There is a mental exercise — probably used by every military organisation since Alexander — which was described to me as a sprogling in Deepest Africa by a Rhodesian officer as “The Sandhurst Flagpole Test.”
“Sandhurst” being, of course, the British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, but I’ve heard various iterations of the same riddle posed to me in the U.S. Army.
Anyhoo, the test is as such: a bright young proto-officer is brought into a room where he faces a panel of instructors. This proto-officer is told that the next exercise is a mental one, that the parameters are that he is the officer in charge of a small unit consisting of a sergeant, a corporal and ‘X’ number of soldiers. There is equipment consisting of one standard two-piece flagpole, digging implements, various lengths of rope and bags of concrete. The proto-officer is informed that the task assigned is to erect a flagpole on that very spot, and asked what orders he would give to effectuate this?
At this point, the hapless cadet usually begins giving precise details of whom would be ordered to do what, leading to the lead instructor raising a paw and solemnly announcing that the proto-officer has failed the exercise.
The flustered proto-officer is then informed that there is one order, and one order only, which would pass the test, and that order is: “Sergeant, get that flagpole up.”
This test is variously cited as being a warning against micro-managing, an exhortation to know thy limits, proper utilisation to talents, so one and so forth.
I have used it through-out my career as a demonstration that senior staff were micro-managing.
I have recently been dragged, kicking and screaming, over to the Dark Side — by which I mean I have been promoted to Command Staff with a title along with a new rank.
A great deal of my new duties involve dealing with humor-impaired State-level functionaries and the occasional snoop-and-poop by said functionaries.
We have recently endured one such event, and by the second day I literally almost broke down into screaming obscenities in our living room.
The next day, I was in the middle of going to get ID-10T forms from a clerk that were an inspectable item, when I was stopped by another supervisor.
Said worthy asked what I was about and I told him, then he looked at me and ordered me to hold my left index finger in a crooked position and my right index finger rigid.
He hooked a coffee mug over my left finger, picked up a mug of his own, reached out with his right index finger and activated the phone on the desk. The clerk answered, the supervisor stated, “It’s audit time again. We need the forms,” the clerk responded, “What, already? Oh, that’s why ‘Dog’s been in my office three times today. Wish he’d’ve … on my way!”
As I watched, my compatriot took a sip of coffee, cocked an eyebrow at me over the rim of his mug and opined, gently, “It’s not your job to do things anymore. It’s your job to give things to other people to do.”
At this time I would like to announce to everyone whom I have — in the past — sat down and admonished: “You just failed the Flagpole Test” …
… I like my crow with BBQ sauce.