Guest Post by Mark Gerecht
When you are confronted by Soldiers determined to butt heads with you and consistently resist your efforts to get them to do their job and meet the standards, you have several choices. You can stay in their face and continue to demand that they meet the standards. If you honestly believe that ordering Soldiers to do what you tell them to do in an ever louder voice is the best solution, then you can stop reading right here.
The truth of the matter is that with problem Soldiers, this style of leadership just feeds their fire. They continue to resist, enjoying the game of jerking you around. The fact that they should not do this is beyond their reality. They are unhappy with the military, pissed at the Army’s leadership, ready to get out, and you are the face of the problem. To work with a Soldier like this, you have to recognize where they are coming from and then out maneuver them. They may never become Soldier of the month material, but you can keep them from sucking you into their trap.
Focus on your objective. Is your goal just to get them to do what you say right now? Or is it to reintegrate them into the team as contributing players–Soldiers who do the right thing without having to be told? When the tactics you have been using aren’t working, it is valuable to step back and analyze the situation not just from your perspective, but also from the perspective of the Soldier in question. Where are they coming from? What is their objective, beyond aggravating the hell out of you? In many cases, their focus is simply on getting through the time required to get out of the military. They are not happy where they are. The military did not turn out to be what they expected when they joined up.
Whether the recruiter misled them or not, the realities of deployment and combat operations take a toll on everyone. Even if their primary motivation for enlistment was simply to get a job, in the beginning, they had goals and aspirations and they had pride. In even the worst Soldiers, there is still a spark of pride. The challenge is reaching their pride in a positive manner and kindle it into a flame that will enrich your team.
To appeal to their pride, you have to stop looking at them as dirtbags, which is easier said than done, given the sort of crap some of these Soldiers may have given you. Military leadership training tends to focus on mission planning and team operations as if you are always going to be dealt a winning hand of bright, sharp cards. From the perspective of military schools, this is more objective. The reality of leadership, both in and out of the military, is that you have to play the game with the cards you are dealt, some of which may not even remotely resemble a classic 52 (poker) card deck.
There are no shortcuts to figuring out how to play this. Figure out what they can do better than most Soldiers. This may take some work on your part, but everyone has something they can do well. Beyond their day-to-day performance, take a look at their personnel record and their ASVAB scores. They may have schooling or aptitude that will surprise you. If they are not high school graduates, this may also be a key to motivating them.
Find out what motivates each Soldier, then use that to integrate the Soldier into the team and mission. It is very easy to chapter a Soldier. It is a lot harder to develop a substandard performer into a well disciplined Soldier. I will guarantee you that if you invest time in the Soldier and treat them with dignity and respect the investment will be well worth your time.
I hope this post helps you deal with those disgruntled soldiers. Do you have any added tips? Any questions? Just post them below. Thank you.
Mark is a Retired Command Sergeant Major with 26 years of military leadership experience. He held 3 military occupational specialties (Field Artillery, Nuclear Weapons Tech, and Ammunition Ordnance). Mark is one of the leading military authors in the fields of leadership, counseling, and training. He is the creator of AskTop.net, a place to get answers to your everyday Army questions.
Former Army Major (resigned)
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4 thoughts on “Integrating Disgruntled Soldiers into a Team”
This is good advice that can be transferred to other employment fields as well. There are disgruntled employees in just about every single company or office. The key really is to finding a soldier’s (or an employee’s motivation) and working from there. Getting sucked into the confrontational mire just fuels the fire.
Good point. You do have to find out what motivates someone and focus on their hot buttons. If that doesn’t work, show them the EXIT.
I’d give disgruntled soldiers a 50/50 chance of being rehabilitated. In many cases, they are long gone and just need to be discharged. But if you have a dynamic leader that can “connect” with the disgruntled soldier, they might make it. While it’s good to rehabilitate problem Soldiers, it’s much wiser to invest your time and energy with your good Soldiers.
You make some great points, Mark. It’s always easier to discharge or separate a poor performing Soldier and that’s what most leaders do. While that might be the right thing to do in some cases, I also believe that everyone has the chance to be rehabilitated. A good leader will do what he/she can to turn their “problem children” into good Soldiers.
It really boils down to leadership. You need to look for the good in people. You need to show people how their efforts are part of the big picture. You need to let your people know that you believe in them. You need to find people’s strengths and skills and match those skills in the right job. As you can see, leadership is an art.
There’s few things I ever found more satisfying than taking someone from the Bad News Bears and bringing them onto the varsity squad.
Thanks for sharing.