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My Chain of Command is Out to Get Me!

The comprehensive guide to the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP)

I frequently hear from Soldiers who believe their Chain of Command is out to get them, either through use of an Article 15 or separation from service.  While these events can and occasionally do occur, it is my professional opinion these events are extremely rare.  So let’s explore this issue from both perspectives and look at some professional alternatives to resolving this issue.

Typically your leader especially a 1SG/CDR have so much going on within a unit that they have very little time left over.  So my initial questions to Soldiers who believe the Chain of Command is out to get them are:

  1. Do you really believe your leadership has nothing better to do then to sit down and plan your demise?
  2. If you are taking up significant amounts of your Chain of Command’s time what are you doing that is requiring so much of their attention?
  3. Are you consistently bringing their attention to you because of substandard performance?

Chain of Command Perspective

Chances are if your Chain of Command is spending a lot of time speaking to you, odds are you are drawing attention to yourself based on poor choices and/or poor performance.

So let’s look at the issue from the Chain of Command’s perspective.  They have a lot going on and they are most likely becoming frustrated because your lack of performance is taking up too much of their time.  It would be normal for a leader to eventually become frustrated.  In these conditions and based upon the seriousness of the infraction they should consider counseling you, providing corrective training, recommending and/or revoking privileges, and as a last resort recommending UCMJ action.

It is also possible that actions the Chain of Command takes from their perspective seem minor in nature but can be perceived by a Soldier as a significant event personally directed towards the Soldier.  Leaders need to understand they have significant influence and authority by virtue of their rank and they should be careful how they exercise that authority so that they do not give out false perceptions.

The goal of the Chain of Command is to correct and educate.  There is no better feeling then helping a substandard Soldier become a successful professional.  If your leader is acting unprofessionally it will be seen both in actions, statements, and paperwork.  More on this later.

Soldier’s Perspective

I fully understand from a Soldier’s perspective that at times it may seem like a member of the Chain of Command is coming down hard on you.  There are several possible reasons:

  1. Maybe you did something that brought unwanted attention to your squad or unit and this frustrated the Leader.
  2. Maybe the Leader is having a bad day.  This is no excuse but Leaders are human.
  3. Maybe the Leader’s correction appears harsh or personal to you

The key in dealing with this issue is to step back and think through the issue.  Consider asking yourself questions like:

  1. Did my actions deserve the rebuke from my Leader?
  2. Did my Leader treat me as anyone else in the element would be treated by him/her under the same circumstances?
  3. Is my leader usually a harsh person?
  4. Does my leader usually take things personally?
  5. Have you ever seen your leader take an incident personally and attempt to illegally or unlawfully punish a Soldier?

Some other items you should consider:

  1. Were the Leaders’ actions:
    1. Verbally abusive?
    2. Verbally degrading?
    3. Take the form of hazing?
    4. Physically abusive?
    5. Was the order you were given: Legal, Ethical, Moral, or Unreasonably Unsafe

If these actions were part of your situation you should read AR 600-20 as it pertains to hazing.  Other charges that might be appropriate might be:  abuse of authority and/or abuse of subordinates

Once you have had a chance to think through the issue and give the situation time to calm down you might consider the following actions:

  1. When the time is appropriate approach your Leader and ask to talk about what happened?
  2. If you were in fact wrong take responsibility for your actions.
  3. Be humble and apologize.
  4. If you feel the Leader treated you inappropriately consider:
    1. Sharing with the Leader the actions that you specifically took offense with
    2. Ask them if their Leader treated them in the manner you were treated would it be acceptable.
    3. Ask that the Leader to refrain from treating you in this way in the future.

You will be able to determine a lot about your Leader through his/her actions in how they handle your discussion with him/her.  If they are open minded and or apologetic to some degree odds are there will be no further issues.  If they are confrontational then it could be an indication that they see your actions as challenging their leadership style and/or authority.

 SO WHAT TO DO

Once you have tried to solve the issue at the lowest possible level you have several options.

  1. Continue to use the Chain of Command to seek resolution of the issue.  My rule of thumb is once you are two levels above the issue you have probably reached a leader that will be unemotional when dealing with the issue.  If you do not receive a satisfactory answer at this level it is time for you to reevaluate your position.  If you believe you are still in the right you can take the next steps.
  2. Seek resolution from the 1SG/CDR or the BN CSM/BN CDR
  3. Consider filing a formal complaint with your Chain of Command and request that a formal 15-6 be conducted
  4. Should your complaint involve a commander you can submit and Article 138 complaint.
  5. You may request assistance through the IG.
  6. You may request assistance through the JAG office if you believe the actions of the Leader violated the UCMJ.
  7. You can request assistance by contacting your Congressional Representative.

In issues like this the paperwork or lack of paperwork will usually tell the tale.  By this I mean if a Leader has taken an issue personally or acted unprofessionally they usually have paperwork that clearly reads in an unprofessional manner or indicates a high level of emotional behavior.  The opposite is also true, when a subordinate raises and issue about a Leader and the Leader has acted inappropriately the Leader usually begins rattling off a list of things the subordinate has done to deserve the treatment.  When the Chain of Command asks for supporting documentation and there is none.  BINGO- Red Flags should go up.

Usually when these issues are investigated by the Chain of Command they can quickly determine if a Leader acted in appropriately to some degree.  The number one rule for the subordinate to remember is to always be PROFESSIONAL, CALM, UNEMOTIONAL, and FACTUAL.  If you follow this format it will be very difficult for any Leader to put you a bad position.

Usually a subordinate loses their cool (Some unprofessional Leaders may even attempt to provoke Soldiers to act unprofessionally so they can use it against you).  When you act in an unprofessional manner you give the Leader the ammunition they need act against you and then you are at a disadvantage.

You must trust your Chain of Command.  Somewhere in your Chain of Command is an unbiased Leader that will give you a fair shake.  The more professional and factual you are the quicker you will find that Leader.  Also keep in mind that when a Leader goes out to get a Soldier usually in the end the Leader is the one that gets caught. Remember the answer is in the Paperwork or lack of Paperwork.

As I stated previously, there are times when unprofessional Leaders might seek personal retribution but by far most Leaders are acting in a manner they believe is fair and appropriate.  All of them will make mistakes and when confronted by a subordinate most will usually take ownership of their mistakes.  Most Leaders want to treat Soldiers in the manner they wished to be treated.  When push comes to shove and you feel you need to take action someone in your Chain of Command will be a professional and reasonable professional.  That does not mean you will get the answer you desire but it does mean the issue with be satisfactorily addressed.

Here are some other links you might find helpful in dealing with this issue:

Taking the Venom out of Toxic Leadership?

How to survive a Weasel Boss?

When should I go to the IG?

How to convince a Toxic Leader to treat me with respect?

A guide for communicating with Congress

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Mark is a Retired Command Sergeant Major with 26 years of military leadership experience. He held 3 military occupational specialties (Field Artillery, Nuclear Weapons Tech, and Ammunition Ordnance). Mark is one of the leading military authors in the fields of leadership, counseling, and training.

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