One of my favorite movies is "Saving Private Ryan". If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it. The story follows a group of Army Rangers who have been selected to focus on one mission and one mission only - find and save Private James Ryan. Ryan is one of four brothers fighting in World War II. When the military brass find out that all three of his brothers have been killed fighting in the war, they are determined to save the final and fourth brother and return him safely to his family. Needless to say, this group of Army Rangers isn't thrilled about the mission and this scene below (apologies for some of the language) highlights their frustration and confusion.
Captain Miller's reaction is textbook and speaks volumes about how great leaders keep and maintain that separation between themselves and their subordinates. Have you ever had a manager complain to you about their boss? Has he/she ever ranted about the executive team, the C-Suite, the folks in the corner office, the Ivory Tower, the Board, etc? Sure you have. We all have. How did it make you feel? Maybe there was some sense of satisfaction in knowing that you're not alone (after all, those people have no idea what it's like down here in the trenches, right?!), but think about it for a minute. How did it really make you feel? Probably eroded your own faith in your manager, the organization, the mission, and ultimately your capabilities. Captain Miller knows where to draw the line. Gripes go up, not down. He also manages to throw in a crash course on diplomacy to boot.
Now...follow that up another fine example of knowing where to draw the line. Check out this scene below where Private James Ryan is sharing an incredibly personal moment with his superior officer (yes, they found him. Don't let that stop you from watching the movie).
Wow! Captain Miller could have easily gotten caught up in the moment (and who could blame him), but he held his ground and kept his personal life separate from his work life. Some might argue that he's just a private person and prefers to keep his memories of his wife to himself. Perhaps. But I still contend that a true leader possesses the ability and discipline to consciously know when to draw the line.