Myths & Lies
Organizational Myths and lies. Every organizations lies to perpetuate itself, and it enlists the aid of those who are perpetuated by it (knowingly or unknowingly). Every organization has myths about what behavior, actions, or practices will help its members get ahead. The challenge of the aspiring young employee is to know which myths are useful and which to avoid. That’s not easy because they can be ingrained in the very culture of the organization.
One such ‘big lie’ that’s been around the Army for many years is that an officer should never pass up an opportunity to command. This myth also comes in the form of taking every hard job you can find, with the unsaid, but implied follow-up, and the Army will take care of you.
The reason for this is clear, if the organization doesn’t find hard chargers from a talented pool of aspiring Officers to fill these jobs, the Army suffers as a whole. It may fail, and that’s not acceptable, not to the nation, not to the government and particularly not to those few who have achieved the very high levels of leadership and promote those myths.
The often unspoken reality is that with every step one advances in the hierarchy, and with every new job, one eliminates, or closes the doors to other opportunities. When you cross a bridge to one opportunity, you burn bridges to other opportunities.
If a young officer aspires to command an infantry division, then commanding anything other than a line infantry company as a junior Captain will make that aspiration much more unlikely. The lore is that the Army will take care of the officer who does well at everything even commanding difficult, non-mainstream units.
The reality is that having not following a specific career path, he is now less competitive to command an infantry battalion. By commanding the ‘difficult’, other than line infantry company, he did not develop the requisite skill sets commensurate with those who did command infantry companies. However, to perpetuate the myth, the Army will allow him to compete for a line infantry battalion command, without clearly telegraphing that he stands a snowball’s chance in hell of getting selected.
The few available infantry battalion commands will most likely go to those most successful young officers with the infantry company commander experience. As one’s career advances, If the officer doesn’t command an infantry battalion, he’ll not likely command an infantry brigade where the competition will be even more brutal. Without the infantry brigade, there will be no infantry division in his future.
“Hoist with his own petard”
So, the young officer who believed that he should strive for hard jobs and take every opportunity to command, unwittingly ‘hoisted himself by his own petard’ a few years into what could have been a very long and fruitful career. His lifelong aspiration is extinguished, he doesn’t know it yet; all because he bought into the organization’s lies and myths and acted on them.
In time, his comprehension of the selection process will mature. He’ll understand why he’s now a disgruntled staff officer working for the infantry division commander who was a peer when they both commanded; he, the Military Transition Team in Iraq while his buddy (the division commander) an infantry company at Ft Carson, Colorado. If you read and agree with my earlier blog, ‘Staff Officer’s Rule the World’, then you may figure there is some fair play in the system, after all.
Every organization perpetuates its interests by building a culture of selfless service to its needs. This happens within the military and government service. Because of similar organizational exigencies, it most likely happens within commercial business, industry and private companies.
Yes, of course, there are exceptions to most rules and exceptions exist to this cautionary polemic. Indeed, organizations highlight these exceptions to support their myths. Most hierarchies get smaller at the top. That means even competent individuals will be culled from the migration upward. Not every hard-charging, successful Officer will rise to the senior level of their organization, there isn’t room for everybody. One should compare the working lineage of their senior management and compare it against the company lore to determine if your organization tells lies and perpetuates myths.
The astute young professional with wide-eyed aspirations should consult with older professionals about their cultural myths. Not only should they seek mentoring from the former ‘Division Commander,’ (or CEO, COO, President, etc) as he/she may know why they succeeded. But one should particularly seek guidance from the former senior staff officer, for they surely understand why they did not.
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