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Practice Tips - you can't whinge downwards

15th Jul 2005
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I’m not a film buff. In fact, I tend to forget any film I ever see almost instantly so if I recall anything from a film there must be good reason.

One film I do recall is 'Saving Private Ryan'. And that’s not because of its staggering portrayal of the sheer horror of the Normandy landings, impressive (and even important) as that was. It is instead for a relatively minor scene that I think this film is worthy of mention.

In that scene Tom Hanks is leading his troop across a field. They are in high spirits having just fought and won a skirmish and there is a lot of banter going on between the troops. And then they realise that their Captain (Tom Hanks) is not joining in. “Why’s that?” they ask. And Hank’s reply is the classic line in the whole film for me. It is (as I recall) “Because you can’t whinge downwards”.

Now I call that a management classic. Put simply it means that you can whinge to your peers, and you can moan as much as you like to your superiors. But you can’t moan about your peers or superiors to those who work for you and still keep their respect. Nor will you keep the respect of your peers for long either – because they’ll hear about it.

When people are promoted – whether it be to senior management positions or partnerships in firms or to directorships elsewhere this is one of the things they should be told. It’s a simple way of being reminded that you’re no longer one of “them”. You’re now one of “us”. It’s a tough transition to make. Few are prepared sufficiently for it, which is why it goes wrong so often. And this isn’t a class or social issue – it’s just about leadership – and all firms need that.

Richard Murphy
AccountingWEB contributing editor Richard Murphy is a sole practitioner chartered accountant but was previously senior partner of a firm for 11 years. He has also been chairman, chief executive or finance director of 10 SMEs. A collection of previous articles by Richard on practice management themes is available in Practice Management Zone



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