You Can’t Force Someone to be Better

[May 22, 2019] I once knew a highly-motivated Army Lieutenant who was about as aggressive as an officer can be without crossing the line between motivated and crazy. She had a saying, “I’ll give them my triple seven.” She meant to motivate soldiers that she would use her size 7 boot, stick it 7-inches up their butt, and make them jump 7 feet in the air (figuratively).

She was small, but she was mighty. I always enjoyed being around this officer to observe her at work. Somehow, she could motivate just about anybody. Some people, like her, seem to have an innate ability to get others to do things they would not normally do. I call this leadership, and she had it in spades.

One day, after a long and difficult military field exercise, I told her that you can’t force someone to be better. She disagreed with me, of course. Her thinking was that when she ran out of carrots, the stick was always available. Being a really smart lady, she knew enough that the stick could only be applied as punishment narrowly.1

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing; that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

The idea that leaders should be adept at continuously motivating others is a given, and the concept studied thoroughly. The carrot and stick approach to motivation is an older theory by Jeremy Bentham.2 In my opinion, the theory works well if applied intelligently and daily, but a leader must be careful in its use.

Years later, I would hear another officer in the young, female Lieutenant’s old unit say he was going to give a “triple 7” to an unmotivated soldier. I just laughed and remembered how it was possible that you can motivate people using good techniques, but you still can’t force someone to be better.


  1. She was schooled in the proper use of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and was careful never to allow double standards to creep into her work.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

22 thoughts on “You Can’t Force Someone to be Better

  1. Greg Heyman

    As a young man, I was slow to learn this.

  2. Kenny Foster

    Good article, thanks Gen. Satterfield for making me think.

    1. Fred Weber

      You can’t be a leader without it.

  3. Mr. T.J. Asper

    What a coincidence. I tell my football players the exact same thing. I cannot force them to be better players, they must have the internal motivation to do it themselves. Either they chose to be a better player or not.

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Thanks for keeping real leadership ideas alive in our young people. Too many teachers these days are closet liberals that don’t want you to know they actually hate American and what she stands for.

    2. Harry B. Donner

      THanks Mr. TJ. I agree with Otto that we should have people showing the good things about leadership and what having the important traits of a leader is important to do well in one’s life.

  4. Tony B. Custer

    Another great article to wrap my brain around in the early morning hours.

    1. Georgie M.

      Ha … I was thinking exactly the same thing. Appreciated you beating me to it Tony. Hope you’ve been well.

      1. Xerxes I

        🙂 Yep, another reason I keep coming back to this website. I might be new here but I’m a big fan.

  5. Eric Coda

    It wasn’t that long ago when my mom tried to get my brother to clean up his room, stop staying up late, and playing music too loud in his room. No matter what, she couldn’t get him to change. My dad didn’t make any progress either. Finally my brother graduated from High School (actually I think they graduated him just to get him out). Now he’s an alcoholic and bum. Oh well, we tried but failed.

    1. Roger Yellowmule

      Thanks for sharing your story. I had a couple of cousins the same way. We just called them lazy bums and that was that. Now they support themselves by taking odd jobs. They entertain themselves with beer, tv, and chips. That’s no life for me.

    2. Yusaf from Texas

      Wow, good stories. I imagine that we’ve all been witness to this. Why? Does ‘why’ matter?

  6. Army Captain

    If you apply this idea to “leaders” who don’t want to improve, the point is well taken. I’ve witnessed many leaders who are too lazy to improve upon their skills. Another great article. Thank you, Gen. Satterfield.

    1. Max Foster

      Yes, Army Captain. It is, indeed, sad that so many leaders are unwilling (not incapable) to go the extra mile to be a better leader. I saw it at work and in church. I just shake my head sometimes and wonder what their home-life is like; it can’t be great. Is it laziness? Or is it stupidity? I don’t know but it matters not since they are just not doing what it takes to be a better person, husband (or wife), employee, or leader.

      1. JT Patterson

        Indeed, another spot-on comment from Max.

        1. Wilson Cox

          Yes, you beat me to the comment. Max is always giving us a good analysis.

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