[March 6, 2018] Working close to the flag is an old military saying that means a soldier works near a senior officer’s headquarters.1 As in any organizational culture, this means greater visibility and more opportunity for that particular military member. Such a position translates into a number of possibilities that can help or harm one’s career.
One of the many ideas that Americans hold dearly is the wish for access to opportunities. For those in the military and others who work in business, being near the flag allows for greater career advancement, pay, respect, perks, and flexibility. Because senior leaders often have the best personnel working for them, it also brings one in contact with top performing individuals as well as higher standards of performance.
Resources are also greater near the flag. Not just money but access to better training possibilities, willing mentors and coaches, newer equipment, and access to the latest and best information. When there is a need for someone to step up and do a job – where a need is sudden – it is not unusual for someone near the flag to be chosen simply because they are more visible and, hopefully, have proven themselves.
The flip side to greater opportunities when near the flag is greater scrutiny and testing of those folks. Underperforming individuals will be identified quicker and moved out away from the flag to allow others an opportunity. In the military, I’ve known mid-grade officers who consistently avoided being close to senior leaders. Their opportunities were less and they wondered why their careers advanced slowly and they were not given a chance to prove themselves.
Anyone who desires to do more and has the motivation to try harder will be rewarded more by working close to the flag. I recommend it but only for the individual who is driven to excellence and doing much more than the minimum.
- Militaries have existed since before recorded history and have always been associated with formal lines of authority which are symbolized in by the rank of officers. In the U.S. Army, the phrase working close to the flag originally meant working physically alongside a General Officer; thus the term “flag.”