the responsibility to get rid of bad Soldiers. If you have Soldiers working for you who do nothing but cause problems, you need to make sure that you counsel them and tell them what you expect of them. If these Soldiers cannot shape up and meet the Army standards, you have the responsibility to separate them from the military. This process isn’t fun or easy, but it is an important part of your job.
Do you have anything you can add to this? Do you have any questions? Please post them below. Thank you