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The Die Hard Guide to Getting Stuff Done

5 killer tips from Die Hard’s John McClane for when you just have to be at your most productive

This last couple of years I’ve been getting more and more obsessed with being productive. I expect this is happening because I’m both (a) Lazy and (b) Ambitious. I just don’t see any way of combining those two (without it all ending in tears) unless I’m getting as much done with as little effort as possible.

Combine my recent productivity obsession with news that one of my favourite movie franchises, the Die Hard series, is planning a prequel-come-origin story, and there’s only one thing to do…

Buckle-up, put on your best white vest and be ready to yell “Yippee ki-yay” as we laconically dive into The Die Hard Guide to Getting Stuff Done

One slight warning, the following is absolutely full of spoilers. I can’t imagine anybody hasn’t seen these iconic movies yet, but if you haven’t, maybe rent them first. In sequence, obvs.

1. Die Hard – the original

Bad guy Hans Gruber and his psychotic side-kicks have taken over the Nakatomi tower on Christmas Eve. Intent on stealing the company’s millions of untraceable bearer-bonds, the only thing that stands between Hans Gruber and the certain death of the Nakatomi hostages is world-weary cop, John McClane.

Barefoot McClane gets shot-at, beaten-up, rejected by the authorities and has to sprint through broken glass.  His plans fail, his ammo runs out, he’s bloody, bruised and bandaged – and his white vest turns steadily dirtier and blacker. But he never, ever quits.

If there’s one productivity lesson (and one thing about John McClane) that we should learn from the original Die Hard, it’s this:

Get knocked down seven times; Stand-up eight.

2. Die Harder

Once again, we find ourselves at Christmas Eve, now at Washington Dulles Airport. This time we’re in a plot involving special forces solders trying to rescue General Ramon Esperanza, a drug lord and dictator of Val Verde, who is being extradited to the United States to stand trial on drug trafficking charges. I forget why they’re doing this; it doesn’t really matter. They’re the bad guys and John McClane is the goodie who must save estranged wife Holly and other airplane passengers from a deadly crash into the snowbound runway.

Nobody can navigate their way around the byzantine layout of the airport (or the plot…), apart from our Yippee ki-yaying hero John, who has one secret weapon on his side that is a great productivity lesson for when you’re lost and can’t see your way forward.

John takes the time to listen to and connect with janitor Marvin, who is hidden away in the bowels of the airport. Marvin’s inside knowledge helps McClane navigate his way around the airport, unseen by the bad guys. The lesson John teaches us in Die Hard 2: Die Harder, is this:

No matter how busy you are, be humble enough to take time to connect with the unseen people working away in the depths of the engine room – they know stuff that will help.

3. Die Hard with a Vengeance

This time we’re not at Christmas Eve. Never mind. A crazy bomber is threatening the city schools and John McClane must team up with shop owner Zeus Carver. The bombs are of course just a distraction, because now it’s gold that the bad guys are after. There are trucks, underground tunnels which flood, a ship, loads of explosions, and plenty of painful injuries. Thanks to the efforts of our heroes the school kids are rescued. But somehow the gold still goes missing.

It looks like the bad guys have gotten away with it. But hold on! What’s that written on the label of this bottle of aspirin that head bad guy Peter Krieg had ironically thrown to McClane? It seems that the aspirin came from a hotel just across the border in Quebec – EXACTLY WHERE THE TRUCKS LOADED WITH GOLD WERE LAST SEEN HEADING…

This small and seemingly insignificant piece of information is the vital clue to the whole puzzle and it inevitably leads to the bad guys getting their just deserts. And that’s the productivity lesson that John McClane has for us here:

Most of the time, the key to being productive is about the big picture, about knowing where you’re going and focussing on that. But just sometimes, the real clues about how to reach your goals are in the tiny, easily-overlooked details. Know when to switch your focus from big-picture to detail.

4.0 Life Free or Die Hard

Now it’s cyber terrorists, because the internet has happened and national infrastructure like electricity, gas and financial stuff is all vulnerable to hacking.

Hard-drinking, hard-to-get-along-with cop, John McClane, is reduced to baby-sitting assignments and has to transport a hacker who is facing criminal charges. Meanwhile, the bad guys start blowing things up and taking out anybody who can identify them.

John launches a car at a helicopter, which explodes. There’s a thing called a firesale, which is about crippling the infrastructure so much that the economy collapses; John’s daughter is in peril; the bad guy turns out to be a spurned cyber-security expert who didn’t get the credit for his government work. John has to team up with the young hacker guy, because he can do that hacker-typing stuff. Oh, and there’s a VTOL jet plane (an F-35B Lightning II), which John also takes out.

