Imagine you’ve just proposed to the love of your life. You’ve gone up to the bar to order drinks. Then you hear gunfire.
Terrorists have stormed the beach. They’re gunning down anyone and everyone that moves. Including your new fiance.
This is how American Assassin starts.
Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) thus begins his journey for revenge. His lust for vengeance cannot be quelled.
But what can American Assassin teach you about leadership? Let’s take a look at the leadership lessons in American Assassin.
Caution: American Assassin spoilers below.
Leadership Lessons And Quotes From American Assassin
1. Celebrate your victories:
Before everything goes sideways, Mitch Rapp asked his girlfriend Katrina (Charlotte Vega) to marry him. She said yes to the ring and him. He was ecstatic and ready to celebrate.
To celebrate, he decided to get drinks from the hotel’s bar on the beach. He’s ready to celebrate his win.
Great leaders know they have to celebrate the wins their teams have. When leaders celebrate wins and victories, leaders encourage their team members to continue to work hard and achieve success.
Bring in pizza, give the team a half day off, or find other ways to reward your team members. They’ll appreciate it and you’ll get hard-working employees.
2. Victories can turn into a struggle:
Mitch was so excited to hear Katrina tell him yes. Yet something happened when he went to the bar to celebrate. His fiance’s life was cut short by a bullet.
His victory turned into a struggle. All he could focus on was the death of his loved one and how to extract revenge against those who caused her death.
While you most likely won’t have your victories to death, your victories can turn to struggles.
Maybe the paperwork wasn’t signed correctly or the big bid fell through on a technicality. These things would make a victory into a struggle.
But I believe you can turn the struggle back into a victory. Look at the ways you turn the bad situation back around. Find it and begin working on making the situation better.
3. Great leaders know their stuff:
The American Assassin Mitch began to infiltrate terrorist cells. He used the internet to communicate with the terrorists and “join” their cause.
After many online chats, Mitch was allowed to travel overseas and meet with the terrorists. There, he was quizzed on happenings in the Islamic world.
He answered question after question. Even after he was told he answered incorrectly, he was able to back up his answers with sound reasoning.
Mitch knew his stuff.
Do you know your stuff regarding your organization? What’s the reasoning behind what they do? How do they produce the products they produce? Is there anything special about your organization?
Dig deep into what you can learn about the organization you work for and study, study, study.
4. Mitch Rapp:
Got to Mansur. That’s more than you accomplished.
During his interrogation, CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) had a team of CIA operatives crash the interrogation and kill the terrorists. Mitch is then taken back to meet with Irene where she tells him he was foolish and was about to be killed. She basically told him he wasn’t good enough to deal with the terrorists.
That’s when Mitch says one of the best lines of the movie. He calls Irene out. He tells her he got to Mansur. What he accomplished was more than the CIA was able to.
As a leader, you’ve got to be good at what you do. You’ve got to accomplish things others believe are impossible or have been unable to do.
5. Great leaders are dedicated:
The murder of Mitch’s girlfriend changed him. He no longer pursued the activities he used to. He gave up grad studies at Harvard, friendships, his life to pursue his vendetta.
Mitch was dedicated to his craft.
Great leaders are dedicated to their craft as well. They study great leadership books, they take leadership courses to improve their leadership skills, and they attend conferences so they can grow as a leader.
You need to become dedicated to these things. You need to find ways to improve your leadership skills and lead your team well.
6. Irene Kennedy:
I believe in you.
Irene told Mitch the words he needed to hear. He needed to know she believed in him.
Your team needs to know you believe in them. Give them these 4 simple words and let them know you believe they’ve got what it takes to succeed.
7. Great leaders know what they’re looking for:
Irene was looking for a new black operative. The team she oversaw, Orion, needed a new member but the new member had to be the right person for the position.
After studying Mitch, she knew he was the right person to fill the empty team slot.
Whether you’re looking to hire a new team member or start a new project, you need to know what you’re looking for. Know the specifics of what someone has to bring to be effective on the team. Know how the project needs to go to be successful. When you know what you’re looking for, you can bring the right people on or guide the organization in the right direction.
8. Stan Hurley:
I’ve seen off the charts before.
Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton, or Batman as I still refer to him) was the man leading the Orion team. He knew test results showed Mitch would be a great asset to the team. Yet he had reservations.
He’d had another black op recruit show great potential. Only he turned and went dark. The black op was no longer a CIA asset but a terrorist.
