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Thread: Playing the Game

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    Senior Member Stalwart's Avatar
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    Playing the Game

    I once found myself in a tough situation. A senior of mine, in my direct chain of command was providing me guidance that was:

    1. In some cases unethical
    2. In some cases directly violated regulations
    3. In some cases was simply unreasonable

    The unethical and regulations issues were very cut and dry, and in hindsight the ‘unreasonable’ direction came after a few weeks of me pushing back on the ethics and regulations. The problem was, in the military there is little recourse for a junior whose boss is being unreasonable, after all … this is the military. I don’t have to like my boss to know I am required by regulations to obey lawful orders, even if they are not reasonable. I tried to tactfully let my senior know that their newest guidance was going to cause extreme hardship on their people for no good reason other than to ... cause hardship ... and that was unreasonable. My senior responded by stating there was an obvious disconnect between their style and my style and wanted to know what the issue was, so I honestly answered that I was not comfortable with the history of unethical direction and the direction to violate regulations. My boss was obviously surprised with my candor. Near the end of what was a really uncomfortable situation I was advised that I needed to learn to “play the game”, my simple response was that my understanding of things is that … at this stage in my career I thought I was expected to be a professional and not play games.

    Looking back on the situation in hindsight, I find myself wondering about that statement: “play the game.” How does this statement relate to my status as an officer, my status as a leader? How does this align with my personal ethics?

    How many people exhibit an overt sense of loyalty to an individual vice their oath? How many people demonstrate a self-preserving desire to not rock the boat and as a result do not stand up and exhibit character? What is the point of the authority of a commissioned officer or the authority of our senior enlisted if the people filling those billets are more concerned about their next evaluation and upward mobility than doing the right thing, for the right reasons … even when no one is watching? Are you willing to compromise rules for simple expediency or to gain favor with your boss? Are you “playing the game” to advance your career?

    Do the ends, above all, justify the means? I would argue they do not. While the primary focus of military leadership is mission accomplishment immediately followed by troop welfare (“Mission first, Sailors always”) unless we are in a ‘rounds impacting my position’ or a ‘water rushing through the bulkhead’ type situation, a ‘git ‘er done’ mentality can be problematic and how we get things done is vitally important. Aboard subs, ships and planes I picked up the phrase “procedural compliance." My earnest question to any leader: are you overly concerned with procedural compliance in logs, maintenance records and/or uniforms but not in your own ethical conduct or the ethics of your subordinate leaders? Do you expect your subordinates to “play the game” so that they get things done and move along without noticing your lack of personal character?

    I do not argue nor endorse the systematic extinction of the creative risk-taker or pushing the limits to accomplish hard tasks. I do however argue that at some point, we should expect that leaders – of all ranks -- are ethical. If we are willing in the relative comfort of a garrison environment, with bake sales and lattes … when lives are not on the line … to be loose with our personal ethics how can we expect that we will suddenly step up to the proverbial plate when the situation is truly a hard & tough situation that may result in our own injury or death or that of our personnel? It may be a harsh comparison, it may be one that most people will never have to make; I have been there and had to make those decisions and can attest that hard times do not suddenly create character -- hard times test character. Hard times will beat you down, hard times will physically and mentally exhaust you and you may even question why you are staying the course … but I have yet to see a sudden epiphany of principled ethical dogma when the going is truly rough. Are you “playing the game” because the situation is not “life and death” and you tell yourself you will do the right thing when the situation really needs you to?

    Does concern for your career make you pause when a senior is going the wrong way or about to make a really bad call? Are you more willing to tactfully correct a senior that is not your immediate supervisor or evaluator? If so, you are allowing careerism to get in the way of your role as an adviser and a leader and ultimately of your oath. I want to succeed and hate to fail, but are you adding to a surplus of people who are addicted to success when you should be addicted to integrity?
    The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.

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    Banned sandsjames's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stalwart View Post
    I once found myself in a tough situation. A senior of mine, in my direct chain of command was providing me guidance that was:

    1. In some cases unethical
    2. In some cases directly violated regulations
    3. In some cases was simply unreasonable

    The unethical and regulations issues were very cut and dry, and in hindsight the ‘unreasonable’ direction came after a few weeks of me pushing back on the ethics and regulations. The problem was, in the military there is little recourse for a junior whose boss is being unreasonable, after all … this is the military. I don’t have to like my boss to know I am required by regulations to obey lawful orders, even if they are not reasonable. I tried to tactfully let my senior know that their newest guidance was going to cause extreme hardship on their people for no good reason other than to ... cause hardship ... and that was unreasonable. My senior responded by stating there was an obvious disconnect between their style and my style and wanted to know what the issue was, so I honestly answered that I was not comfortable with the history of unethical direction and the direction to violate regulations. My boss was obviously surprised with my candor. Near the end of what was a really uncomfortable situation I was advised that I needed to learn to “play the game”, my simple response was that my understanding of things is that … at this stage in my career I thought I was expected to be a professional and not play games.

