Declining Promotion

"Let me give you some advice. Don't. Don't let them promote you. Don't let them transfer you. Don't let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship because while you're there, you can make a difference."
Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Star Trek: Generations

In many militaries, sufficient degrees of badassery or competence can get someone promoted above where their background would usually allow. Sometimes they don't want to, preferring the relative freedom of lower rank combined with behind the scenes influence. The potential promotee will explain that command comes with too many headaches, too much responsibility, not enough action, or a dozen other reasons, but they all boil down to being happy where they are. They are often deliberately averting The Peter Principle, by refusing to be promoted out of their range of competence. This often leads to becoming an Almighty Janitor.

Contrast Up Through the Ranks (a veteran enlisted man gains a commission as an officer), Kicked Upstairs (someone is promoted to get them into a position of less power), and Rank Up (Super Trope for plain old promotion). People in this trope may be well aware of being a Desk Jockey.

Compare Dismissing a Compliment, Medal of Dishonor when they don't like the promotion because of shady reasons behind it, who may or may not take the new position anyway.


Anime and Manga
  • Marine Vice Admiral Garp in One Piece has repeatedly refused offerings of being an Admiral numerous times. He just likes to goof around, that's why.
  • The title character of Lyrical Nanoha repeatedly refuses promotions, so she is still a Captain in Nanoha Force, even though her friend and equal Hayate already commands an entire unit (in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, Hayate was an army Lt.Col. but the Navy doesn't seem to use the same ranks). Nanoha does it mainly to stay on active Combat Instructor duty.

  • In The Thing (1982), Norris is offered to take over command by the resigning former commander, but turns it down.
    "I'm sorry fellas, but I'm not up to it."
  • In Star Trek: Generations James T. Kirk tells Jean-Luc Picard "Don't let them promote you", since that would mean that he would leave the Enterprise.

  • Sam Vimes in Night Watch is masquerading as Sergeant At Arms John Keel when he's offered a promotion to officer and a transfer to the Cable Street Particulars. He refuses on the grounds that he's not qualified (really because he knows that with his experience he can become the Almighty Janitor almost instantly)
  • Sergeant Jackrum of Monstrous Regiment has repeatedly refused promotions to remain a sergeant, so as to make sure the new recruits are made proper soldiers instead of Ensign Newbie (and keeps blackmailing the top brass to stay there). Although by the time of the book it's not promotion but retirement that's the danger.
  • By the current point in Honor Harrington, Sir Horace Harkness is easily qualified to be at least a commander and possibly a junior-grade captain (and gets put in the appropriate slots), but his actual rank is only chief warrant officer.
  • Matt Braddock is the hero of several 50s serials, the novel I Flew With Braddock and two comic strips. He's a British bomber pilot with no time for petty rules and refused a commission because it would hold him back from the action.
  • Commander Wedge Antilles spends more than half the X-Wing Series trying to keep Admiral Ackbar from promoting him to general and out of the pilot's chair. The two of them even make a bet in the Wraith Squadron sub-series on whether the squadron will fail, and if Wedge loses he has to take the promotion. He finally accepts in Isard's Revenge upon finding out that his pilots have also been refusing deserved promotions, following his example.
  • In one of the Foundation prequel novels the Emperor of the Galactic Empire is assassinated by a gardener he took a liking to. The gardener was promoted to Head Gardener over his protests - as Head Gardener he'd have to manage people and do paperwork instead of gardening, which is what he enjoys.
  • Luke Skywalker in Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye.
    Luke had no experience with titles, hence no use for them. When the Rebel leaders offered him any reward within their ability to grant, he had asked only to be permitted to continue piloting a fighter in the Alliance's service. Some thought his request unduly modest, but one shrewd general disagreed, explaining how Luke might be more valuable to the Rebellion without a title or commission which, the veteran pointed out to his colleagues, would serve only to make the youth a prime target for Imperial assassination.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Horace Slughorn is described as "preferring the backseat". However, it's not so much exerting power as it is enjoying being able to influence the world thanks to former students he gave a boost to (casting a vote for a new junior minister or getting free tickets to a Quidditch match). Harry has a mental image of a spider pulling a webstrand to bring a juicy fly closer.
    • It was stated more than a few times Mr. Weasley could have easily been promoted within the Ministry of Magic years ago, but enjoyed where he was in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office too much. He does finally take a promotion AND get rank in the Order of Phoenix as the series goes on, however.
  • Ciaphas Cain is a downplayed example. It's mentioned in a footnote in "The Greater Good" that he would more than qualify as a "Lord Commissar" (which is technically a title connoting respect, since the Commissariat is made up of equals) but refuses to be called such. Downplayed because he still gets the respect and influence either way; he just does it as part of his Humble Hero persona.
  • In the In Death stories, Lt. Dallas has, in the in-story span of 2 -1/2 years, solved so many spectacular cases that she's now a public celebrity. She was offered a captaincy but declined on the grounds that while she could be a good captain, she's more useful in the field.
  • In Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, Holly tries to refuse her upcoming promotion because it would make work more boring. Commander Root talks her out of it, explaining that she'll do more good at a desk job.
  • In Lords Of The Underworld, the least powerful angels are joybringers- those employed to whisper "beautiful affirmations in human ears." When Olivia is promoted into the warrior caste, which involves battling monstrous demons, she is understandably dismayed.
  • At the end of Tanya Huff's Valor's Choice, the general offers the protagonist Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr a commission as an officer for more-or-less singlehandedly getting the Silsviss to join the Confederation. Because she's still pissed about the near-Uriah Gambit the brass pulled to put her in that positionnote , she turns him down saying she could never be an officer because "my parents were married." She does, however, accept a Rank Up to gunnery sergeant between The Better Part of Valor and The Heart of Valor.

Live-Action TV
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • William Riker, aka "Number One." He's offered his own command in the series, three separate times, it is eventually revealed, but doesn't accept it because he feels his place is serving at Captain Picard's side. It is pointed out that by staying where he is, he is denying other officers the chance to serve in that position, and that it could reflect poorly on him in the long run. He finally averts it in Star Trek: Nemesis by accepting command of the USS Titan.
    • In one episode, Picard is offered a promotion to admiral and the position of commandant of Starfleet Academy. He chooses to remain where he is.
  • In an episode of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Gomer's unit (all privates) are to take the Corporal's test. Gomer doesn't want to at first because "the Private is the backbone of the Marines" and he likes being the backbone.
  • Madam Secretary: The season 1 finale "There But for the Grace of God" reveals in a flashback that Liz McCord chose to retire from the CIA rather than accept a promotion to Baghdad station chief, because it would've meant leaving her husband and three kids for at least a year. Her friend Juliet got the job instead, implied to be her Start of Darkness.

Web Comics
  • Warrant Officer Thurl from Schlock Mercenary says that the moment he's offered a commission he'll resign.

Real Life
  • The US Marine Corps offered Terminal Lance creator Max Uriarte, who retired as a lance corporal (hence the webcomic's name, from a Marine slang term for a Marine who's going to be stuck as an E-3 until he musters out), a promotion to full corporal if he'd reenlist. He said no.