Leadership Lessons And Quotes From Die Hard

A Reel Leadership Christmas Throwback Article

I usually start the Christmas season off by watching my favorite Christmas movie on Black Friday or that Saturday. This year, I postponed it but was able to get around to watching what I consider to be one of the best Christmas movies out there.

If you haven’t guessed, my favorite Christmas movie is Die Hard. Die Hard is the film adaption of the Roderick Thorp novel Nothing Lasts Forever. Die Hard tells the story of the New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis). John flies to Las Angeles to attend a Christmas party with his estranged wife Holly Gennaro McClane (Bonnie Bedelia) in the extravagant Nakatomi Plaza.

Leadership lessons in Die Hard

Things quickly go from good to bad to worse as John and Holly’s conversation becomes unproductive and terrorists storm the Plaza.

Die Hard is filled with action and violence. There’s a lot of foul language (it’s bad but the movie is SOOOO good). And plenty of leadership lessons in Die Hard.

Let’s take a look at the leadership lessons from Die Hard below!


Leadership lessons and quotes from Die Hard

1. Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi:

Ladies and gentlemen… I want to congratulate each and every one of you for making this one of the greatest years in the history of the Nakatomi Corporation…

Takagi (James Shigeta) was the President of Nakatomi Trading. He had also brought all of the employees together to celebrate Christmas and the great job they’d done in helping the Nakatomi Corporation have a great year.

Takagi knew great leaders celebrate their team and the great work they accomplished. That’s why he threw an elaborate party. He wanted to celebrate and honor his team.

Great leaders do what Takagi did. They recognize the great contributions their team gave and then they celebrate those contributions.

You can celebrate your team’s success in various ways. You can:

Throw a party

Have lunch catered

Give the team a long weekend

Find special gifts for your team members

Find ways to celebrate and reward those who are working for you. They will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

2. Anticipate what needs to be done:

Paulina (Betty Carvalho) was the maid/housekeeper for Holly and the kids. When Holly called Paulina to ask if John had called, she also asked if Paulina had made up the spare bedroom.

The response from Paulina was “Of course!” Paulina knew what Holly would want done. So she went ahead and fixed up the spare bedroom without being asked.

Leaders anticipate what needs to be done. They don’t wait until the last minute.

Leaders see what could be coming. They then work at getting the job done.

3. Every leader has a first time:

John was picked up by a limo. The limo driver was a young man named Argyle (De’voreaux White). After talking with Argyle, John learns this is Argyle’s first time driving a limo. John also admits to this being his first time riding in a limo.

Both Argyle and John had a new experience. Neither was put off by the other’s lack of experience.

If you’re a new leader, you may be apprehensive about new tasks. There are things you’ve never tackled before and you might be scared someone else might catch onto the fact.

Stop worrying. Every leader has firsts.

The first time they have to be stern. The first time they have to step in. Or the first time they have to let someone go.

Firsts are a part of leadership!

4. Pick the right battles:

John and Holly were married but estranged from one another. Holly had moved to Los Angeles to accept a job promotion with Nakatomi. John decided to stay in New York. These decisions put a huge strain on their relationship.

After arriving at Nakatomi Plaza, Holly asked John if he would like to stay at her place. The conversation seemed to be heading in the right direction. Until John commented about Holly using her maiden name of Gennaro.

Holly had to leave and give a speech to the team gathered for the Christmas party. Upon her exit, John began to bang his head against a door frame. He called himself stupid because he realized he chose the wrong battle to fight.

Leaders will have to pick and choose the battles they are willing to fight. Do you jump into small, petty squabbles or are you going to fight for what’s right and just?

These are the battles leaders must choose. And choose wisely.

Picking the wrong battles will diminish your leadership credibility. Choosing the right battles will increase your leadership credibility.

5. Be ready for the unexpected:

No one was expecting a band of terrorists to attack Nakatomi Plaza during the Christmas party. They thought they were going to have a great time and go home. This didn’t happen.

Instead, a group of terrorists attacked the Plaza, took hostages, and killed guests. Nobody was ready for this attack… Other than John McClane.

Could you imagine what would have happened if the guests or guards had been prepared? They could have stopped the slaughter and lives would have been saved.

Your preparedness probably won’t save lives but being prepared for the unexpected will save time, money, and possibly your team’s sanity.

Prep for the unexpected. Be ready when things to go the right way.

6. Leaders can have doubts:

Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) took Takagi to a room. There, he asked him for the codes to the vault. Takagi declined to give the codes and was shot dead.

John watched this scene unfold. He had a perfect view (and possibly chance to stop) the murder from one of the adjoining rooms.

After the death of Takagi, John doubted himself. He wondered why he hadn’t stepped in to stop Hans from killing Takagi.

