Fall woods

Fall woods

Thursday, March 3, 2016

On Goats And Flagpoles

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, a friend told me a story.  He'd been a pilot in the Air Force, flying one of those gigantic planes that can go long distances without refueling and that accordingly carried a couple of pilots who would trade off sleeping and flying.  The friend woke up to find the other pilot doing something that he, the friend, disapproved of for whatever reason, and called the guy on it.  The response he received was classic and brief.  "Who's f&%^ing this goat??"  Meaning, of course, "I'm the one actually flying right now, so butt out."  To this day, when someone asks me a question about something that isn't my concern, my answer is "Not my goat."  Along much the same lines as "Not my circus, not my monkeys," just slightly more off-color (at least if you know the backstory.)

I was reminded of this yesterday when I heard about the Sandhurst Test.  In one version, which I borrowed from the govexec.com website, here's how it goes:

"You are a second lieutenant. Your platoon consists of a sergeant and a dozen privates. You have three 12-foot poles, 300 feet of rope, five stakes, a shovel, a knife, two clips and a flag. Your task: Put up the flagpole."
In the US, this is called the second lieutenant promotion test.  It raises questions of both engineering and personnel management for the candidate who is being tested: how the job should be done and also how the available personnel should best manage the necessary steps between them.

Most candidates go into a long spiel at this point, but the official correct answer is only five words long: "Sergeant, put up that flag."  You see, this is not in fact a test of the lieutenant's knowledge, but rather her or her propensity for micromanagement.  The idea is that if you have capable, knowledgeable underlings who understand the objective and have access to the necessary resources, there should be no need to explain to them how their jobs should be done.

I think the phrase "flagpole test" has just been added to my permanent vocabulary.  :)

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