I’m an Army cadet at an elite military academy in the U.S. Last semester, I was promoted to one of the highest positions in my class by the faculty officer in charge. The only person higher than me was a cadet with a rank that made him my boss.
I did my job well enough to receive commendation from the faculty officer in charge, but with the arrival of the new semester, I was demoted to one of the lowest positions in my class. The cadet who was my boss was in charge of promotions and demotions. A few very reliable friends of mine heard him saying that he demoted me based on the sole fact that he didn’t like me. This may be due to the fact that I am among many, many cadets who have criticized him openly for lack of leadership skills and the fact that he used his rank to maintain his seniority over other cadets.
Although I was a critic of his, I still performed my job with excellence and feel like he had no reason to demote me, save the fact that we don’t like each other. Should I confront him about this? Should I go over his head and bring this up to the faculty officer in charge? Any help would be appreciated!
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY FRANKE JAMES
Dear Newly Demoted,
You’ve identified your mistake as speaking out against your boss: “I am among many, many cadets who have criticized him openly for lack of leadership skills and the fact that he used his rank to maintain his seniority over other cadets.
You ‘Wounded the King’, but didn’t kill him
Casual banter and gossip has sunk many careers. If you could do it all over again you might decide that keeping your cards close to your chest would have been the wiser move. It probably felt great to share your caustic opinion of him with your buddies, but did it achieve anything? It only alerted him to your dislike of him. In effect you ‘Wounded the King’, but you didn’t kill him.
‘Wounding the King’ is when you criticize someone who has more power than you. As soon as your fellow cadet had a chance, he retaliated and demoted you. The old saying goes, “If you’re going to attack the king, kill him, or don’t go after him.” (Office-Politics Advisers Brandon and Seldman have written about this phenomenon in many letters on our site and in their book Survival of the Savvy.)
Was criticizing your boss really a mistake?
Your boss’ behavior would be considered very heavy-handed in the civilian world. But in the army it’s probably considered reasonable. You disrespected him and he squashed you, as a lesson to you and your peers of his ‘power’. It sounds harsh, but when you consider that officers have to be able to issue orders, and trust that soldiers will do what they say without question, it makes more sense. Respect for authority is critical in the military.
People who aren’t in the army may think your situation is very unfair. Shouldn’t we always stand up for what’s right and blow the whistle? There may come a time when you do have to blow the whistle on an officer over a life and death issue. But this incident probably isn’t the one you want to put your neck on the line for.
Thanks for writing to Office-Politics. Please let us know how it goes.
Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game
Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.