Eventually, John realized he did what he could. Had he stepped in, he would have been killed as well.

You will doubt the choices you make at one point or another. You will wonder if you could have made a better decision or if another choice would have led to a different outcome.

Doubts are a part of leadership. Living in those doubts are not.

7. Hans Gruber:

Until then, we do not alter the plan.


And if he alters it?

Karl’s (Alexander Godunov) brother was killed by John McClane and he wanted revenge. He couldn’t stand the thought of his brother’s murderer getting away. But his desire for revenge disrupted the plans Hans had laid out.

That’s why Hans reminded Karl to stick to the plan. Even if there were interruptions.

A major trap leaders fall into is chasing squirrels. Leaders can be easily distracted by the next “big thing” and change direction. Leaving behind all the hard work they’d done before to try and hop on a bandwagon.

Be careful not to chase squirrels. Instead, focus on the mission. Keep moving towards the mission. Finish the mission.

8. Leadership can be scary:

John had a lot of obstacles to overcome to defeat Hans and his band of criminals.

He had to stop a giant industrial fan with a machine gun. He was chased and shot at by the terrorists. And he had to lower himself into an elevator shaft hoping the makeshift rappeling equipment he’d made with the machine gun and shoulder strap would hold.

Could you imagine the fear John must have been feeling? He had to be scared to death!

Yet he persisted. He continued to go forward despite the scary situations he found himself in.

You must continue forward too. You can’t stop leading because things are scary.

Push through the scary times. You can do it!

9. Your light can make you a target:

The machine gun and strap John used to lower himself into the elevator shaft eventually broke. John fell and was able to grab onto one of the air vents. He then pulled himself into it and began crawling forward.

The air vent was dark. John needed to see. So he took out his lighter and used the flame to see.

Die Hard leadership lessons

This light that let John see also allowed Karl to see where John was. His light made him a target.

I know this may seem odd to share in an article with leadership lessons from Die Hard but if you’re a faith-based leader, your light will make you a target.

People will know what you believe. They will target you because of your belief. They’ll also watch you more closely and challenge the plans you make.

Be aware your beliefs can lead to further scrutinization. That’s okay, you just need to be aware of it.

10. Don’t turn back too soon:

Karl knew John was in the air vents. He’d seen John’s lighter and went after him. But just as he was about to find John, Karl turned away.

He left the air vents and went onto another task.

There are countless leaders who were on the right track. They were close to the success they longed for. And then they turned around.

Don’t be one of those leaders who give up too early. Keep moving in the direction of your goal. You’ll get there if you don’t turn back too soon.

11. Roles change:

Theo (Clarence Gilyard who was in one of my favorite shows growing up, Walker, Texas Ranger) originally worked on cracking the vault in Nakatomi Plaza. His role was to get into the vault without an issue.

Then Theo’s role changed. As the police began to breach Nakatomi Plaza, Theo became the eyes and ears for the other terrorists. He was to tell them where the police were coming in and how to attack.

Your role as a leader will change over time. Sometimes you’ll be fully in charge, other times you’ll report to someone else.

Be ready to shift your role as needed.

12. Ignore wise counsel at your own peril:

John and Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson from Family Matters!?!?) had warned Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason) his actions were ill-advised. They told him there was a better approach to dealing with the terrorist threat.

Robinson wouldn’t listen to their wise counsel. Instead, he chose to move forward with his plan. His plan ended up with police officers being shot and a police tank being hit by two rockets.

Are you willing to listen to the wise counsel around you? There are people who are wiser, smarter, better informed than you are. Be wise and listen to trustworthy people.

13. Titles mean very little:

Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson had the title. He also had a bad attitude and the lack of respect from the rest of the police force.

After his botched attempt at breaching the Plaza, his people no longer respected him. He lost the honor of his people.

You may have the title of a leader. However, you have to have the right attitude and actions to be respected as a leader.

14. Overconfidence is dangerous:

Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner) was a cocaine sniffing, business landing egomaniac. He believed he could negotiate with Hans because of the million dollar deals he’d negotiated with businessmen.

How wrong Ellis was. His overconfidence in his skills led him to receive a bullet from Hans.

You may be good. You may even be great at what you do. Still, you must be careful of being too confident when leading.

Your overconfidence will land you in situations you’re not prepared for. And that you can’t get out of.

15. Sgt. Al Powell:

Why don’t you wake up and smell what you’re shoveling.

Robinson was throwing threat after threat at John for John’s work in taking out the terrorists. Robinson told John he was going to be in big trouble for destruction of property and he was going to be under arrest.

These threats were aimed at a man who didn’t know if he was going to get out of the situation alive. They were also hard to back up.

Bad leaders will throw out threats to try to motivate people to do the things the bad leader would have them do.