There are so many lessons about how to get stuff done in Live Free or Die Hard, that it’s tough to know where to start.

You could look at how John McClane learns to trust and rely on the cyber-expertise of young hackers Matt and ‘Warlock’. McClane might not know cyber-stuff, but he knows people and he knows when to depend on them.

Or you could look at how in the final scenes McClane shoots himself THROUGH HIS OWN SHOULDER to kill the bad guy behind him. That’s getting stuff done right? No pain, no gain!

But for me, the most important lesson from Die Hard 4.0 about getting stuff done is this:

Sometimes, in order to get stuff done, you’ve got to totally disrupt what’s currently happening. It’s not enough to just do things right, you’ve got to be doing the right things. Nothing changes the game like launching a car at a helicopter. They didn’t see that one coming and it certainly cleared the way for the priorities that John really had to be getting on with.

5. A Good Day to Die Hard

It turns out that John McClane’s estranged son Jack is an undercover CIA agent. Jack is facing trumped-up charges for assassination in Russia and so John travels to Moscow to help him out.

Everybody’s after some kind of file concerning former billionaire and government whistleblower Yuri Komarov, which has evidence implicating high-ranking Russian official Viktor Chagarin. There are plenty of gun fights, more helicopters, running, leaping and exploding.

There are also red-herrings all over the place, as the file turns out to be non-existent and is actually a clue to a secret entrance to a Chernobyl vault containing €1bn worth of weapons-grade uranium. It’s this uranium that everyone (not just the bad guys) has been betraying each other in order to reach first.

A Good Day to Die Hard is a lot like trying to get stuff done in real life. You can never really be sure what’s going on. Somebody tells you that the secret file is the key, but do they really know what they’re talking about? What if they have an agenda of their own?

A pivotal point in the plot is when John and Jack meet up with Komarov’s daughter, Irina. They’re in a grand hotel in the city. Irina will provide them with a key to the vault which contains the (non-existent) file. The file will exonerate both Jack and Irina’s father Komarov, as well as incriminating Chagarin. So why is Irina acting so shifty…? John McClane trusts his instincts and just knows that Irina’s shifty behaviour is not right. That her motives must somehow be off. This gives them vital seconds to escape the devastating gunfire that rips through the hotel ballroom’s windows.

It’s this point which for me is the big lesson in getting stuff done from Die Hard 5:

When you’re trying to get stuff done, people around you will promise one thing and do another. Their motives will be different from yours. Most of the time, they’re not acting against you (unless you’re John McClane), it’s just that they’ve also got an agenda, stuff that they need to get done too. Trust your instincts to know when this is happening and deal with it in as straight-forward a way as possible.

Yippee ki-yay people; go get stuff done.


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Having An Outcome Focus

Outcome Focus:
My top 3 shortcuts to individual success and great team dynamics

If there’s one thing that makes the most difference between individual success and failure, or between great team dynamics and anarchy, it’s having an Outcome Focus.

That is, knowing clearly and distinctly what is wanted in any given situation.

If you don’t know what outcome you want, as a leader, an individual or as a team, it’s almost impossible to agree on how to proceed or to focus on where to put your efforts. As Lewis Carroll wrote:

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

So it’s frequently a great source of surprise to me to discover how often people don’t really know what outcomes they want. Or to find out that nobody in a team has had a chance to talk together about what they’re trying to achieve. As a leader, if you were to do absolutely nothing but talk about the top three or four outcomes you want people to focus on, I’m convinced you’d be providing more leadership support for your teams than 60-70% of the leaders I know!


But how do you have more of an Outcome Focus? How do you get clear yourself about what you want in any situation? And how do you help the people around you to have the same clarity?

If you’re ready to have more of an Outcome Focus, I’ve set out my top 3 tips below.
But before you get into those, it’s always worth checking – do you already know what outcomes you want?

Perhaps you know but haven’t said it out loud or written it down. If that’s the case, do that now.

And if that’s not the case, or if you find yourself very well able to say what you don’t want, or if you find that you know you want less of something, but aren’t sure what outcome you actually do want, read on…


1. Visit the Future – and look back

This is one of my favourite techniques, because it’s a chance to raise your head from the everyday pressures and take stock of a much bigger picture. Pick a time-frame (it doesn’t matter what: an hour, a day, a week, a decade, will all work); use your imagination to transport yourself forwards in time; take a look back to the present-day, and answer these questions:

  • What do you want to be different in future?
  • Where do you want to have got to?
  • How do you want to be feeling?