    Looking back on the situation in hindsight, I find myself wondering about that statement: “play the game.” How does this statement relate to my status as an officer, my status as a leader? How does this align with my personal ethics?

    How many people exhibit an overt sense of loyalty to an individual vice their oath? How many people demonstrate a self-preserving desire to not rock the boat and as a result do not stand up and exhibit character? What is the point of the authority of a commissioned officer or the authority of our senior enlisted if the people filling those billets are more concerned about their next evaluation and upward mobility than doing the right thing, for the right reasons … even when no one is watching? Are you willing to compromise rules for simple expediency or to gain favor with your boss? Are you “playing the game” to advance your career?

    Do the ends, above all, justify the means? I would argue they do not. While the primary focus of military leadership is mission accomplishment immediately followed by troop welfare (“Mission first, Sailors always”) unless we are in a ‘rounds impacting my position’ or a ‘water rushing through the bulkhead’ type situation, a ‘git ‘er done’ mentality can be problematic and how we get things done is vitally important. Aboard subs, ships and planes I picked up the phrase “procedural compliance." My earnest question to any leader: are you overly concerned with procedural compliance in logs, maintenance records and/or uniforms but not in your own ethical conduct or the ethics of your subordinate leaders? Do you expect your subordinates to “play the game” so that they get things done and move along without noticing your lack of personal character?

    I do not argue nor endorse the systematic extinction of the creative risk-taker or pushing the limits to accomplish hard tasks. I do however argue that at some point, we should expect that leaders – of all ranks -- are ethical. If we are willing in the relative comfort of a garrison environment, with bake sales and lattes … when lives are not on the line … to be loose with our personal ethics how can we expect that we will suddenly step up to the proverbial plate when the situation is truly a hard & tough situation that may result in our own injury or death or that of our personnel? It may be a harsh comparison, it may be one that most people will never have to make; I have been there and had to make those decisions and can attest that hard times do not suddenly create character -- hard times test character. Hard times will beat you down, hard times will physically and mentally exhaust you and you may even question why you are staying the course … but I have yet to see a sudden epiphany of principled ethical dogma when the going is truly rough. Are you “playing the game” because the situation is not “life and death” and you tell yourself you will do the right thing when the situation really needs you to?

    Does concern for your career make you pause when a senior is going the wrong way or about to make a really bad call? Are you more willing to tactfully correct a senior that is not your immediate supervisor or evaluator? If so, you are allowing careerism to get in the way of your role as an adviser and a leader and ultimately of your oath. I want to succeed and hate to fail, but are you adding to a surplus of people who are addicted to success when you should be addicted to integrity?
    Self preservation is a tough thing, especially in the military. I'm sure we'd all like to think we always do the right thing but even if it's something small we've all done the CYA thing.

    I think the issue is that, even though we're told that there won't be any repercussions, it's just to easy for those who hold our careers, paychecks, etc, in their hands to do subtle things that can have a long term impact.

    I look at the recent cuts and the boards that have determined those cuts. I've seen plenty of 4 EPRs given to people who don't "play the game". A 4 EPR cannot be challenged. When the time for the commanders to rack and stack the troops, much of it came down to those EPRs. I wonder how many of those guys are now trying to find a job to support their families because they didn't play the game.

    It's much easier to NOT play the game when the military is trying to raise the manning. Not so easier when they are booting people out.

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    Senior Member Stalwart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sandsjames View Post
    Self preservation is a tough thing, especially in the military. I'm sure we'd all like to think we always do the right thing but even if it's something small we've all done the CYA thing.

    I think the issue is that, even though we're told that there won't be any repercussions, it's just to easy for those who hold our careers, paychecks, etc, in their hands to do subtle things that can have a long term impact.

    I look at the recent cuts and the boards that have determined those cuts. I've seen plenty of 4 EPRs given to people who don't "play the game". A 4 EPR cannot be challenged. When the time for the commanders to rack and stack the troops, much of it came down to those EPRs. I wonder how many of those guys are now trying to find a job to support their families because they didn't play the game.

    It's much easier to NOT play the game when the military is trying to raise the manning. Not so easier when they are booting people out.
    A large part of me agrees with you ... to an extent. There comes a point where you have to decide what you are going to do, and there are smart way to exact change in organizations. You can be the bull in a china shop, it likely won't work. You can use the tools in the system to change areas you can influence, that is what I try to do. I will never be the Chief of Naval Operations, so I won't "change the Navy", but I can try to make my little part of it as best as it can be.
    The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.

