The Good Ole Boy System in the Military

In today’s post, I’d like to discuss the Good Ole Boy System in the military. Keep in mind this information is geared toward National Guard and Army Reserve personnel, rather than Active Duty personnel.

The military, often regarded as a disciplined institution driven by meritocracy, is not immune to the influence of certain informal practices that can shape its internal dynamics. The “Good Ole Boy System,” a term used to describe favoritism and preferential treatment based on personal connections, can sometimes find its way into military culture. In this article, we delve into the concept of the Good Ole Boy System in the military, its potential implications, and the measures taken to maintain fairness and integrity within the ranks.

Understanding the Good Ole Boy System in the Military

The Good Ole Boy System refers to a network of personal relationships that extends beyond formal organizational structures, often influencing decisions related to promotions, assignments, and career advancements. This system can lead to an environment where individuals with connections are favored over those solely based on merit.

In my own words, 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 their peers gets promoted over their peers.
  • Someone with 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 they are on someone’s shit list.

This happens in the National Guard and Army Reserve more often than the Active Duty Army. However, the Good Ole Boy System is alive and well in every organization in the world. Why? We are all humans and we all want to work with people we like, know, and trust.

Two troops are up for awards: One has worked their ass off, day in and day out. They are a master at what they do and have not just helped others with problems, they’ve taught others how to fix those problems for next time. They don’t get in trouble with command, but they’re not the most people-friendly person you’ve met. The other unimpressively slides through work but goes fishing with the commander on weekends.

Logically speaking, the first troop should get a higher award than the second. Realistically, they probably got the same recognition, despite the difference in effort. ~ WearetheMighty

The Implications of the Good Ole Boy System

  1. Meritocracy Erosion: When personal relationships take precedence over qualifications and skills, the core principles of a meritocratic institution like the military can be compromised.
  2. Low Morale: The perception of unfair treatment can erode morale among soldiers who feel their hard work and dedication are being overshadowed by connections.
  3. Inequality and Unfairness: A lack of transparency in decision-making can lead to unequal opportunities and create a sense of disillusionment among those left on the sidelines.
  4. Diminished Trust: The existence of the Good Ole Boy System can undermine trust in leadership and the integrity of the organization as a whole.

the good ole boy system in the military

Mitigating the Impact of the Good Ole Boy System

  1. Transparency and Accountability: Promoting transparency in decision-making processes helps to ensure that choices are based on clear criteria and not on personal connections.
  2. Performance Evaluation: Implementing rigorous performance evaluation systems based on objective criteria minimizes the subjectivity of decisions related to promotions and assignments.
  3. Leadership Training: Providing leadership training that emphasizes fairness, inclusivity, and ethical decision-making can help counteract the influence of the Good Ole Boy System.
  4. Diverse Leadership: Encouraging diversity in leadership roles brings varied perspectives to the decision-making process, reducing the likelihood of favoritism.

My Advice to You

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

# 1: You Are Already Part of the Good Ole Boy System: Everyone plays favorites with people they know, like and trust. It’s human nature to look out for people 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 are only one part of the career management process. Networking is equally important.

# 3: Networking is Critical: Being good at your job is important, but networking is more important. If you want to advance your military career quickly, you must 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: Everyone Networks: 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! Learn how to expand your network. It pays huge dividends.

Conclusion

While the Good Ole Boy System may occasionally find its way into military culture, modern military institutions recognize its potential negative impact on fairness, morale, and trust. As these organizations evolve to become more diverse, equitable, and transparent, steps are being taken to counteract the effects of personal connections in decision-making processes. By striving for fairness, meritocracy, and a commitment to upholding the principles that underpin military service, these institutions ensure that the Good Ole Boy System does not undermine the dedication, sacrifice, and professionalism that are hallmarks of military excellence.

Recommended Reading
  1. Military Career Tips
  2. How to Fast Track Your Military Career
  3. How to Set Goals for Your Military Career
  4. The Quickest Way to Ruin Your Military Career
  5. Starship Troopers: Key Lessons

 

Sincerely,
chuck holmes







Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)
Publisher, Part-Time-Commander.com
Email: mrchuckholmes@gmail.com

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14 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:

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

    Senior NCO’s and Officers maintaining very unprofessional relationships with with others in their unit.

    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.

    1. Everyone is part of someone else’s “Good Ole Boy” system and everyone has their own “Good Ole Boy” system. This is a reality. Embrace it and let it work for you.

  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.

    1. You got that right. This is how the world works. People hire people they like, know, and trust. If that’s the definition of the “Good Ole Boy” system, sign me up for it. Personally, I would hire someone I know over a complete stranger, 99% of the time. At least you know what you are getting when you do that.

  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.

    1. What a great comment. Speaking from personal experience, I would never write a letter of endorsement, or endorse someone, if I didn’t think they were capable. That would put my reputation on the line.

      I did that once in my military career and it backfired. I recommended someone for a job and they got selected for it. Sadly, they failed miserably in it, and the person who hired that person contacted me about my endorsement. I definitely learned from my mistake.

      Everyone would benefit from expanding their network and becoming more likeable. People skills are more important than technical skills. Even if you are great at what you do, if you can’t get along with others, and network, you are limiting your career opportunities.

      Just my two cents.

  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.

    1. Right or wrong, this is how the world works. The Good Ole Boy system is in every organization. That’s okay. Sometimes it works in our favor and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s important to network with people, be good at what you do, and position yourself for good luck!

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