We’ve all been there, in a group where 2-3 people are motivated, working, and “all in,” only to find themselves carrying the rest of the members. It’s one reason why you’ll also hear some folks brag about “not playing well with others” or telling you how they plan to “go it alone.” Fancying themselves some kind of lone wolf in an overly romanticized notion of what a SHTF event actually looks like, they plan to be a cross between Rambo and Tom Hanks in Cast Away. All they need is a volleyball to name Wilson.

The cold, hard reality is that you cannot survive a SHTF event — whether it be a natural disaster, a man-made one, or some other kind of societal meltdown — without help from others. Neighbors, group members, whatever. Which brings us to the obvious problem: What do you do with slackers in your group? How can you motivate them?

The Volunteer Mentality

Part of what you’re up against is the volunteer mentality. In essence, it consists of people saying things like, “well, we’re volunteers. You can’t expect us to ____________ when we aren’t getting paid.” You may also hear people whispering in your ear that because people are volunteers, if you push them too hard they will leave. “We need bodies,” they’ll say. A body, any body, is better than no bodies…or so the conventional wisdom goes.

There are a few problems with that mindset, however, and here are a few concepts I personally hold to when looking at group members for myself, or helping other group in a consulting capacity. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the example of a prepping group that is looking to help each other prepare and/or survive a SHTF event of any kind. You can extrapolate this as needed for an activism group, etc.

Slackers and “Bad Members” Dilute Your Effectiveness

Let’s face it; no matter how many “bodies” you have in your group, if they don’t contribute, they are diluting your resources and capability. Every single member of your group should have a task and purpose. If they don’t, they are merely takers.

  • The guy who never shows up for group functions or training but somehow manages to make it when someone brings veggies from their garden to share, extra milk from their livestock, or meat from a recent hunting trip.
  • The guy who shows up to everything but spends so much time talking and bragging about himself that he doesn’t learn anything from the person trying to teach.
  • The guy who magically always has something going on that everyone else has to help with, whether it be losing his job, running out of money, family drama, etc.
  • The guy who has no appreciable skills but isn’t really interested in learning anything either.
  • The guy who is always pushing for some grandiose effort toward a ridiculous, unbelievable objective.

This also goes for the ones who are found in the People You Don’t Want list…both of them. If you have them, you will see the risks they bring coming to fruition in the form of drama, problems, and general idiocy. If you’re spending all of your time dealing with internal issues, such as the home drama that Jack has or the adversarial spouse that John has, or your training sessions end up being mostly Frank running his mouth, or Billy is too drunk on weekends to be of any use, you’re not going to be able to raise your group effectiveness for anything.

The bottom line here is that people in your group do not count toward your total capabilities unless they are available, capable, and willing to help/learn/train — and will actually be a negative force on that total capability.

Volunteers Still Need Standards

Culture doesn’t happen magically. It has to be created, cultured, and fostered; at least, the good ones do. If you’re not living and fostering the culture you want, you’ll get the one you don’t want by default. If you want an effective group, you need standards. Just because you’re all volunteers doesn’t mean you can be lackadaisical in your theory and practice — especially when considering that the purpose of your group is ultimately survival of a Very Bad Event(tm). In other words, casual won’t cut it if your lives are at stake.

Maybe you’re the group’s leader, in which case it falls on YOU to create and foster that culture. Maybe you’re a member, in which case it falls on you to help by adhering to it yourself, holding yourself to a standard whether it formally exists in your group or not. Maybe you don’t even have a leader, and you’re doing the autonomous peer-driven free-for-all. That’s nice, but you still need a culture, a standard that everyone agrees to hold to, and something in place to handle it when someone doesn’t.

Now let’s start applying some of this.

Motivation Tactic 1: Know Your Group

If you’ve attended my classes or read my articles for any length of time, you might be sick of hearing this, but it’s the #1 step to anything that comes after. You need to understand what drives the people in your group. Are they happy to serve in the background without fanfare? Do they need emotional validation? You can find this out by simple observation over time. This will help you with the next step. If you don’t know what motivates your group members, you will not be able to motivate them in a positive way, and you won’t be able to curb negative actions. It’s that simple.

Motivation Tactic 2: Find Their Skills

You might be thinking you already know all of their skills. John does radios, Jack does gardening stuff, Joe is the hunter that fills people’s freezers, etc. This is a bit more nuanced than that, however. You should understand not just what they’re good at doing now, but what they have the aptitude to learn. John might be your comms guy, but part of what makes him good at radios can also be applied to learning other electronic applications, computers, and the like. Jack’s gardening skills can be parlayed into learning hydroponics, or branching out into cultivating certain types of food in a cleared wooded area that attract big game for Joe. If Joe is a successful hunter then he’s probably also a good shot, and that can move into other areas as well.

Motivation Tactic 3: Have Them Teach

It’s a common failure in certain groups where the leader does all of the teaching or training, or no one does and they all pay to go to various classes. Maybe they have a “training guy” who tries to bring in people to teach, or finds out about classes in the area that group members can go to. A lot of people in the prepper/liberty/whatever movement tend to collect classes like baseball cards. “Oh, I’ve been to this guy’s class and that guy’s class too…” etc. The problem is that a lot of those classes require money, time, and other things you might not have a lot of. There’s also the danger of falling victim to a personality cult, which is a Very Bad Thing(tm) because it closes your eyes to errors in their training doctrine or material and makes you susceptible to other problems such as Bigmouth-itis when you’re in their classes, where you tell them all about your preps, training, capabilities, etc. because you want your “mentor” to give you approval for your efforts and tell you that you’re on the right track.

