I’m in the Army and work in one of the Battalion shops. As such, I’m in and out of the Commander’s office all day. Recently I discovered that he is having sexual relations with an enlisted female. That is definitely against Army regulations, but I feel that I’ll be ostracized if I report it. It doesn’t seem to be harming anyone, what should I do?
Major Trouble, reporting to General Uncertainty
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY TIMOTHY JOHNSON
Dear Major Trouble,
I talked about your situation with three friends and colleagues who have military experience. The answers came back somewhat varied, but all three agreed that you are now in an unenviable position.
Let’s put aside the morality of the situation for now, as I think everyone can agree that an extramarital affair with a subordinate is wrong, both from a procedural and a moral perspective. I’ll give you the perspective of all three of my military friends (all of whom spent from five to twenty years in various branches of the military).
Army Friend #1: Do Nothing. Say Nothing.
The first friend with whom I talked said that you should do nothing. His rationale was that the nature of military jobs is somewhat transient, and that one of them will probably be transferred anyway, thus ending the affair. He also commented that, if you know about it, so do a host of others. The enlisted female’s reputation for how she rose through the ranks will follow her throughout the rest of her career (and he said the same thing of subordinate males who engage in the same behavior with superior females). The bottom line is that their reputations are tarnished, whether or not you do anything.
Army Friend #2: Do your Duty and Blow the Whistle
The second friend with whom I talked said that rules are rules, and that you should report them. Period. No gray area. No negotiation. Turn them in and let the chips fall where they may. It’s your duty to your country.
Army Friend #3: Report it through the Military Lawyers
The third friend recommended that you report it, but you do so through the JAG (military lawyers). His rationale is that allowing it to continue will affect unit morale (even though it doesn’t seem to be hurting anybody, as you observed), and that you need to look at the bigger picture of the organization rather than just the individuals involved (what I refer to as playing “bear politics”).
Your Battle Plan?
Here are some questions to ask yourself in determining your course of action:
1. How many other people know (or probably know) about this affair? Are you the only one or is it common knowledge among the rest of your unit? If it is common knowledge, then you are much safer going with the JAG report without fear of retribution.
2. How do you feel about yourself knowing this information? The bottom line is that your own reputation is the only thing you own. Will your military career be tarnished if people know that you knew and did nothing? I challenge my clients and my readers to always consider the final outcome (short-term AND long-term) when taking action on an office politics situation.
3. What is the reputation of the two people involved? Are they well-liked and respected? If not, you may be doing others a favor by reporting it. If they are, then their reputations are probably not well deserved.
What would I do if I was in your shoes?
Of the three with whom I talked, I liked the approach of using the JAG to handle the situation. Of course, with any office politics situation, making accusations requires some kind of proof. Make sure you have your ducks in a row when you approach them.
This kind of thing is challenging in any situation. A former boss of mine (female) was found to be having an affair with a male subordinate on company time on company premises. When it was discovered, she was promptly let go from her place of employment. Of course, she was a very unpopular leader, and there was much rejoicing at her departure. HR departments tend to frown on these kinds of activities. In general, it’s just good practice to separate work and romance. Especially in the military, keeping one’s “soldiers behind the lines” will prevent morale issues and possible unpleasant compromises further down the road.
I wish you the best. Thank you for writing to Office-Politics.
Timothy Johnson, Author & Consultant
Timothy Johnson is the Chief Accomplishment Officer of Carpe Factum, Inc. His company is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations “seize the accomplishment” through effective project management, strategic facilitation, and business process improvement. His clients have included Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Wells Fargo, ING, Principal Financial Group, and Teva Neuroscience. Timothy has managed projects ranging from a $14 billion class action lawsuit settlement to HIPAA compliance, from software conversion to process reengineering, from strategic IT alignment to automated decisioning, from producing a training video to creating a project office environment. He is currently an adjunct professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, teaching MBA classes in Leadership, Managing Office Politics, Creativity for Business, and Project Management.
An accomplished speaker, Timothy has enthusiastically informed and entertained audiences across the nation on the topics of project communication, office politics, creativity, and meeting management. He has written two books, both business fables: Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable and GUST – The Tale Wind of Office Politics.