So, I'm Darth Sidious Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, and I've finally managed to seize power be democratically elected emperor for life. At last, I can bring peace to the galaxy! If only it weren't for those gosh darn rebels...

The worst part of it is, my generals keep sabotaging each other. They seem to think that making the others look bad, they'll seem better by comparison, and as a result nothing is getting done. I already made an example or two when I caught them at it, but that only seems to encourage them to be sneakier. What can I do to get them to help each other out instead?


The setting is an advanced civilization with a large population, and correspondingly large bureaucracy to keep everything running. Technology is futuristic looking, but not fundamentally different - just changes in style, e.g. there are still cars, but now they fly! There are still iphones, but now they're holographic! Society is ruled by a single tyrant, supported by his legions of doom, and an even larger number of clerks and administrators to keep everything running.

The problem is that promotion depends entirely on impressing your superiors, and it is a lot easier to be the least-worst option by pushing everyone else down, than it is to be the best on your own merits. As a result, the upper ranks are notably cutthroat, and asking your colleagues for help is a surefire way to torpedo your own career.

The question is, what can the autocratic tyrant do to encourage his minions and administrators to help each other out, instead of stabbing each other in the back?

  • $\begingroup$ As much as I don't want to help out dictators, this is quite the interesting question. In lore, Darth Bane created "The Rule of Two" for Sith. There are always two Sith: a master and an apprentice. One serves as the vessel for power, the other covets that power. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 21:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think the first question we may need to address is why are you promoting upper ranking officers for being cutthroat? It seems to me that the first step for the dictator would be to stop rewarding such non-cooperative behavior. Why isn't the dictator doing this already? It seems obvious enough that the dictator would figure it out if there was not some valid constraint preventing them from doing so. We need to understand that constraint. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon I dispatch two fleets to capture a rebel stronghold. One returns with the rebels in custody, and the other returns with half his fleet dead. Which one should I promote? I have no proof that one of them sabotaged the other, and even if I suspect he did, can I really justify not promoting him? If I refuse, then that encourages others to not works so hard, since I don't rewards success. $\endgroup$
    – Benubird
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 12:04

4 Answers 4


Two philosophies will need to be built upon.

  1. Make backstabbing more painful than cooperation; the path of least resistance
  2. Positive reinforcement of cooperation, negative reinforcement of backstabbing

So we come up with the following trio of processes.

  1. Promotion is a process of nomination and approval, involving both the direct superior and one's peers.

We're going to have the peer's views of you directly affect one's ability to be promoted. We can't make this a democracy, however (horror the thought!), so we'll need to allow workarounds in place.

Peers (Those that have the same superior, or report to those who have the same superior) can cast a silent nomination (or, alternately, cast a vote of no faith), or withdraw it at any time, with no need to explain or confirm. Nobody but themselves can view the status of the nomination; it's perfectly anonymous. This should drastically reduce gaining nomination votes by force but, alas, will not entirely remove it.

When at least 1/3 of peers have voted one way or another, and the vote tally is at 2/3 in favor of the nomination, publicly the individual is nominated for promotion. This nomination is immediately and automatically receded as soon as these qualifications are no longer met (people recend their votes, or more people vote 'no faith.')

Alternatively, the superior may nominate an individual and as long as at least 1/3 of the individual's peers who have voted have voted in favor of nomination (and not "no faith"), the individual is considered nominated.

Theoretically a superior can crack down on his organization until his candidate gets enough nominations, but doing so is very public, and will be exposed by point 3 (later on in this answer).

When an individual is nominated either upper command can review his or her work history and transfer/promote as needed, or the individual's superior's superior can relocate the individual within his/her organization as he/she sees fit.

Another alternative in place (as we can't depend on peers always to get our people in place!) is that a council that directly reports to the man-up-top (Looking at you, Chancellor) can review percentage of nominations of any member of your government, work history, etc, and promote anyone as they see fit, no nomination required. This is a fail safe to allow you to promote who you see fit, as well as to both make it seem less like a dictatorship, and to remove micromanagement for yourself.

  1. Other incentives (pay grade, transfers, pardon of crimes) depends on work records, and anonymous, private peer recommendations.

