If you’re paying attention, life can teach you wonderful little lessons along the way. Hopefully this is one of them and you don’t make the mistake a colleague of mine made.
During my army days (about 10 years and 20 pounds ago) there would come a time on a duty assignment where you “came down on orders.” That’s an armyism for “we’re gonna send you someplace else because we know what’s best for you.” It was often done under the auspices of NOTA (Needs of the Army).
I was a senior lieutenant stationed at beautiful and majestic Fort Carson, Colorado. I could literally walk out my back door and look at the Rockies and fish for trout on Pike’s Peak. One day my crusty old First Sergeant (who I’m pretty sure served alongside Audie Murphy) came into my office and announced “you’ve come down on orders, sir.” He smirked. That’s when things got interesting.
I opened my orders and to my dismay, saw I was being assigned to a one year tour in Korea. And I’d be leaving my family behind and going alone. Fun! Needless to say I was less than thrilled at the prospect of freezing my behind off on the DMZ for half the year and sweating it off for the other half.
I called the captain who ran assignments for armor officers at that time.
“Look Cliff, I just got my orders for Korea. I’m a little less than enthused.”
“I know Mike, but, you know… needs of the Army.”
“I know you have slots to fill Cliff. I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m willing to be assigned just about anywhere other than Korea at this point. If you have any other assignments anywhere else, I’d be more than happy to entertain those options.”
“Lemme see what I can do. I’ll call you back.”
The next morning, Cliff called. “I’m going to send you to Fort Knox Mike. It’s not a line position – it’ll be as a personnel officer in a training unit. I know that’s not exactly an attractive role but I think you’ll like it better than Korea, right?” I was more than pleased with this outcome.
“I’m happy to take the role. Can I ask how I ended up getting that slot?”
“Yeah. When you called, you made a reasonable request. You also gave me options. You know how hard it is for me to juggle all these assignments and competing preferences. By leaving me some discretion to assign you pretty much anywhere else, you made my job a little easier.”
“And for your information, I filled the Korea slot too. Another one of your peers called me after I had assigned him to Fort Polk, Louisiana. He DEMANDED to be sent somewhere else. He told me he refused the assignment and I had better get back to him with a new one as soon as I was able. You just happened to call me right after I hung up with him. I met his demand – he’s not going to Fort Polk. He’s going to Korea…”
“Thanks Cliff. Hey, what do you like to drink? I owe you for this one.”
“I’m not allowed to accept favors for doing my job, Mike. However, my wife really likes Jack Daniel’s.” I promptly went to the store and shipped off a couple of bottles of JD to Cliff’s wife.
The lesson? When you’re up for a new assignment (be it a project, a job, a new role, etc.) understand the balance of power. Realize the more flexibility you demonstrate and the more degrees of freedom you give “the powers that be” the more mature you’ll seem and the lower the likelihood of a bad outcome. Or you can just demand what you deserve and you’ll get what you deserve. Your call.