Gripes Go Up

The movie "Saving Private Ryan" has a great scene in which a squad of troops is engaged in the pursuit of an Private named James Ryan. The squad is tired of the mission, feels like their skills are being wasted, and that the pursuit they're on is a mis-allocation of resources in light of the war at hand. So they gripe.

After a while, they notice Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) isn't griping. One of the Privates, Private Reiben says "What about you Captain? I mean, you don't gripe at all?"

I love Captain Miller's response: "I don't gripe to you, Reiben. I'm a captain. There's a chain of command. Gripes go up, not down. Always up. You gripe to me, I gripe to my superior officer, so on, so on, and so on. I don't gripe to you. I don't gripe in front of you. You should know that as a Ranger."

That's a good lesson for employees, wherever they are on the food chain. Wherever I am in an organization, if I hear people griping to me about someone above them, I instantly lose respect for them and make a silent note to myself that if I ever rise above them in an organization I'll be careful about how much I trust them.

Gripes should go to people who can do something about them, or they shouldn't be voiced at all.

The flip side of this is something Captains and Generals have to remember: if your employees gripe appropriately, their gripes deserve your attention. Don't write off gripes (or Privates) who are handling their issues the right way. Chalk it up as part of the responsibility that comes with your stripes.


Unknown said...

Great post. This is an area of leadership where I have failed in the past and I'm not proud of it. Sometimes I think I do it to say "hey, look at what a terrible leader they are...aren't you glad I'm your supervisor?". Or maybe it's just that I think it bonds me to my direct reports. Either way it's wrong and I know better.

Thanks for the reminder.