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
- Meritocracy Erosion: When personal relationships take precedence over qualifications and skills, the core principles of a meritocratic institution like the military can be compromised.
- Low Morale: The perception of unfair treatment can erode morale among soldiers who feel their hard work and dedication are being overshadowed by connections.
- 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.
- Diminished Trust: The existence of the Good Ole Boy System can undermine trust in leadership and the integrity of the organization as a whole.
Mitigating the Impact of the Good Ole Boy System
- Transparency and Accountability: Promoting transparency in decision-making processes helps to ensure that choices are based on clear criteria and not on personal connections.
- Performance Evaluation: Implementing rigorous performance evaluation systems based on objective criteria minimizes the subjectivity of decisions related to promotions and assignments.
- Leadership Training: Providing leadership training that emphasizes fairness, inclusivity, and ethical decision-making can help counteract the influence of the Good Ole Boy System.
- 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.
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.
- Military Career Tips
- How to Fast Track Your Military Career
- How to Set Goals for Your Military Career
- The Quickest Way to Ruin Your Military Career
- Starship Troopers: Key Lessons