Basically, if you impress your supervisor and your peers write good comments about you, you're more likely to get non-promotion benefits. Not everyone needs every reward being climbing to the top; sometimes a bump in pay or being transferred to that garden world is incentive enough. If the group you're inside is cutthroat, both pardons and transfers can help ease the situation, and this system would encourage people to play nice with others to get what they wanted.

  1. Internal investigations

A separate branch of government is responsible for weeding out those who manipulate the system, who falsify reports of peers, and other such less-than-desirable behavior. This branch is also responsible for making problems 'disappear.'

This branch is overseen by a small team who reports to the aforementioned council. Since the council is overseen by you, and carefully formed by you, the quality of this system depends on the capabilities and loyalty of the council. That's on you, Palpatine.

...And there you go. We make it easier to use honey instead of vinegar, we slap the wrists of those who are cutthroat, pat the heads of those who get along, and weed out those who try to manipulate the workings. Naturally propaganda will be lathered on top, to hopefully create a culture of people simply wanting to abide by the rules you set in place.

Good luck, overlord!

  • $\begingroup$ I was going to answer with the above solution as well. Just to expand: Today's real world modern corporations are hardly democracies. They're ruled from the top down - much like your world. For the most part, their promotion systems use a '360 evaluation', in which employees are assessed annually and promotions/pay raises granted based on their performance, the opinions of their direct superiors, their direct subordinates, and their peers. This could work for your world. $\endgroup$
    – WarPorcus
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 0:48
  • $\begingroup$ Since the reviews are anonymous, how do you avoid a general thinking "if I give everyone else a bad review, it reduces their chance at promotion, thus increasing mine"? $\endgroup$
    – Benubird
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Benubird Ah, you're correct and my intent wasn't communicated clearly. The branch under point #3 would have access to the peer reviews and would investigate rament bad reviews. Such is basically their job. The reviews would be anonymous to peers/supervisors. It's up to the dictator if the reviews are even made available to the peers, or if it's just the supervisor. $\endgroup$
    – Ranger
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 13:23

Some sort of sliding scale taxation might work. Consider: Each of your generals is making money somehow, either salary or their various black market dealings. Each of your generals has served you some number of days. Sort them as A, B, C, etc, so that A is your longest serving general. Set the tax rate based on how many days more General A has served you than General B. So A-B=... the larger the number "" is, the more their tax rate goes up. Now they have a reason to protect the general immediately their junior. Now, turn it into a graph... A-B + A-C + A-D + A-E + etc = The bigger gets, the more their tax rate goes up. Now they have a reason to protect everyone except the newest general. So, one more change -- if a general dies, he stays in the equation, but his number of days freezes, so once a general dies, everyone's rate starts creeping up -- every day, the diff gets a bit bigger. Now they have a reason to protect everyone in order to protect their own financial interests. Even if the death was legitimate, leave the general in the computations because that way no one tries to get sneaky and think they can get away with killing someone just by being crafty enough.

You can probably find similar "graph-like" incentives that will pull your generals together. Enough of them, and they'll actually think it is a good idea.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting proposal but this presents a perverse incentive in the opposite direction: now the generals want to protect each other even in cases where you have generals that perform poorly or worse, abuse their power, even to the point of criminality. I think you are setting the stage for a mafia-like organization. $\endgroup$
    – D. Hancock
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ Possibly. There's a second reason this is bad: nothing is more boring in a story than exposition about tax code. :-) $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 0:04
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't this encourage resentment of the newest general? After all, if they've all been serving for years, and then a new guy shows up and suddenly their alary gets cut in half because of him... that is going to be a very hostile work environment! $\endgroup$
    – Benubird
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ If it is replacing an existing general then that's the whole point. If it represents an expansion of the number of generals, the graph equations can be adjusted to take that into account. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 16:03

Maybe you shouldn't limit your example-making to "sabotage", so that being sneaky doesn't cut it. You need to call people out on not being helpful (literally, tell people when you notice). You need to emphasize loyalty, and how loyalty means putting success first not their own ambitions.

