What is Fair? The Military Way

By | December 1, 2017

[December 1, 2017]  The idea that life is fair was expunged from me in Army Basic Combat Training during my time in 1974 at Fort Polk, Louisiana.  Drill Sergeant Bryant was a rigid disciplinarian that I intensely disliked because he was hard on us … but looking back, he was also the fairest man I ever knew.

What is fair?  As regular readers of theLeaderMaker.com know, I am no philosopher and do not attempt to be one.  But I do address subjects important to leaders, especially leaders in senior positions or those educating themselves on the ways to improve their leadership style.  Addressing the issue of fairness is a topic I wanted to tackle for a long time.

Here is the problem with the English concept of fair; it has multiple, overlapping, and evolving meanings.  English is not always clear and our usage of words is not always precise.  That leads people to interpret words as they personally see them.  They are simply being human to get along with others.

Leaders, on the other hand, must have clarity in what they say and write.  Leaders are at their best whenever they effectively deal with ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity.  And fairness is a concept they must address if they are to be a good leader.  If they don’t make it clear to everyone what fair means and carry out their duties fairly, only discontent can come of it.

Here are some of the ways military leaders attempt to be fair:

  1. The rules apply to everyone without exception. These rules are written either in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (which is the foundation for military law) or in various written policies and procedures.  Failures to either follow these rules or as a leader to apply them equally means the offending party is held accountable under those same rules.
  2. They do not care about your feelings, desires, and wants and will tell you so. Decisions and actions based on feelings will get you into trouble because the military is based upon discipline and following orders.  Who would want to clean a latrine used by a hundred soldiers?  It is much easier to treat everyone equally and fairly when feelings are not a factor in the decision.
  3. The authority of those in leadership positions is based upon tradition and written authority backed by law. A unit’s commander will have been selected by those in senior leadership positions based upon merit.  Those subordinate to the commander has sworn their allegiance and obedience from the first day they enlist or are commissioned.
  4. Promotion to the next rank is based upon merit and pay is based upon rank and time in service. Relevant experience, hard work, a positive attitude, demonstrating a capacity to get the job done, honesty, selfless decisions, are all factors in achieving the higher rank.

One of the more common complaints about poor leadership can be traced to a leader who has not exercised their duties in a fair way.  Sergeant Bryant was certainly someone who treated us fairly.  He demanded we give “One Hundred and Ten Percent” every single day.  It was a shock to us but he helped form us into real soldiers.  I do not know whatever happened to him but I wish him well.  Thank you, Sergeant Bryant!

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