As a leader, you need to know how to deal with problem Soldiers. If you supervise people, you will eventually have some problem Soldiers that challenge you as a leader. It’s inevitable. Therefore, I want to provide my Top 10 Tips to Deal with Problem Soldiers. I hope this helps.
# 1 Do Not be Intimidated
In some cases, this is easier said than done. Some Soldiers have strong personalities or strong physiques. However, your job as a leader is to “be the boss.” You must remain in control of the situation at all times. Don’t let your subordinates boss you around, make you feel threatened or tell you what to do. In many cases, that’s what they are trying to do. You need to hold your ground, stay strong, and be firm.
# 2 Treat Others with Respect
Follow the Golden Rule. Treating others with respect will get you a long ways in life. When you talk to people, remember they are a human being first, then they are a Soldier. Some people come from rough upbringings and have been mentally abused, or treated bad, most of their life. Treat people the way you want to be treated. This one rule alone will take you pretty far in life (and in the military).
# 3 Put Everything in Writing
I call it the “Power of the Pen.” This is without a doubt the most effective way to handle situations as a leader. Whenever you face a problem, take out a counseling form DA Form 4856 and put everything in writing. This creates a paper trail and lets your Soldier know that you are serious. Verbal warnings have nowhere near as much effect as a written counseling. Don’t forget to use the Magic Bullet Statement either.
# 4 Set a Good Example
As leaders, we are role models. We need to set a good example for others to follow. That means we need to look and act like a leader at all times. We need to treat others well and we need to do the right thing. Our Soldiers watch us closely and will do what we do.
#5 Praise Things They Do Right
If you only address things a Soldier does wrong, the Soldier will keep doing things wrong. You need to provide praise when your Soldier does something right, especially if they are a problem Soldier. In many cases, the Soldiers will want “more” praise, so they will keep doing things right. You can praise Soldiers with an “atta boy” a written thank you card, a unit coin, or even a firm handshake. When possible, punish in private and praise in public.
# 6 Deal with Issues Immediately
The sooner you deal with an issue the better. You know, you shouldn’t punish a dog for doing something 2-3 days after they did it. If you do that, the dog won’t know why you are punishing them. The same holds true for dealing with difficult Soldiers. When something goes wrong, deal with the issue immediately. The sooner the better.
# 7 Issue Punishments Differently for Each Soldier
People react to different punishments in different ways. For a punishment to be effective, you need to find out what is important to them, and then choose your punishment accordingly. It’s like kids; some kids react to timeouts, others need to be suspended, others need to lose their cell phone or video games, etc. Follow the same concept with your Soldiers. This is what leadership is all about.
# 8 Always Stay Calm, Cool and Collected
When you get angry, your Soldier wins. In many cases, they perform badly just to see you “blow up.” Don’t be that way. Try to always keep your composure and be a professional. If you get real angry, count to ten so you have a few seconds to cool down before you deal with the situation. I know this is easier said than done, but it is every important.
# 9 Find Out the Root Cause of the Problem
In most cases, bad behavior is a symptom, not the problem itself. You need to get to the root cause of the problem. For instance, maybe your Soldier is behaving badly because they are having marital problems at home. Maybe they didn’t get their bonus like they were supposed to. Or, maybe your other Soldiers are giving them a hard time and you don’t know about it. You need to ask questions. This means you need to sit down with your problem Soldier and find out what is really going on.
# 10 Separate or Discharge Soldiers That Cannot Conform
If you’ve followed most of the tips mentioned above, and you still can’t get the Soldier to conform, you should consider separating them or discharging them from the service. Remember, the military isn’t Jerry’s Kids. We are a professional, war-fighting machine. Some people don’t belong in the military, even though they made it through Basic Training. If your Soldier does not have the potential to be a good Soldier, discharge them from the service. You will be doing them a favor.
As a special bonus tip, I would like to remind you to NOT spend all of your time exclusively with your problem Soldiers. You need to remember that your job as a leader is to develop your subordinates. That means you need to spend lots of time mentoring your GOOD Soldiers too. You should spend at least 60% of your time, maybe more, taking care of your good Soldiers and preparing them for positions of increased responsibility. I know how easy it is to forget to do that. You have to always be aware of how you are spending your time, and you need to spend time with your good Soldiers too.
In conclusion, these are my Top 10 Tips on How to Deal with Problem Soldiers. I truly believe this advice applies to any service branch and to civilians as well. Being a leader is a tough job, but your responsibility is to take the good and bad. When you get a problem Soldier, follow the advice in this article and you should be able to handle the issue effectively. Good luck!
What are your thoughts? What are your best tips for dealing with difficult or problem Soldiers? Do you have any questions? Just leave a comment to this post to share your thoughts.
Former Army Major (resigned)
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