So, what if every time you have any of your generals' plans fail, you go over it and look for sabotage (of course), but also try to pick out one or two places where another general could have helped, but didn't (either helping when asked or outright offering help). A failure to help another general gets noticed, officially, when the failure of said plan is announced - maybe announced privately or publicly, depending on how you want to play it. Getting mentioned for failure to help counts against you. Do so three times, and there is a public warning (which could be a punishment, whatever you want). A failure to help that might have meant the original plan succeeded, gets a warning straight off. Three warnings and your general gets made an example of, exactly the same as for sabotage - for persistent little failures to cooperate, or for direct loss of three plans.

And, on the other side - failing to ask for help also gets noticed, and discouraged. Even in a successful plan, you can be asking how help might have expended less resources, taken less effort, gained more with the same plan or resources. Not asking for help where it could have bettered the plan gets the same official notice as not giving help, with a warning for three little misses, or for one miss that might have salvaged a failing plan - and treated as sabotage if persistent unwillingness to ask for help results in three warnings.

You will have to take a crash course in general-ing, to be able to catch some of those missed opportunities... or else you might be able to get your generals to call each other out - by using a consensus of all those not involved in the plan or in a position to help, since in the beginning they will have an incentive to hit both sides, and must defend their positions to each other (to get that consensus) and to your satisfaction. And once they realize that cooperation is being rewarded, and seeming too eager to point out others' flaws may count against them in this new environment, both among their peers and to their boss - their behavior should mellow over time until you hit a level you like. You can have "spot checks" for where other generals can help a plan at any point in its development, execution, or post-plan report (which should keep people thinking about it)... so it isn't easy for generals suddenly discover lack of helpfulness afterwards to sabotage others with, without giving a good reason why they didn't notice beforehand.

So, there's no safety in "sneakily" sabotaging their rivals - they can get called out for not helping when they could have, or for giving poor help or advice, or for not asking for help when they need it - and it will entirely depend on the boss's perception (said boss will want to look especially closely at rivals when judging 'not-helpfulness' to any general's plan). The generals want to be seen as having helped others, and to be seen as having asked for help (to avoid getting warnings for their own plans). Safety comes from fewer failed plans at all - especially if successes, or maybe specifically helping another general's plan to success, will reduce or cancel prior warnings. And this kind of behavior can be encouraged on successively lower levels - get your generals to encourage cooperation among those under them, and so on, until the entire organization is built that way.

Also, stop rewarding cutthroat behavior! Market it as loyalty, loyalty to your organization, your cause, and to you. Someone brings you info (about their peers, subordinates, superiors) that advances your organization or prevents a loss, they get rewarded. Someone brings you something that tears another down but is not helpful to your goals - they get neutral-to-outright-cool treatment, since minor squabbles or rule-breaking can distract from what your actual goals are. Play cutthroat behavior openly as selfishness and sabotage, noting that such a person puts themselves above your goals and that is neither behavior you want to reward, nor the type of person who should rise in your organization.

Make a special point of rewarding anyone, anyone who sets the goal above their ambitions - those who have asked for help, those who have sacrificed for your cause, those who are loyal to you. Pick out some names or instances of those lower down, so that your generals know what qualities impress you and catch your eye (and make sure no-one goes after your examples, please, the best loyalty is two-way). If you can get your hands on some names of those who "torpedoed" their careers by asking for help, bring them up (or create some) as examples to follow and heap their failures onto the heads of those who didn't help.

Really, you want people loyal to you anyway, so just make sure that letting plans or people fail is seen as deeply disloyal because those failures are not helping. This can also serve as a visible reason for your shakeup and new policies. Make sure your supervisors all the way down are looking for competence and loyalty, not competence and ambition (that's a combo likely to bite you, okay?).


First, consider the psychology of the dictator - that personality trusts no one, has to be first in everything, is extremely egotistical, paranoid and intolerant - especially of disloyalty. So impressing him would mean you're a totally loyal sycophant, but you'd have to be a useful one. Would a dictator encourage cooperation? Not really, that personality is too paranoid. Autocratic tyrant is a synonym for dictator so same applies.

A democratically elected leader, however would be another story. Since a hierarchical culture style is set from the top down, the leader would himself have to demonstrate the merits of cooperation, and then develop a reward system for those minions following his example.


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