As much as training classes are necessary — and don’t get me wrong, they are critical — you don’t need to have everyone in your group attend as many as possible. Send one or two guys to learn a new skill or get better at what he already knows, and then have him come back and teach the group what he learned. Sit down and do an inventory of who has what skills, and start trading information. If you know how to raise animals, share what you know. Help the other people in your group get to where you are in that area. Whatever you know, share it. Mentor the other members — and have them mentor you as well.

Remember — motivation is simply positive manipulation. You are steering conduct in the direction you wish for it to go. We do it every day all over our lives, with our kids, co-workers, etc. And what’s the #1 rule of manipulation? If someone wants/needs something, give it to them. If your comms guy does far better if he gets his little attaboys, then make sure you throw some sunshine his way. If your guys like to ask your gunsmith to do all kinds of stuff for them for free and it’s making your smith not want to help the group anymore, then maybe he’d be willing to teach the group a few basic maintenance skills that people can do themselves. If one of your members prefers to stay in the background and NOT get attention for what they do, then maybe ask them what you can do to help them. You don’t have to be in the driver’s seat to show leadership, and one of the most critical parts of being a leader is taking care of the people with and under you. Find a way to help them help the group.

Motivation Tactic 4: Have a Goal

If you guys are just sitting around talking about the day when you’ll have to “fight for liberty,” then you don’t have a goal. Make smart objectives. For our example prepper group, these could include:

  • Filling everyone’s freezers with meat for the winter.
  • Being good enough at food preservation to put away some of the garden proceeds.
  • Learning enough couponing skills that you can consistently save 50% or more on groceries.
  • Coming up with a list of age-appropriate skills for the groups members’ kids to learn.
  • Making sure everyone has enough firewood for the year.
  • Ensuring that everyone has the basic gear (and the skills to go with it) to communicate with each other and find out what’s going on if something happens.

The list goes on and on. As anyone who lives even a remotely self-sufficient lifestyle knows, the work is never done and there is always something new to learn. If you have a group that is working toward those common goals that are achievable and can have immediate benefits, by default you’ll also be doing critical things like building rapport, trust, and practicing the very same skills you might need later to actually survive on.

Motivation Tactic 5: Hold People Accountable

This is the unpleasant one that no one likes. The hard truth is that sometimes you’ll have someone in your group that just isn’t cutting it. He might be a carryover from when you were doing the open recruiting thing, he might be someone you simply didn’t vet deeply enough or for long enough, and he might just be someone who you always knew was a bad apple but you let him in anyway because you thought you could mitigate the risk. Whatever the situation, eventually you will probably find yourself in a bit of a pickle. Be willing to recognize it, and if you have to, drop the dead weight. You don’t always have to have a lot of fanfare about it or cause drama, sometimes you can simply start distancing yourself from them. I’ll write more on this later in another article. The point here is that if your group has standards, then you and everyone else need to stick to them — and there needs to be a answer if someone asks, “So what if I don’t?”

The flip side of that is another question. What if you’ve done all of these things and yet you still seem to have members who just “aren’t into it”…or are SO into it they’re way past where you are trying to be? The short answer is they may not be the right group for you. A well-tuned group is like a team of rowers. They’re all in the same boat, they’re all pulling their oar at the same speed and cadence, and they’re all going in the same direction to reach a goal. Some crew boats have a coxswain that helps call out any obstacles, coaches them along, or can help get them in sync when they’re off, but some teams row it alone without one too.  If you can plainly see that in your 6-man boat, 3 guys are rowing in sync but 2 are completely out of rhythm and don’t care, while the last one is literally playing in the water with his oar, you can do any of the following:

  1. Try to help get your team back in sync,
  2. Join them in their lazy or misdirected ways,
  3. Take the two motivated guys and make a new group, or
  4. Find/make an all-new boat from the ground up with motivated people.

Sometimes option 3 or 4 is the best one you’ve got, and only you can make the call as to when that becomes a viable choice. Some might argue that you can still get to where you’re going if you ignore the others and just keep rowing…but can you really? Or will you find yourself having to work that much harder for very little gain? Will you actually reach your goal? And if you do, will you feel more or less camaraderie and willingness to be part of that team? The answers are pretty obvious — if we’re willing to see them for what they are.

Wrapping It Up

The bottom line is that you’re going to find people who are in sync with you, and you’ll find plenty who aren’t. I know prepper groups whose sole focus is getting as much stuff as possible to cram into a Connex. They don’t check on the stuff later, they don’t rotate any of it or even use it in their everyday lives, but if It All Hits The Fan they’ll have enough beans and rice and hard white wheat to eat for years. Other groups find ways to incorporate their preparedness into their ‘regular’ lives by eating their preps, rotating stock, and little by little, learning how to actually live a life that’s less dependent on society and infrastructure. You might be either of these or somewhere in the middle, and that’s fine. What is critical, however, is that you find people for your group who are either on the same page as whatever it is you’re looking to accomplish, or they’re already working toward it. If your goal is to be 50% sustainable on your own property, then the guy in your group who lives in the suburbs, whose family cannot live without pizza delivery and video games is probably not going to work out well. If your personal goal is to create a neighborhood defense group, you probably aren’t going to go ask the guy who doesn’t even own a gun but “really supports the Second Amendment” to be a part of it, even if he seems to “love liberty.”

Know yourself and what you want out of a group first. If you can find that in your present members, great. If not, maybe start your own. But don’t settle; you’ll be glad you stuck to your principles later when something does happen. Oh, and if you realize that YOU are typically the one others are constantly having to push along or even carry…then either fix it or have the decency to cut ties so they can press on.

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