Killing the rejects

in Reflections2 months ago (edited)

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When a team takes ownership of its problems, the problem gets solved. It is true on the battlefield, it is true in business, and it is true in life.

- Jocko Willink -

Years ago, when I was a much younger man and in a life that almost seems like another lifetime entirely, I was a fresh-faced and newly promoted leader and was about to be handed my team which, within the largely inflexible scope and framework of the organisation, I would be able to shape from a loose group of individuals into a unit with a single focus despite each having a different role to play within the greater unit. I had been trained well for my role, shaped and honed by those whose responsibility it was to prepare me for the task and I was feeling undaunted, totally ready and...ok, that's not true...I was feeling a little apprehensive and somewhat nervous although I would never have let that show to my superiors or those I was leading. Ok, let's do this, I remember thinking.

After a lot of personal preparation and planning, reading of personnel files, memorising faces and names from those files and evaluating past their experiences, qualifications and performance reviews I felt ready to take over. I did so and the work I did prior went down very well with the team, they responded, and we proceeded to work towards the established outcomes I'd been set. The apprehension had dissipated almost immediately and we got down to business.

There were, and I can't overstate this enough, so many challenges to face and overcome and at times I wondered if I was the right man for the job but I pushed forward, looked to find those elements in each of the individuals that were positive and could be capitalised upon and those that needed work - playing to their strengths and improving upon their weaknesses. Slowly it moved forward and those individuals started to take shape into a group that I felt quite proud, and confident, to was hard work and took a lot of effort.

But here's the thing...they were all fucken rejects.

Due to some scenarios I don't want to go into I was unable to be a part of the selection process that had taken place earlier; there was a panel of people, the up-chain personnel and the leaders who would be assigned teams, who spent weeks evaluating the candidates and sorting/fitting them into what would need to become effective units. There was some string-pulling though and instead of the rejects, those who no one wanted in their unit, being spread out throughout the several unit-elements they were dropped into a single unit...any guesses as to whose? Yep, mine. It wasn't personal, but was certainly orchestrated, no one else wanted the rejects, and I wasn't there to influence the decision.

Those fuckers!

I don't mean the rejects, I mean those in that review panel process who pretty much stitched me up and causing me to have a unit of misfits and...well, rejects.

I didn't find this out until almost six months later (and wanted to murder those selection panel members - almost did too) and actually found out by accident as I overheard a couple of people talking about it. But there's an upside.

You see, those two I overheard were higher on the chain of command than I was and they were talking about what I'd done with, the bunch of rejects he was given, and were solidly praising me and my bunch or rejects and that felt good...something to balance out the murderous intent I had from finding out I'd been duped into taking the rejects.

I was with those rejects, who were not rejects after I finished with them, for a few years and was promoted up and away but they continued to thrive without me, they were different people...I don't mean just because of me though, I just provided the motivation, found certain elements within each and built upon them, and added some new ideas which I fucken drilled into them with remorseless intent, and they rose to the challenge, every challenge, and improved themselves. It's a credit to them and I was happy to check back in on each later and see they'd carried it forward after I was transferred out.

Looking back, those years and those rejects were instrumental in developing who I was as a man and leader both professionally and personally; I mean the processes and strategies, the behaviours and ways of working I employed which I've carried forward, honed and improved. Did I ever feel like killing one of them? Sure I did, (all of them at once at one point), but I'm glad the situation happened as it did as I was able to deepen my understanding of others and myself through the experience and that's paid dividends since. I'm glad I didn't end up killing the rejects, they were a good bunch.

Have you ever led a team that at first seemed like a hopeless bunch of misfits and rejects? Have you been one of those misfits and rejects yourself? Have you experienced an exceptionally good or bad leader and how did that go in either case? Feel free to comment on these or other aspects based around this post if you're inclined.

Design and create your ideal life, tomorrow isn't promised - galenkp

[Original and AI free]
Image(s) in this post are my own


Man, the rejects are where it's at. If I remember correctly, pretty much all the irregular outfits fighting in WWII would fit that description.

I've been on a few 'teams' over the years but never as a leader, they were always of the leaderless variety. Still functioned quite effectively, to be on them required a degree of self-actualization that rendered leaders largely superfluous. They were all a bunch of misfits, weirdos, queers, nerds, and rejects, myself included. I think that has a lot to do with their effectiveness, existing as those things in society gives/requires a skill set that comes in handy when you need to function in lively situations, particularly irregular ones.

(edit) Is that Zimmerit on a Stug III?

They're hard work but are often quite malleable and if given the right motivation have a strong desire to improve, develop and excel. One just needs to find the triggers, as I did...which wasn't easy in itself.

In respect of superfluous team was developed to operate just as efficiently without me, and they did at times, which was one of the things I felt confident would motivate did. I think you understand completely.

It's a Sturmgeschütz IV, created after the Alkett factory was badly damaged in 1943 (allied bombing). It's the StuG III mounted on a Panzer IV chassis. Zimmerit paste (the textured lines you see) was added later also, to mitigate the threat of magnetic anti-tank mines. They also added a shielded MG34 and a different armour variant throughout its service. Well spotted there bro. #tanksrock

I think you understand completely.

Indeed. Ah, a StuG IV, never was good at telling the Panzer IIIs from the IVs. Where'd you come across that one?

This in Cairns, Australia, an incredible place called which was so awesome to visit. I was there in 2022 to visit my brother (and to go to Aus Armour.)

