Leadership Lesson: Gripes Go Up

Here’s a leadership lesson I learned from Hollywood – yes, Hollywood. And it’s a good lesson for those of us who lead groups. The lesson comes from a movie set during WWII.

Tom Hanks as Captain John Miller in Saving Private Ryan

The 1998 movie, Saving Private Ryan, was about a small group of soldiers under the command of Tom Hanks. As their captain, Tom Hanks (Captain John Miller in the movie) had been ordered to take his small squad of soldiers on a manhunt into the French countryside. Their mission? Find a missing paratrooper named James Ryan and bring him back alive. His three brothers had been killed in battle, and the U.S. military was sending him home to his mother since three of her sons had already been killed in the war.

The soldiers in Tom Hanks’ squad began debating the merits of searching the German-infested countryside for the lost paratrooper, Ryan. The soldiers griped to one another, reasoning that they’d probably all be shot and killed themselves, and that one man’s life wasn’t worth the cost of their lives. Besides, they weren’t even sure that James Ryan was alive. It seemed like a futile mission.

That’s when a great leadership lesson took place. One of the soldiers asked the captain, Tom Hanks, why he wasn’t griping, too. The soldier noted that his captain had been unusually quiet and refused to join in the fray. “Gripes go up,” Tom Hanks told his small squad of soldiers. He made sure that his soldiers learned this valuable leadership lesson: good leaders never gripe down to others. If they have a complaint, they take it to their superior, not downward to the enlisted men. Griping down to others would do nothing but cause damage to attitudes, and could hurt the ability to lead effectively.

If we have a gripe or complaint about something related to the church we attend, a staff member, or the Bible study group we belong to, never “gripe down.” If something is really wrong, don’t spread rumors, cause dissension, discourage people, or cause trouble in general. Instead, “gripe up” through appropriate channels. If you have something against another person, approach that person and talk it over, always seeking understanding and reconciliation. If you lead a Bible study group, never gripe down, always gripe up. Griping down to your group members could turn an entire group sour, and that’s nothing a good leader should be a part of.

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