2. Listen to Yourself Complaining

How often do you hear yourself or other people complaining about something, in this kind of way: “He said/she said…” “She did this or that…” “They don’t understand/ care/ appreciate…”?

Us coaches like to hear this kind of complaint because it’s usually a good springboard for action – after you’ve done some work with it. Here’s why it’s so useful…

Take this (edited) real example of a complaint, given to me by a client just last week:

“I’m so sick of having last-minute tasks dumped on me and my team, only to find out later that some vital piece of information was left-out so that we wasted our time responding.”

A complaint is really two different things that have understandably got mixed-up together:

  1. A complaint is an expression of some hurt or injury you’re feeling;
  2. A complaint is a hidden or buried or unclear desire for something to change.
    That is, it’s an Outcome!

First, you have to deal with the hurt or injury that you’re feeling.

Take the example above, and imagine that you’d had those last-minute tasks dumped on you. You might be feeling annoyed, disrespected, resentful of the time you gave-up over the weekend, or any of a number of emotions. And of course, emotions are useful, once we see them clearly, because they’re nature’s way of proving the energy and impetus for us to take action.

Second, you have to get really clear about the outcome that’s hidden away inside your complaint. You have to make that outcome conscious, instead of unconscious, and to turn it into some kind of request.

Using that same example again; once you’d stopped hurting about the way you were treated and were able to think rationally, what is it you’d actually want? Is there a request you might need to make? Is there a change you would want to have happen?

3. Ask Each Other Why

Young kids are great with the “Why?” questions when they’re trying to make sense of the world. But somewhere along the way, we seem to learn that asking too many “why” questions just annoys people – so we stop. But how can you have a great Outcome Focus if you don’t know why you’re doing something?

As a team member, how many times have you felt that you’re all doing something because somebody else, at some other point in time decided it was the thing to be doing? And you don’t really know why. Or you feel like maybe you were off that day, when everybody else talked about why this particular course of action was such a great idea.

As leaders or as team members, make sure you can answer these questions:

  • Why are we doing this?
    • Yeah, but really why are we doing it?
    • What do we actually want to get?
  • Why are we behaving the way we are? Will that get us what we actually, really want? Is there a Complaint that we haven’t really expressed or explored and which might be driving our behaviour?
  • Why don’t we want something else instead?

 

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

Carl Jung

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Love to Run; Hate to Train

Imagine this: What you love doing takes less than 10 seconds and you rarely get to do it!
Lessons from Bolt

I write this shortly after watching “I am Bolt” – the sports documentary about sprinter Usain Bolt as he prepares for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Whether you’re a fan of sports documentaries or not, I think you might enjoy this really captivating film about a very charismatic athlete.

There was lots of useful stuff in the film for me, particularly about the joy of doing something you’re great at, and I’ll write more about that in future.

One part of the film that really struck me was Bolt’s hatred of training. He says it again and again: “I love to run, I hate to train”. This from a man whose actual competitive event is over in less than 10 seconds!


Imagine that – the thing you love to do is over in less than 10 seconds, you probably don’t even get to do it competitively more than once a week, maybe much less, and to do it as well as you know you can, you have to do something you hate, again, and again, and again.

And you don’t just have to do this while you’re becoming good at your thing; you have to train and practise all the way through, even when you have multiple Olympic gold medals. Even when you are the best in the world.


I’m quite inspired by this.

I’m looking around seeing if I can re-frame all the stuff I hate doing to be the equivalent of “training”, for the 10 seconds I do love.

Does it help, do you think, this kind of reframing?

I suppose you’ve got to know what the thing you love doing is, so that you can tell which bits (the ones you hate) are just necessary “training”. And then you’ve got to decide if the thing you love doing is worth dedicating yourself to. Not just so that you can be the best in the world – most of us never get the chance to measure that in any meaningful way. But so that you can be the absolute best version of you, doing what you love to the absolute best of your abilities.

I’ll settle for that.

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Mindset & Leading with One-on-One Meetings

How to get your mindset right while you’re holding one on one meetings

If you’re leading and managing other people, then you’re almost certainly having one-on-one meetings with your staff and team members. I’ve spent a lot of time doing just that myself, and helping my coaching clients to be as effective as they can when they do the same.

To make all your one-to-one meetings go well, you need to be clear about the outcomes you want, to have a step-by-step process to gain trust, and be prepared to be flexible depending on what comes up.

But perhaps the most important thing my clients talk about, is having their own heads in the right place before they start.