I've been to The Tank Museum at Bovington, UK also...amazing too.

I think the rejects being grouped together actually helped you and them. When only one or two are placed in a team, they can bring the whole team down. When the rejects are grouped together, and they know they are rejects, they can use it as fuel to prove everybody wrong. But I also think you did an awesome job with them.

With the right motivation a group of misfits can be honed into a very effective unit, but it's incredibly difficult as they often don't work well with others, each have issues different to the next, a problem with authority, discipline, work ethic and so on...My team had all of that and more...But I worked with it rather than against it and slowly each became effective individually and as a team. It was a very difficult time in my career, but was rewarding.

Glad you were able to rise to the occasion and got rewarded for it. It is also really nice that the higher ups noticed it.

The highers noticed for sure...and not just me, but also the individuals in the team some of whom went on to some really cool things.

Hi, you were evaluated and deemed the most capable to help them. I choose to think so. And they gave their best, with your guidance, to prove they were valuable. That's how we rise up and make progress. Congratulations.

And thank goodness you didn't kill anyone.

I was getting a team no matter what and had to be ready for it so I was...Looking back, it would have been easier with a different bunch of people but I doubt I would have learned as much as I did and got the same satisfaction from it. As it was, those fucken rejects pushed me to, and beyond, my limits and I'm grateful for it as I established new limits...then smashed through them also.

As a result, growth was expanded. You grew too. ;) It is the challenges that make us grow.

Hi Galen, I don't know what teamwork is, and it's hard for me to get the idea of what it's like to work in a team. I am a rather solitary being. But a question occurs to me reading the text: if you had known that your team was made up of rejected people would everything have turned out so positively? As you will see it is a question that occurs to me and has no answer. Thanks for making me think, best regards.

It's a good question. I think I may have felt a little differently had I known from the outset. Of course, I learned pretty quickly that the individuala were not the best of the talent pool so to speak, but had I known they were all the rubbish no one else wanted it may have affected my perspective of them. I think the result would have been the same though, I was focused on doing my job and wasn't about to let someone else prevent me doing it, the way I approached it might have been different though.

I liked the answer, I'm sure it's as you say. The important thing is to be focused on the goals and on solving the problems that arise. A hug, have a great week.

That group they assigned you made you a better leader, that's for sure, it made you learn faster, because you had to train them, help them, and the techniques you used are the ones I used when they assigned me a group to lead... when I was a supervisor.

I had those under my responsibility.... guys, very young, without experience, but like you, I highlighted the positive and I was solving the negative points.

Yes, I was also assigned people like that, but in my case people changed all the time and I was constantly with new people.

That helped me a lot, I learned how to lead, how to treat people of different ages.... my boss... a very bad leader, as I told you once, he even went to work having consumed... substances.

What kind of leader is that!

Seems like you were a good leader, well done. Do you still lead people now, or do those skills go unused?

No, I no longer lead, only myself, I left that job a long time ago. but what I learned I applied to myself... although I do share with people around me and something of what I learned always comes up

On several occasions, I have taken on the role of leader, especially at the university level. I remember there were students who were considered academic underachievers, coming to feel like a burden to others. Their classmates even avoided incorporating them into their groups or helping them. Fortuitously, I found myself in the position of teaming up with them.

I will not deny that at first it was a challenge to understand how to handle this situation, given their way of expressing themselves and doing research. However, I took on the role of a sort of guide or therapist. Through careful observations, I figured out how to guide them and improve their academic performance, as they seemed lost on how to initiate or advance in the development of academic work.

After considerable effort, the results were remarkable compared to their previous academic performance. Some of them started to become more independent in mastering subjects and writing reports. I never thought I could lead a group of students considered "lazy and indifferent". However, the truth is that I observed how several people began to approach them and to value them more.

Giving people their self respect back can have profound effects on every aspect of their lives. Well done.

When I assumed the position of team leader in 2012, I got four colleagues in the team (I was in the team with one, and three more from another team), with whom I had previously collaborated, but I was not their superior.
One of them moved from my team to another after a few years, as an excellent expert, so we continued our quartet team development...
One of them is the "non-adjusted" one, but I quickly captured it and concluded how I should treat it to give the desired results... And so, it has been functioning successfully for 12 years.

An anecdote. A younger colleague from another sector enters the office, where at that moment I am sitting, with two others... The colleague comments to the members of my team something along the lines of: "wWhat kind of boss is yours, none😄".
The two of them laugh, and I reply to the young colleague (who has only been in the company for 3 or 4 years, unlike the three of us, where the youngest is 13 years of working with us), "So what do you think, if I'm not an OK boss, would they were here with me these 13 years😄?".

It's important to understand what (who) one working with as a leader, their weaknesses and strengths, attitudes also. If those are known, and worked around/built upon, there's a greater chance of ultimate success as you have said above.

That people stay around is an indication that you're a reasonable leader; good work.

Everything in life happens at a specific time for a specific reason. I feel if the rejects were handled by someone other than you, it would have been a disaster. You did the needful and at the end, it was worth doing.

Yep, and that specific reason is hard work, ownership and discipline.

Taking on a team of misfits, molding them enticing them to do better, you learn from them as they do from you, it actually is fulfilling when looking back on the outcome.


That's exactly what happened, it was a rewarding experience indeed.

Unexpected people surprise you far beyond belief, when given an opportunity and run with it.

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