CategoryTraining & Development

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.

Coaching: Do You Abuse or Encourage?

Coach. Coaching. Coached … It has quickly become one of the most over-used words in our workplace lexicons.

As in, “I coached him on XYZ-thing and he got better” or “All she needs is some additional coaching.”

It’s been used so much that now “coaching” has become synonymous with “telling someone what to do” or “telling someone what they did wrong.” Because that is what we see the most famous coaches doing during sporting events. They bark orders to the players and yell at them when it isn’t done right. They yank players out of the game and plop them on the bench when they’re under-performing. They argue vehemently with referees about unfair decisions … And when things seem to be going well and victory is in grasp, the coach sits down on the cushy-er end of the bench to seemingly do a whole lotta nothing!

As such, “coaching” in the workplace is becoming a negative thing. It’s now associated with aggressive behaviors by those in authority which creates unhealthy competition among subordinates to avoid punishment or dismissal. It results in much attention being given to mediocre performers and crisis incidents while consistent performers and general daily workflow gets ignored.


There is so much more to coaching than what we see happening on the sidelines at games. In fact, I’ve heard my sport-coach friends say that REAL coaching isn’t what’s going on during a game at all. Coaching is what happens during workouts and practice. Coaching is what happens after a win or loss when game film is reviewed. Coaching is what happens after analyzing and scouting out the competition to prepare for the next game.

In our workplaces, coaching is what happens during onboarding and orientation. Coaching is what happens during training. Coaching happens during the ongoing performance feedback we give. Coaching happens when we guide and direct employees in effort to develop their potential … Because coaches set clear expectations for their team. Coaches articulate the vision and definition of success for their team. Coaches create solid training plans for their team to help them meet expectations and achieve success. Coaches devise individual plans for each player on the team to ensure they are working to their full potential, no matter how great or small their role on the team.

Coaching = Teaching

Simply telling someone what to do or telling someone what they’ve done wrong without also equipping them with the skills and tools for success or improvement is NOT coaching or being a coach. Because correction and criticism alone are not coaching. Coaching is about encouraging and preparing a person to perform the duties they’ve been trained to do at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way — then stepping back and cheering the person on to victory while ensuring no unfair obstacles are put in their way.

If we’re not willing or prepare to carry out that definition in our coaching, we shouldn’t use the word. And we shouldn’t be in the game, either.

Refuting The Myth of “No Action Required”

One of the best things about the organizations I’ve worked for is the constant feedback. Monthly, quarterly, annual … Feedback. Every project, every committee, every major meeting … Feedback. Report, metrics, trends … Feedback.

There was and is never an excuse not to know where your performance stands.

Yet there has always been one piece of performance feedback which leaves a sour taste in my mouth …

No Action Required

I’ve seen this used frequently in environments when an employee is meeting budgeted or program goals. Hitting monthly production goals? No action required. On pace to reach quarterly sales targets? No action required.

No action required is a lie. When it comes to our performance, action is always required.

  • Same Action. When we’re meeting goals and expectations, the action required is continuing the same behaviors which helped us attain our goals. It seems to go without saying — but you would be surprised how easily and often complacency sets in. Giving “no action required” as feedback doesn’t reinforce the importance of maintaining performance beyond. Preservation is critical – do not overlook it.
  • Different Action. When we’re meeting goals and expectations, the action required is changing focus to another goal. Sales or production goals met? Great! Time to focus on training. Recruiting and hiring goals met? Awesome! Time to focus on retention. Achievement in one area does not mean there isn’t any other work to be done. Figure out the new goal and the best way to go after it.
  • More Action. When we’re meeting goals and expectations, the action required is planning how to exceed that goal and expectation. Reaching a goal is great. Smashing, crushing and demolishing it is better! No organization would be unhappy with greater production or greater sales as long as the quality of work remains. When an initial goal is completed, it’s time to decide what work, if any, can be done to surpass the goal.

The idea of “no action required” is a myth. We are never doing all that we can do. We are never doing all that we should do, for that matter. This level of perfection does not exist. The best we can hope for are ideal moments which open the door for new opportunities to achieve new goals.

By challenging ourselves to think beyond what is just acceptable to the “next action required”, we can cultivate creative working environments where performance excellence will flourish, grow and thrive.

Performance Reviews Made Simple

This has been a great week for me.

On Tuesday, I had the daunting privilege of speaking at a DisruptHR event. It is the first time I’ve stepped on a speaker’s stage in over a year. I was nervousAF — but I rocked it! Video to come.

On Wednesday, I had the awesome privilege of guest hosting SHRM’s #NextChat on Twitter. Each Wednesday at 3pm EST, this chat covers topics that are front of mind for HR professionals. The guest hosts are HR influencers sharing their advice and best practices along with other Twitter users.

I’ve been a participant in #NextChat for years! To be a guest host was a really cool experience.

This week’s topic was “A Positive Process for Performance Reviews”

On the heels of this, I thought it would be a great time to share some other posts I’ve written about performance:

If you are in a management position with people reporting to you, you will have to provide a performance review at some point. The longer you wait to start the habit, the more difficult the practice will be for you.

Coach your direct reports as close to daily as possible and keep records of all aspects of their performance — both the areas done well and the areas needing improvement. By doing this, it will be much easier to compile an accurate, comprehensive and meaningful review when the time comes.

And that “time” should come formally AT LEAST once per year of employment. Leaving people lingering for years with no specific idea of their standing simply isn’t cool.

Performance reviews are a necessary part of a productive and accountable work environment. Embrace it!

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