5 Management Lessons from Die Hard

“Die Hard?? That’s not a Christmas movie,” you say. 

The devil is a lie!

Not only is Die Hard a Christmas movie, it’s one of the best everrrrr.

Set at an office Christmas party on Christmas Eve with Christmas carols all up and thru both the movie’s score and soundtrack, Die Hard is the story of NYPD officer John McClane, who is separated and living apart from his wife and children. He flies to LA to see them for the first time in 6-months for Christmas. A limo with a first-time driver named Argyle picks him up at the airport and brings him directly to his estranged wife’s office, where he learns she’s now working under her maiden name. They start to argue about this while he’s freshening up and changing clothes for the party. She gets called away and he’s left to finish getting washed and dressed alone.

During his flight, another passenger told him the best way to ground yourself and relax after a long flight is to remove your shoes and socks, and make fists with your feet in the floor. Sounds weird — but John tries it and it works!

Unfortunately, at that same moment, a group of terrorists take over the office building. John has to run and hide while still barefoot. He begins his one-man counterattack  to save his wife and her co-workers from the terrorists … with no shoes.

The terrorists are led by a badass dude named Hans Gruber.  And he’s absolutely brilliant. And while I know the movie is supposed to be about John’s quick-thinking and heroics, the real management lessons in the movie come from Hans.

  • Hans had a clear mission, vision, objectives and a plan with contingencies. He is there to get into the vault and take $680 in bearer bonds. Everything he does and doesn’t do  is to accomplish this goal.
  • Hans always kept his word. When he told people that he was going to shoot them, he did it. With no hesitation or apology. He left no room for anyone to question his intentions or directives.
  • Hans remained calm and focused. When the first member of the terrorist team was found dead at the hands of John McClane, the others panicked and asked Hans “what are we going to do??” His response? “We are going to tell his brother.” And then he went back to checking on the status of the cracking the vault codes. He was cool-headed and decisive at almost every turn.
  • Hans delegated assignments to those best equipped for the task — and held his team accountable. He had guys designated to monitor certain areas of the building. He had a guy responsible for getting into the vault. He had a guy responsible for explosives. He gave them clear instruction and allowed them to do their job without interference while he focused on the high level tasks.
  • He seized every curveball as an opportunity to further his mission. When the police showed up, he used their protocol to get the power grid turned off for the building, allowing his team to bypass  certain security codes for the vault. When he accidentally ran into John, he pretended to be a hostage to gain his trust and overtake him. When he figured out John McClane’s wife was among the hostages, he used her to lure him out in an effort to secure his getaway.

John McClane, on the other hand, showed himself to be impulsive, unsophisticated and lacking awareness. He was a bit of a jerk. He took some huge unnecessary risks while helping overcome the terrorists. And he was an obvious sexual harasser with some seriously archaic views on women … Sure, he ultimately saved the day and went onto have several successful sequel Die Hard movies — but he’s really not the guy whose leadership example you want to try to emulate.

Minus the thieving, murdering and terrorizing, Hans Gruber was an excellent leader. His ultimate undoing came when he allowed himself to lose control and make sparring with John McClane personal. If he’d stayed focused on his mission, he may have gotten away in the end. We’ll never know because **spoiler alert** he gets shot by John and dies in the most epic fashion ever: falling in slow motion from a window in the Nakatomi Towers building.

 

RIP Hans Gruber (and the amazing actor, Alan Rickman, who portrayed him, who passed away earlier this year)

One final notable lesson from Die Hard: McClane’s friendship with Officer Powell.  Officer Powell was getting off work, heading home for Christmas with his family, when he got radio called about the disturbance at the Nakatomi building.  He quickly finds himself in a whirlwind of action he did not plan for. However, he feels compassion for John, even though he doesn’t know him, and he stays on the scene just to help him. He troubleshooted problems with John. He kept John calm and encouraged him. When John finally made it out the building, the two exchanged the most sweetest bromance glance and hug in the history of ever!!! And when one of the terrorists broke free and tried to kill John, it was Officer Powell that saved him .

 

We all need a Work BFF like Officer Powell.  Someone who keeps us calm and talks through problems to find solutions with us. Someone who has our back and advocates for us … If you don’t have someone like Officer Powell in your world of work, get one.

Officer Powell and Hans. Yippee ki yay.


1 Comment

  1. Very insightful Sarah and a good reminder that our lens of the world (including big action movies) is a function of who we are and what we care about.

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