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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Gossip, Groups, and Gangrene

Today’s blog post (like all posts on Monday) is a short excerpt from the book I Am A Church Member i-am-a-church-memberby Dr. Thom Rainer, who is president of LIfeWay Christian Resources. The book is all about the attitudes we should have as productive, thankful, functioning church members. It’s become a best-selling book and a resource many churches have used in new members’ groups and discipleship strategies.

In the chapter titled I Will Be A Unifying Church Member, Dr. Rainer reminds us of the importance of being the kind of member/leader who squelches gossip as it occurs. Although Dr. Rainer doesn’t use the term “gangrenous,” that is exactly what gossip can be like in the church – something that kills and destroys and ultimately needs amputation. In Dr. Rainer’s own words, he says this about gossip and actions we should take:

Gossip is bad. And gossip is destructive in your church. This chapter is about unty. And few things can destroy unity of a church like gossip. A unified church is powerful. Gossip tears apart that unity and renders a church powerless….James minced no words when he wrote about the negative power of the tongue: ‘And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell (James 3:6).

So how should we respond to this issue of gossip in our church? First, don’t be a source of gossip. If you have any doubt whether something is gossip or not, don’t mention it. Keep your tongue under control. Second, if someone in the church begins to share gossip with you, gently rebuke him or her. You don’t have to be harsh in your response to them. Kindly say that you would rather not hear any gossip…You can be a unifier in your church with those simple words.

In the movie Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks played the role of a captain. One of the soldiers under his saving-private-ryan-drama-action-tom-hanks-military-e-wallpaper-1command came to him, griping about a difficult, perhaps one-way mission they had been given. After completing his rant, the soldier said to Tom Hanks’ character, “Captain, why don’t you say much about this?” Hanks’ character looked at the soldier and said, “Gripes always go up. I never gripe down. I always gripe up.” What a powerful lesson in leadership! The captain Hanks was portraying knew the destructive force of allowing griping and gossiping to flow down to his troops. There’s a good lesson in that scene for all of us who lead people. Stop gossip in its tracks. If you have something against someone, go to them personally and quickly to seek clarification. Work out your differences, but don’t talk about the other person behind their back.

Dr. Rainer wraps up the section of his book on gossip with these words:  “Love life. See good days. Control the tongue. Stop the gossip. Be a unifier.” As I Peter 3:10 says, “For the one who wants to love life and to see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.”

How will you be a unifier in your Bible study group? Help end gossip the next time you hear it.

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