Be careful in how you try to motivate your team. What you’re telling them to do may stink.

16. Your power/leadership can be quickly stipped away:

Robinson had the title of Deputy Police Chief. He had the power… Until the FBI agents showed up.

FBI agents Johnson and Johnson (no relation) showed up and told Robinson he was no longer in charge. Just like that, his power was gone.

You may find yourself in a situation like Robinson. You have power one day and the next your power or position of leadership is stripped away.

17. Leaders have to make painful choices:

In what has to be the most epic scene in Die Hard, John had a choice to make. To stay in his current position or to move towards a stairwell door. The only issue: Hans and his terrorist buddies had shot the glass cubicle dividers. There was glass all over the floor and John was barefoot.

John knew either choice was going to be painful. Only one would result in his life being spared. He chose to run for the stairs.

Leadership isn’t full of easy choices. Most choices leaders will have to make will be painful.

Be prepared for the hurt that may come from the decisions you’ll have to make.

18. Leaders make mistakes:

Al Powell had chosen to be a desk cop because of a mistake. During a call, Al had shot and killed a 13-year old boy. Al thought the boy had a gun. Turns out the kid had a ray gun.

Al mistook the ray gun for an actual weapon. This destroyed Al.

You already know you’re going to have to make painful choices as a leader. You’re also going to screw up and make some bad choices. You’re going to make mistakes.

Don’t let your mistakes sideline you. Find a way to move past your mistakes and continue your leadership journey.

19. John McClane:

Tell her that she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to a bum like me.

John wasn’t sure he was going to live. This is why he told Al to tell Holly that he loved her and she was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Great leaders know they have a great wife or husband standing behind them. Without the proper support from your spouse, leadership can be even more difficult.

Remember your spouse. The sacrifices they’ve had to make. And how they stand behind you.

20. Professional is personal:

Karl’s brother was killed by John. This made Karl’s vision blur and he let things become personal.

While many people would see leadership as strictly professional, leadership is also personal.

You’re dealing with people. People have emotions. And people are personal.

Be personal in your leadership.

21. John McClane:

You’d have made a pretty good cowboy yourself, Hans.

When talking with Al and Hans, John was often referred to as a cowboy. He even took the name Roy, as in Roy Rogers.

Cowboys were typically the good guys. John definitely was. And even though Hans was a bad guy, John saw something in him.

John saw Hans could have been a good cowboy. He could have been someone worth following.

What does this mean for leaders? I believe bad leaders have the potential to become good leaders. Maybe even great leaders.

Don’t write off a leader just because they’re bad. They may be lacking the skills or training to become a good leader.

Help show them the way.

22. Value people over possessions:

Something I’d missed in previous viewings of Die Hard was Ellis telling John about the watch Holly had been given. Ellis bragged on the fact Holly received a Rolex watch.

The watch was expensive. It was valuable. And John didn’t have one. He should be jealous or proud or something according to Ellis.

But at the end of Die Hard, Hans fell out of the side of Nakatomi Plaza. However, he wasn’t going to go by himself. Hans latched onto Holly’s wrist and her Rolex watch.

John saw what happened and he rushed to Holly’s side. He began to try to loosen Hans’ grip on Holly. Then John began to unclasp the Rolex watch.

By letting go of the Rolex watch, he allowed Holly to be free of Hans’ grip. He saved Holly by valuing the person over possessions.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the fancy toys and gadgets. Maybe you like fancy cars like Lamborghinis or Ferraris. Or it could be the latest MacBook Pro or Apple iPhone.

Possessions can quickly creep into our lives and become important. Sometimes we even let these possessions become more important than the people in our lives.

If you find yourself in that position, check yourself. Reorientate yourself and remember people are more valuable than any possession you may obtain.

23. Great leaders can overcome their mistakes:

Al Powell had chosen not to shoot his gun after shooting the 13-year old boy. He couldn’t bring himself to use a weapon that had killed a young child.

That was until John and Holly were in danger. Karl had risen from the rubble and raised his machine gun at the couple. This is when Al took action. He overcame the shame of his mistake.

Al raised his gun, took aim, and shot Karl dead.

You may have made a mistake in the past and haven’t been able to move on from the mistake. As a leader, you have a responsibility to move forward after your mistakes.

You have to pick yourself up and continue leading. Don’t let past mistakes stop you from being the leader you are destined to be.

Question: Have you seen Die Hard? If you have, what did you take away any leadership lessons from Die Hard? If you haven’t seen Die Hard, what was your favorite leadership lesson from Die Hard that I shared? Let me know in the comment section below.

If you would like to get the Blu-Ray of Die Hard, you can purchase it here. To get the book Die Hard is based on, click here.
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