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Part I: Demoted for criticizing my boss

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Dear Office-Politics,

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!


Newly Demoted


dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Newly Demoted,

Of course you are focused on improving your current situation which seems blatantly unfair. Since you are very early in your career and we tend to look at things from a longer perspective, it is possible that this cadet has given you a tremendous gift, one that will repay you a hundred times what he has cost you.

However, you will only achieve these gains if you extract vital lessons from this experience. From your letter we can see that you believe in logic, fairness and objectivity. Those are excellent qualities but should be combined with organizational savvy. That is, being astute about human nature and organizational behavior.

Your statement “I… feel like he had no reason to demote me, save the fact that we don’t like each other.” reveals that you are naive about how some people in power will treat you if you criticize them. While some people in power can accept criticism and challenge, many will punish or silence critics. You need to find this out about bosses before you display dislike for them or their ideas. We suggest that you immediately become a student of organizational savvy.

What do you do now? Confronting him will probably do no good and might make him more motivated to hurt your career. A safe way to proceed would be to go to the person who promoted you and ask him for feedback. Tell him that you are trying to understand why you were demoted so you can improve for the future. If he gives you an opening to discuss your ex boss you can pursue it. But again, long term, the most important thing is to learn from this. Over the course of your career you will meet many people like this cadet. Learn to recognize them early. They give off signals about who they are. Than you can make better choices about how to engage them.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.


Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.D. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

  1. 3 Answers to “Part I: Demoted for criticizing my boss”

  2. Demoted:

    You learned a cheap lesson at a good time. Having been both a cadet and an Army officer, I can honestly tell you that the Boy’s School on the Hudson is not the “real” Army, nor is it an “office” where regular rules apply. It will give you a good education, and a good look at real life.

    1. What you did was disloyal. Any hint of disloyalty is harshly squashed in the Army and the Corps of Cadets. To criticize one is to criticize all; hence, you have to die as an example to others.

    2. The Army and Corps of Cadets is filled with sociopaths who do things because they can. Period.

    3. Going to your TAC Officer will only compound the problems. The TAC won’t do anything (it doesn’t get him anything and you are expendable). The TAC will think that you are a “whiner” and mentally blackball you. The guy who demoted you will find out and really bring out the axe for you. Everyone will close ranks against you because that is the easiest course of action – it can be a long next 2-3 years without friends or associates…

    4. Learn from the experience. Suck it up. Be quiet. Take it like a man and wait for your next opportunity to rise. Learn not to wear a bulls-eye t-shirt.

    5. In the “real” Army, they will ruin your career. Ruin you reputation; humiliate you and possibly do you harm. Whistleblowers are not protected. Whiners are run into the ground. Eventually, everyone falls into line or leaves. Duty, Honor and Country is only for public consumption. In reality, it is CYA and look out for yourself. The only person who will take better care of yourself, is yourself.

    BTDT. A veteran of internal and external wars.

    Good Luck!

    By G. Hill on Jan 27, 2008

  3. My company which is an LLC, started a second LLC about a year and a half ago. My CEO constantly tells me and my colleague that it is ONE company, NOT two. He says they did it for tax purposes. However, this second company which is it’s own LLC, constantly calls me for technical help which I am forced to do. I was not hired to work for this second company. They even have different names on their pay checks. This is a corporate job. Is this legal? Can I be fired for refusing to do work for the second company?



    By Double Dipped on Oct 27, 2009

  4. I am disgusted by G. Hill’s comments. His attitude is the reason the US military has not decisively won a war since WWII. And based on his attitude, and those of like minds, the military will never change. “Go along to get along,” and all the BS that he’s spouting will turn you into a terrific sycophant. My advice (also coming from an army officer – note I don’t capitalize the word) is to do what is right, tell the truth, and never submit to the inanity that defines the military experience. Best of luck to you.

    By Disgusted on Apr 6, 2012

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