How to Inspire When Things Aren’t Going Well


The Dirt World is an amazing place to work. It’s also tough. You will have to lead your crews through projects where things are going wrong or taking a physical or emotional toll.

Maybe everybody's working long hours seven days a week to get the work done. Maybe they’re working away from home in a rough place, they haven’t seen their kids in a while, and morale is low.

Jocko Willink draws on his military experience—tough work, long hours, and extended periods of time away from home—to teach other leaders how to inspire people in these situations.

Rack up some wins

When things aren't going very well, that kills morale. Jocko says, “Look, it's horrible when we can't see our families, but when we can't see our families and we're losing, that's what really starts to tear us apart.”

So when that’s happening, you need to rack up some wins ASAP.

Jocko encourages leaders to ask themselves, “What target can I focus on? What priority can I focus on so that we start getting some wins? Then we can start getting that momentum back.”

Get creative with your wins

Maybe you don’t have an answer to those questions right away. In that case, Jocko says to adopt this attitude: “I don't know what we're gonna win, but I'm gonna find some stuff. We’re gonna win, and I’m gonna make that happen.”

Jocko often tells leaders not to impose their will or impose a plan. But when the chips are down, it’s okay to get creative and look for ways to win that might not happen on their own.

“If I've got to like step in and I've got to make us get some wins, I'm going to do that. I’m not going to allow us to fail,” Jocko says.

So, how do you get back on the critical path? That’s going to depend on what your project is and what’s going wrong. But a good rule of thumb is to create a balance between hard work and rewards.

For example, you can tell your team, “We're going to pull this off. We're going to bust our butts and work 14 hours a day for seven days in a row to get back track. And guess what? Then I'm buying pizza, and we're going to chill out for four hours. We'll take a morning off.”

That reward gives a guaranteed win. And if during the seven days things get back on track and start going better, then that gives you even more wins.


When your team is struggling and morale is down, you’ve got to do something to boost their spirits and lead them through the crisis. You’ve got to rack up some wins—and you’ve got to do it quick.

You may have to get creative with how you do this, but a good rule of thumb is to balance your crew’s hard work with rest and rewards. Adding a reward gives you a guaranteed win and the momentum to get the project back on track.

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