Rank has its privileges

Real leaders inspire, not intimidate

I was trained to be an army officer during six months of officer candidate school in 1966. And to this day those months were the best education in human relations I ever received; better than all 17 years of formal education spent earning a BA and MPA. The concept and pitfalls of RHIP were dispensed in daily doses during that training, mostly warning us against it. My three years of active duty as an officer showed me why. I ran into two types of army officers: good ones who never resorted to RHIP, and lesser men who found many ways to abuse it.

I separated from the army in late 1969 and it seems I have been waiting for the right cue to express my intense dislike of people who abuse their rank. Recent letters to this paper dealing with the privileges of Members of Congress have provided that cue. You know the ones I’m talking about, where MCs should buy their own health insurance, and join Social Security for retirement benefits. Where their term of office should be limited and then each incumbent shown the door.

I once taught citizenship merit badges to Boy Scouts and emphasized that everyone in Washington, D. C. worked for them. I hesitate to say that now.

During my army training I saw the company commander stand aside and wait his turn in the chow line until his men had been served. On active duty I saw a general officer treat his aide, my best army pal, like a slave requiring him to pay for everything and then submit a bill to be reimbursed a month later—this from a man who was paid at least ten times that of his aide. He did it because he could, not because he should.

After army service, I returned to graduate school and confounded one professor by saying Up the Organization was the best management book ever written. Why? Because author of the book, Robert Townsend, the CEO of Avis, paid people lower in the company’s management structure more than he paid himself! This would be inconceivable today with multi-million-dollar CEO pay regardless of results. But sadly, the only remnant of the practices in that book is a special parking place for employee of the month.

I eschew the cult of the individual. Men who fail to mention the people around them who contributed to their success never impress me. I admire Nolan Ryan, Hall of Fame pitcher who dwells on the plural personal pronoun WE, and you know he means the rest of the team and his wife who is always sitting beside him. If you watch any sports on TV you’ll see players pointing at each other recognizing contributions. This simple acknowledgement came from Dean Smith, an extremely humble basketball coach at my university. Coach Smith was big on we.

My grad school dean once said no one in public service would get rich because it was supposed to be a privilege. His profound words certainly applied to my public service which I’ll always consider an honor and a privilege. But at the highest level of public service, RHIP has been abused, is being abused. If Congress were an army officer, no one would follow.

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