The Good Ole Boy System in the Military

Today I want to discuss the Good Ole Boy System in the military.  If you ask anyone who has ever served in the military before, they will probably confirm that a Good Ole Boy System exists.  Most people define the Good Ole Boy System as “people who use or gain special treatment with job assignments and promotions because of the relationship they have with others.”

I define the Good Ole Boy System as people who get promoted (or get a job) based off their relationships, rather than past performance, qualifications and job experience. While these other three factors are important in qualifying for a job or getting promoted, they will not secure the job or promotion for you.  Not normally anyway. Ultimately, people hire/promote people they know, like and trust. So, you need to learn how to build relationships with strategic decision makers, in addition to being good at your job.

Here are some examples of what most people would call the Good Ole Boy System:

  • Someone from outside the unit gets promoted over qualified people in the unit
  • Someone with much less work experience than his peers gets promoted over his peers
  • Someone with very few qualifications or experience gets selected over many other candidates with more experience
  • A close friend of a decision maker gets selected for a job over other people
  • A qualified candidate doesn’t get selected for a job because he is on someone’s “shit list”

Usually, people only complain about this type of system when they DO NOT get selected for promotion or for a job position.  In other words, if the system benefits them, they are okay with it, but when it works against them they have a problem with it.  In addition, I’ve never heard someone get a job they wanted and say they got it because of the Good Ole Boy System.  It’s normally used in a negative context.

You need to realize that the Good Ole Boy System is alive and well in EVERY organization in the world.  You have the choice to either accept that or deny that, but please know that it does exist.  I do believe that the military does a pretty good job in promoting Equal Opportunity and giving everyone a fair chance, but I’ll be the first to admit that the system isn’t perfect.  Anytime you add in a human element, you will see some imperfections.

Now that you understand this, I want to give you some simple advice that will benefit you immensely.

# 1 You Are Part of the Good Ole Boy System Already – Everyone plays favorites with people they know, like and trust.  It’s human nature to look out for people that you know and care about.  You can deny that, but it is the truth.  You have “favorites” in your sphere of influence.  You go the extra mile to look out for people that are the superstars, people that make you look good, and people who have helped you advance your career.  And 99 times out of 100, you would pick one of those folks for a job over someone you do not know.

# 2 It’s Your Job to Manage Your Career – No one, and I mean no one, cares about your career as much as you do. No one will actively manage your career if you don’t.  Being good at what you do, having technical and tactical knowledge, and completing your military education is only one part of the career management process.  Networking is equally as important.

# 3 Networking is Very Important – Being good at your job is important, but networking is more important. If you want to advance your career quickly, you have the responsibility to build strategic relationships with senior NCOs, Officers, and DA Civilians. You must have a game plan to build these relationships. It won’t happen by accident.

# 4 Don’t Blame Others of Brown Nosing When You Do the Same Thing – Before you are too quick to judge others, look yourself in the mirror.  Normally, when someone is trying to advance their own career they call it networking, but when their peer does the same thing they call it kissing butt or brown nosing.  Don’t be a hypocrite!

In conclusion, the Good Ole Boy System is alive and well in every organization in the world, including the Army National Guard and military.  Your key to success is to accept the fact the system does exist, and then go out and make networking part of your career advancement strategy.  You don’t need to kiss butt, but you should build strong, professional relationships with the decision makers and influential people in your organization.

What are your thoughts? You can post your comments and questions below. Thanks

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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9 thoughts on “The Good Ole Boy System in the Military”

  1. You are correct in many things and I agree for the most part, BUT the National Guard is a good ole boy system x 100 due to:

    o Guard Soldiers being in the same state same unit their entire career.

    o Senior NCO’s and Officers maintaining very un professional relationships with
    with others in their unit.

    o One state is only so big and you will eventually in a span of 20 years know just about everyone.

    I have spent half of my 20 year career in the Regular Active Army and the other half in the Guard. I have done pretty well and consider myself very fortunate. The problem I have had in my career is, I like some Soldiers that can talk the talk and walk the walk and others who I like, but only talk; That philosophy is not shared with 7 out of the 8 NG units I have been with. The culture of the NG and Army are very different, and cannot be denied.

    I have seen more ass clowns in the NG than in the Army that were given special privileges solely based on the likability factor, which is no way to run a professional organization.
    Many of us may deny this behavior happens more in the National Guard than in the Active Component and continue to live this lie and rule or fiefdom as normal.

    1. I spent time in the NG/Reserves and Active duty. The National Guard by far is the most notorious component for their good ol boy attitude. Watched an overweight low pt scoring soldier get promoted over a more well deserving in shape pt passing one. Why? Relationship with command.

  2. There is a very old line that says, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

    As others have said, the good ole boy system is everywhere no matter where we go. Yes, you can try and fight it, and you may even win. Soon after, another system will arise though, and you may even be the leader of it.

    You hit the nail on the head when you stated to look in the mirror. In many ways we play these systems in one form or another. Sometimes we just have to suck it up and play the game.

  3. The Good Ole Boy System exists in every organization in the world. Advancing your career is about being good at what you do and having the right relationships with the right people. You have to be able to get along with others and ensure that others have a favorable impression of you. Just being good at your job is not enough.

  4. I think the Good Ole’ Boy System is in every organization. The secret is to learn how it works, be good at your job and be well networked. Being good at what you do is never enough.

  5. The Good Ole Boy System in the military of building strategic relationships with senior NCOs, Officers, and DA Civilians AND anyone in the military or business … I don’t call it kissing butt nor brown-nosing. It is more like … you scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours. As long as every move you make is honest, truthful and with integrity, then doing people favors, them doing them for you and more and more them willing to collaborate with you rocks. Watch your stress level lower, and your productivity rise.

  6. Neil O'Donnell

    We definitely all have supporters. In the Army, or any job for that matter, you must reach out and get noticed for attempting and completing tasks. The more a soldier accomplishes, the more he or she will get noticed and develop a strong network, which will aid in getting promotions. I find that most people will not provide references or opportunities to those they believe are not capable of completing a job. Therefore, if you do not get a wanted promotion, ask yourself what experience are you potentially lacking which prevented you from being the best choice for a position. All you can do is control your talent and qualifications.

  7. I think the Good Ole Boy system exists not only in the Military, but in life outside of the service as well. It’s unfortunate that jobs are filled not based soley qualifications, but by people that you are lucky enough to know.

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