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    Senior Member LogDog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stalwart View Post
    A large part of me agrees with you ... to an extent. There comes a point where you have to decide what you are going to do, and there are smart way to exact change in organizations. You can be the bull in a china shop, it likely won't work. You can use the tools in the system to change areas you can influence, that is what I try to do. I will never be the Chief of Naval Operations, so I won't "change the Navy", but I can try to make my little part of it as best as it can be.
    The thing I learned long ago was to make a good reputation with your boss' superiors so if there is any blow back from your boss in the way of paperwork, you'll have some cover from them. If those above your boss know you'll behave in an ethical manner then you should be able to withstand anything your boss throws at you. It's hard but you have to let him know that ethics and adherence to regulations is the cornerstone to trust and discipline. Once you've established this and upheld these standards the less chance he'll act that way again.

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    Banned sandsjames's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LogDog View Post
    Once you've established this and upheld these standards the less chance he'll act that way again.
    Until he writes you a 4...a rating that cannot be challenged.

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    Senior Member LogDog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sandsjames View Post
    Until he writes you a 4...a rating that cannot be challenged.
    That's why it's important to have good relations/reputation with his superiors. If they see a "4" rating when they're reviewing the EPR and they know you should be a "5" then they can talk with him and find out why his evaluation is different from their evaluation. I know it can work because it happened to me. The Lt., former TSgt in our career field, had it in for me as a MSgt before I arrived and when my EPR came due he gave me an "3" rating. His bosses called him in to discuss it and chewed him out for a half-hour. I ended up getting a firewall "5" EPR. His bosses knew me, knew what I had done and how well I did it.

    I've done something similarly with my people. When an NCO gave an airman a "3" EPR and I knew he underrated the individual, I talked with him, pointed out accomplishments the airmen had that the NCO hadn't acknowledged, and had him reconsider the EPR. He rewrote the EPR and gave the airman a "4" which was an accurate rating.

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    Banned sandsjames's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LogDog View Post
    That's why it's important to have good relations/reputation with his superiors. If they see a "4" rating when they're reviewing the EPR and they know you should be a "5" then they can talk with him and find out why his evaluation is different from their evaluation. I know it can work because it happened to me. The Lt., former TSgt in our career field, had it in for me as a MSgt before I arrived and when my EPR came due he gave me an "3" rating. His bosses called him in to discuss it and chewed him out for a half-hour. I ended up getting a firewall "5" EPR. His bosses knew me, knew what I had done and how well I did it.

    I've done something similarly with my people. When an NCO gave an airman a "3" EPR and I knew he underrated the individual, I talked with him, pointed out accomplishments the airmen had that the NCO hadn't acknowledged, and had him reconsider the EPR. He rewrote the EPR and gave the airman a "4" which was an accurate rating.
    The thing is, he doesn't have to change it. There is nothing legally that could make him change it. The only thing that can do so is threatening him with a lower rating and that, to me, seems unethical in itself.

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    Before I retired, a long time ago when 4.0 was the best anyone could do, before the rating went from 4.0 to 5.0 as top ratings, I worked in a clinic which had a Lieutenant Commander nurse in charge. She wrote a 3.0 for me. I went to the Chief Nurse's office to challenge that rating.

    I basically told the staff in there the truth. This nurse that was in charge really wasn't in charge. Seeing as how she showed up at 1200, and left at 1500, every day, I had to take charge.

    She was in charge of a clinic with 3 doctors and a CWO2, and three corpsman, me being one of the corpsman. I had to make sure that the patient flow was going well, etc..

    I also had to make sure that the two corpsman didn't take each others heads off.

    Within that clinic, I was in charge of Respiratory Therapy (as an adjunct job), the stress lab, and the Cardiovascular lab.

    I was also the scrub tech for if the doctors or the CWO2 needed to do any minor surgery.

    I had to learn the nurses job at handling the allergy clinic, also.

    When she was there, her door was closed and locked.

    So. I went into the Chief Nurses office.

    In other words, I had more stuff on my plate than I should have. No, no one died on the result of that. However, I was worn out at the end of each day.

    The nurse in charge did not do one thing for the year that I was there.

    She never eve saw me at work.

    My rating was changed to 4.0.

    The nurse in charge was called in, and 1 month later, transferred.

    Sometimes, bitching about something does work.

    For anyone new in here, I was a Marine before changing over to the Navy. Hence the DI cover, which job I did before transferring.

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    Senior Member LogDog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sandsjames View Post
    The thing is, he doesn't have to change it. There is nothing legally that could make him change it. The only thing that can do so is threatening him with a lower rating and that, to me, seems unethical in itself.
    Actually, when this happened by boss' supervisors were the endorser and senior endorser so they could have non-concurred and given me the "5". They were trying avoid that and in effect give the Lt. the opportunity to save face.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LogDog View Post
    Actually, when this happened by boss' supervisors were the endorser and senior endorser so they could have non-concurred and given me the "5". They were trying avoid that and in effect give the Lt. the opportunity to save face.
    Non concur does not matter...supervisors rating is the rating...

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