Be careful relying strictly on test results and charts. Examine people deeper than a simple test. Get to know them and know who they truly are.
9. Speed up your process:
Stan had a testing process for new black op recruits to join the Orion team. Mitch didn’t like how slow the process was so he suggested Stan speed up the process.
He suggested he and Stan go hand to hand and fight rather than the verbal sparring Stand was doing.
There are times when your processes can be sped up. Look for process improvements you can make and then begin to implement them.
10. Great leaders do the unexpected:
Mitch was put into a situation where he had to fight for his life against the other Orion team members due to his suggestion of speeding up the process. One of the Orion members had a knife and lunged at Mitch. Mitch did the unexpected. He grabbed the knife with his bare hands and accepted the pain as a part of the mission.
This was unexpected. The team member never expected someone would grab the knife and allow himself to be injured. Let alone continue to fight afterward.
Great leaders are willing to do the unexpected. They see where things are going when no one else can and they begin to move in the direction they need to.
Are you willing to do the unexpected?
11. Stan Hurley:
Orion is about the mission. It is not about you.
Stan wanted to make sure Mitch realized what the Orion team was about. The mission. Period.
Great leaders know their organizations are not about them. They are about the mission of the organization. They need to get out of the way and put their needs aside so the organization can thrive.
Are you willing to recognize what your organization is about?
12. Great leaders know when to hold their tongue:
As part of the Orion training, Stan stormed into the room of sleeping recruits. He began to fire a gun containing blanks. The gun was still loud and woke up the team.
Stan did this to show the team they always needed to be ready. Someone should be up and on guard. No one was.
Mitch had a problem with this. He though Stan was out of line and wanted to mouth off. He didn’t. Instead, he held his tongue because he knew he would be better off.
As a leader, you may feel you have the right to mouth off to those you’re leading. You do but doing so is not always wise.
Know when to hold your tongue. Consider whether or not your words will have a positive or negative impact. Then choose your words wisely if you must speak.
13. Great leaders can make mistakes in who they hire:
Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) is the Orion member who went rogue. He was a brilliant recruit but decided to go his own way.
Stan had trained Ghost. He believed in Ghost. He thought Ghost was going to go far. And Stan turned out to be wrong.
Ghost turned on the CIA. He chose a dark path. He wasn’t who Stan thought he was.
You’re going to bring people onto your team who may turn out to be a bad fit or choice. You may even train a successor only to have him fail miserably.
Know great leaders can still make mistakes in hiring and training people. You won’t always get it right. When you don’t, own up to the fact and find a way to correct the problem.
14. Great leaders need people to be brutally honest with them:
One of Mitch’s teammates, Annika (Shiva Negar), saw Mitch wasn’t alright. He tried to deny his injuries but Annika was honest with him. She leveled the truth hammer.
Annika saw his bruises. She saw his cuts. Something wasn’t right and she knew it.
She knew she had to be brutally honest with Mitch. And she was.
As a leader, having someone who is brutally honest with you can be hard. You will have your ego bruised and crushed. Yet when you have someone who can be brutally honest with you, you have someone who will keep you on the right path.
Allow yourself an Annika in your life. Find someone who will tell you the truth no matter how much the truth hurts. Then be willing to listen to them.
15. Great leaders stand strong:
Stan was captured by Ghost. Ghost wanted answers to questions. Stan refused to answer Ghost’s questioning. He was standing strong.
Then Ghost brought out an interrogator toolkit. There were pliers, jumper cables, and more. These tools would be used to get Stan to talk.
Ghost began with pulling off Stan’s fingernails. Stan winced and told Ghost to bring it. Ghost then moved to electric shock therapy with the jumper cables.
Still, Stan would not talk. He would stand strong.
Stan faced a tough predicament. He could talk and have the pain removed. Or he could go through hell and be brutalized. He chose to not waver.
Are you willing to be like Stan? To stand for the truth and what is right?
Doing so will cause you grief and heartache. But great leaders know they need to stand strong.
Don’t give into what’s popular or easy. Stand strong.
16. Leadership can be painful:
You already know Stan stood strong and endured the pain inflicted upon him. Mitch also had to face painful situations.
He faced off against Ghost. He was pummeled with punches and he was hurting.
Mitch wasn’t just hurting physically. He was hurting mentally as he saw Annika kill herself so he could get to Ghost.
Leadership isn’t sunshine and roses. There are dark days in leadership.
Be ready for the dark days. Don’t give up when they come. Instead, continue moving forward.