Dead Men Tell No Tales: How to Navigate a Mutiny as a Leader in 10 Steps

You’re the manager. You’re the supervisor. You’re the leader. But maybe your people don’t see it that way and perhaps that has created a divisive and adversarial working environment that makes it difficult for you to influence and inspire your team in a way that meets your vision.

Sounds like your ship is headed for a mutiny, Captain.

It’s going to be alright. I’ve been there too. Allow me to share a prime example:

When a military recruiter discusses an applicant’s potential future as a member of their agency, typically a criteria comparison is conducted to ensure the applicant meets the organization’s extraordinary enlistment standards prior to moving forward.

These standards are usually focused on academics, physical fitness, moral standing within the community, medical history, and aptitude.

If the agency’s high standards are met, and the applicant signs a contract and swears in as a demonstration of allegiance to the country, then the next person the applicant meets in the chain of initiation will be a drill instructor of some sort. That’s a demanding hiring process.

Unless, of course, you were an “applicant” for the agency where I served as a drill instructor. In which case, forget all of those standards, we just needed you to commit a violent felony prior to your twentieth birthday.

Welcome to the depleting world of “shock” boot camp programs for incarcerated youth. If there had ever been a more difficult demographic of people to motivate towards a common goal, this was it.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

First, let me outline the unique challenges of this experience so you will have a plum line for the magnitude of the mutiny I was confronted with during this time. Perhaps you can relate.

Although there is often judicial incentive to perform well in these programs, what I typically observed was a melting pot of young men and women who would not associate with each other at all on the streets for one reason or another, usually race or gang affiliation, who will now be expected to work as a team because a correctional officer, their mortal enemy, said so. 

You might argue that a man or woman with authority and a badge would be enough to influence compliance. These youths, however, are well acclimated to a life of protesting and despising law enforcement and corrections figures within the community. The team was automatically divided at the time of arrival and the only thing they shared in common was a distrust and disdain for anyone wearing a badge. 

In this case, the drill instructor: me.

This proved to be one of the most valuable leadership experiences I have ever had because it challenged me to rethink everything I knew about effective communication and leadership each day I stepped into the living unit to train my platoon of youthful inmates. 

Everything I had relied on in the past to lead teams to success was stripped from me and I had to start from scratch and figure out how to succeed under totally new parameters. My leadership abilities were about to be put through a full audit.

Hopefully, your team doesn’t outright despise you the way mine was preconditioned to when I worked in a youth correctional facility. What I gained, though, was a solid and timeless foundation of leadership principles that translate to any team, company, or organization that helped me cultivate success in the most dismal of soil.

So, how do you inspire people who have already decided they don’t respect you or like you to want to follow your lead? It’s possible, and you can do it in 10 steps!

  1. First, drop the argument of authority. “Because I’m the boss” is a weak flex and an ineffective posture for any leader. Everyone is aware of what your position is and currently, they don’t seem to care. You’ll need a more authentic angle.
  2. Next, get to know your people. Your degree, platform, stature, title, or pedigree all mean nothing if you can’t demonstrate to your people that you genuinely care about them. What drives each one of them individually? What are their values? Why did they choose to work with your company? What are their goals? How can you help? What’s their idea of the perfect leader? What are they most proud of? Where are they strong? Where do they desire improvement?
  3. Next, you may need to roll up your sleeves and get down in the trenches with them for a bit. This demonstrates two things: you aren’t asking anything of them you wouldn’t do yourself, and also that you have a desire to understand what your people experience while working for you on a daily basis in order to help you make decisions that impact and improve the workplace culture. Be careful in your efforts to be a consistent leader that you working in this capacity alongside them doesn’t become the expectation. Set a cut-off date and communicate clearly with your team. You’re still the leader who is responsible for the team and your team needs to know how to function in your absence. That’s the benchmark of sound leadership.
  4. Next, accept their feedback. People stay where they are valued. When their voice matters, they feel valued. This garners an incredible amount of trust from your people as well.
  5. Next, be instrumental in your team reaching new standards. Ensure they are receiving public praise and appreciation for everything they accomplish.
  6. Offer opportunities for each teammate to take charge of a project or assign a different aspect of a working project for each teammate to be in charge of. This demonstrates that you are invested in the success and elevation of your people and reinforces to each team member that they hold importance and value within the company. This builds effective teams and future leaders.
  7. Be available. When they speak, offer your undivided attention and support.
  8. Be fair. Be consistent. Be just. Be approachable. Address negative behavior and toxicity immediately. The fastest way to drive out good teammates is to let them see you tolerate toxic behavior.
  9. Keep your word. If you tell your team you are going to do something, follow through. They’re keeping score.
  10. Do not give up and do not second guess yourself. Keep a positive attitude. It’s contagious.

This takes time, energy, effort, and commitment. Be dedicated to the process. Put in the time and put in the work. It’s worth it. 

You either have time to take the helm and steer the ship and the crew towards success, or you have time for a mutiny.

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