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Leadership 101: RANK, TITLE, AND RESPONSIBILITY

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Today is Day Two of the twenty-day "Leadership 101" series I'll be posting. This series expresses my thoughts on some topics important to the successful leadership of a local unit, and asks other unit leaders to post their thoughts, ideas, and experiences on the same subject in hopes that together we can help those who are starting from scratch with unit-building.

 

Today the topic is RANK, TITLE, and RESPONSIBILITY.

 

The question of rank is one that has yet to find definite agreement between various Militia organizations, with many good and successful operations choosing to assign rank in similar fashion to the actual military, and other, equally-successful ones adamantly opposed to it. In may ways this is one of those "no right answer" situations; both sides have valid arguments to support their decision, and could equally claim that they've "proven" the rightness of their choice.

 

What cannot be doubted, though, is an absolute truth of leadership that history has proven time and again--that whatever rank/title system is ultimately decided upon for your unit, it must be consistent and rely on merit as it's basis. Rank cannot be awarded for any other reason besides having been earned as a result of contribution to the unit--and that contribution cannot be in the form of fiscal consideration. In other words, you as a commander simply cannot allow rank to be purchased.

 

Throughout history different military organizations have attempted to reward financiers with rank (and commensurate command) based on their financial contribution. Wealthy men have often purchased commissions and command, some even as high as the various "General" positions. During the American Civil War it was not uncommon to encounter entire units that were assembled and "volunteered" for just such a purpose; these "private armies" were financed and commanded by a wealthy Colonel or General, often with disastrous results. Exceptions to the rule exist, but in general this was permitted simply to get more bodies on the field, and the commanders in question were woefully unprepared for the task. Because battles were often a "numbers game" and attrition decided such affairs, the thinking seemed to be that a large number of men commanded by an incompetent officer was better than not having those men at all.

 

As the commander of what is, in effect, a private army (your unit), you can see where such thinking could be quite foolhardy.

 

Besides elevating someone who is incompetent, the other risk in trading rank for money is the demoralizing effect it has on other troops within the unit, some of whom are not only more skilled, but more senior or more "proven". The hit to morale, and subsequent recruiting (among other issues) can be devastating.

 

Regardless whether you choose to compose your unit using a ranking system adapted from the "real" military or not, you will have to find some form of command structure. Positions within that structure should almost always be earned via progression/promotion through the ranks. There are three exceptions to note:

  • When you are first starting out and positions of command need to be filled, it is acceptable to fill those positions with officers who would otherwise not qualify for them. It is a good idea to make these assignments temporary, via an "interim" tag. People filling these roles should understand that they are not permanent, and must be willing to step aside when a more suitable candidate emerges to take on the post. There is never room for ego or hubris in the Militia--do not allow these emotions to cloud your judgement when moving people within the command structure, particularly in the early stages of unit development.
  • When you encounter a potential unit member who brings particular skill or "gravitas" to the unit. It is folly to recruit a former field-grade officer, who has spent decades in the regular military, only to assign him to the same rank as a fresh-faced kid who just graduated high school. This is both insulting to the officer, and a waste of talent and experience that any unit could sorely use. The same could be said for people who have excelled in other walks of life; a first-rate businessman could easily be advanced in rank or assigned officer status in the logistics office of your unit, for instance. There is a difference between allowing success in other fields to dictate rank, versus simply selling the position. The first is perfectly acceptable. The second, not so much.
  • When a member of the unit earns a "promotion" based upon some meritorious service, but circumstances do not allow for a proper promotion to be processed. An example of this would be if a person within a particular office has done great work, but there are no higher positions available within that sub-unit--the existing command structure is filled and all those officers are competent. In this case, a meritorious promotion that does not confer any actual raise in position or responsibility might be processed. This is called breveting, and generally results in the candidate being referred to/calling himself the higher rank, but with no official change in status. A Major is now called "Colonel", for instance, but remains a Major for all other purposes. Breveted positions are often ceremonial in their assignment, and are also often designated when listing the officer's rank (Br. Major John Smith, or Breveted Major John Smith). Breveting is no longer standard practice in most modern militaries, but historically it has had a place and could be considered when looking for a way to reward activity that otherwise cannot be adequately compensated.

 

Deciding at what rank a new recruit should be brought in can be complicated, and a little messy given that it is often a subjective call. Some opt to simply bring everyone in at the bottom and let them work their way up. On it's face this seems the fairest option, but again it runs the risk of "dumbing down" recruits who could otherwise bring valuable skills and connections to your operation. On the flip side, it can cause dissension within the ranks if a new recruit is permitted to skip over others who have been there for awhile, particularly if the skills for which the new recruit was promoted are not readily apparent to the others. The best answer to this is to be the best commander  you can be overall, and to earn the respect of those you command. With this respect comes trust and deference, meaning that your underlings will be more inclined to trust your judgement and grumble little. Barring this level of respect, you may have to make the case why you chose to elevate a particular recruit. In general, this is a slippery slope. Once you start justifying your actions, you will find yourself increasingly expected to. This is no way to lead.

 

The last thing I'll say on the subject of rank and title is this; besides the obvious advantage that a rank system gives with regard to actual command, it carries many other advantages, mostly psychological, with everyone in the unit. Rank creates a built-in goals system (continually striving to achieve the next higher rank); fosters a sense of belonging to/within an organization; instills automatic leadership (as higher-ranked people are technically "leaders" of those below them); instills a sense of actual military bearing; and fosters camaraderie with members of the same rank or same rank class ("commissioned" versus "non-commissioned", "privates" versus "corporals", etc.). The benefit of these psychological boosts cannot be quantified, but they likewise cannot be overlooked.

 

No matter whether you choose to use some variation of the standard military ranking system, something adapted from business or civic organizations, or a hybrid of the two, you must create a command structure by which orders may be issued and carried out, and achievement can be rewarded with promotion to the next level. There is no way to be successful as an organization without this, especially when part of the purpose of the organization includes potential duty on the battlefield.

 

Tomorrow's topic is THE FIRST TEN BOOTS.

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Author of the topic Posted
1 hour ago, O sleeper said:

I think you should take all these posts, and make a small document or manual or something. It could be given to those trying to start a unit.

It's in the works. 🙂

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Great discussion on rank. I would also add if a person starts a new militia their rank should be the lowest possible based upon the number of people in that local militia. You should not be a 5 star general of a militia of 10 guys. Keep rank at the lowest level possible for leaders increases it as the group size grows to imitate real military structure. You would never have a general lead a squad of soldiers on a daily basis.

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