If you want your one on one meetings to work really well, it isn’t enough to know what to do and how to do it, you also need to know what attitudes of mind are likely to get the best results for you.

Here are three of the most important ones:

1. Empowerment as an outcome of your management

You’ve got to want to inspire people to get more done under their own motivation and responsibility.

It’s a bit like having teenagers – they need to learn how to do stuff for themselves.

Until you’re prepared to adopt this as part of your mindset, you’re likely to be spoon-feeding people and picking-up after them long after they could have learned to do it for themselves. I think the trick here is to actually include empowerment as one of the outcomes you’re after. Put it up there alongside the tasks that you want this person to achieve and give it as much, if not more, weight as all the other important stuff you need to ensure gets done.

2. Coaching as a leadership style

This is where you put a big chunk of your leadership energies into the longer-term development of others.

It’s not the only leadership style you’ll need to use, but it is very effective and very rewarding for you. It’s also a good partner to empowerment.

You could think of a coaching leadership style as being NOT about you as leader having the answers, but about guiding people to find their own answers to things.

If I had to encapsulate it in a single phrase for leaders to use, it’d be something like:
“How about trying this…?”

3. The transition from doing to leading

The more your responsibilities increase, the more you need to shift from actually doing stuff yourself, to getting stuff done by acting through others – by leading.

If you’re like most people, you’ll have got to your position at least partly because you’re good at what you do. And so this can sometimes be a tricky transition to make, or even to be aware of its significance. It’s also quite scary because of course it takes you outside of what you know you’re good at doing, into possibly new territory – and people are often much more complex to understand and influence than the tasks themselves.

But this is a really important place to get your head into. Take a deep breath, stop doing stuff yourself, and start making sure that you act through others.


If you personally wanted to get the most out of people in your one-to-one meetings, what other attitudes of mind might also be important to you?

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Team Performance Using DRIL

A simple four-step approach to great team performance

I’m often surprised by how much of an expectation people set for themselves about being able to do stuff exactly right, first time. It happens a lot in business; even with professionals who’ve spent years acquiring expert knowledge in their subject. In other walks of life – the arts, the military, for example – there’s a much more progressive attitude to practising things before being expected to get them right.

And the area where people seem to have the highest expectations without putting in preparation is about how teams perform. Great teams don’t just happen – they are created and nurtured.

Here’s my DRIL – the four steps for getting really great performance out of teams:

  1. Design – what is it you want to achieve and how, together, will you go about it?
  2. Rehearse – practise it; walk it through in your minds or on the whiteboard;
  3. Implement – if you can hold-off implementation long enough to have done Design and Rehearse, then it can be done fast and with conviction, often saving time;
  4. Learn – you’d think that learning from what worked and what didn’t would be old news by now. It isn’t – maybe because a great team is never done learning.

 

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Relationships and Onboarding

Why newly appointed leaders sometimes fail to get things done or don’t live up to expectations

A new boss of mine (somebody I liked and respected right from the start) once told me that he now made it a policy to under promise and over-deliver in his first six months in a job. He talked about the expectations that everybody has for you when you start a senior position, especially if you’ve got there because of outstanding performance in your previous role. He also talked about the pressure you might put yourself under, from wanting to make the most of your next great opportunity, to being concerned about keeping your track-record up to scratch.

Since then, I’ve done a lot of coaching with people newly promoted or recently appointed to those kind of jobs. From what I’ve seen, I reckon that my boss was spot-on. Those expectations and the self-pressure are probably two out of three of the main reasons why newly appointed leaders don’t achieve as much as you anticipated.

But the third reason is probably the most important…


Newly appointed leaders can sometimes have a habit of underestimating just how much of their ability to get things done in their old role was down to the depth and strength of their relationships with the people around them.


It seems that it’s not what you know, but neither is it who you know – it’s actually how well you know people.

The depths and strengths of those relationships are like the oil in the engine when it comes to getting things done. You don’t notice when the oil is up to temperature and is at the right level – the engine just works. But take it away and everything grinds to a halt.

So if you’ve got somebody who is relatively new to their position and they’re not delivering as much or as well as you’d hoped, this is the first place to look if you want to coach them. Here are some things to check out:

  • Have they had a chance to get to know people in the business as well as they need to?
  • Has their own desire to succeed got in the way of building lasting relationships with key people?
  • Are other people just operating from a pre-judgement about this new person’s reputation or building too much on the basis of the expectations you’ve expressed? (I’ve often heard board members say things like: “It’ll be OK when X gets here, they’ll sort everything out in a jiffy”)
  • Look for ways to increase the quality and frequency of opportunities for people to connect with this new person, without creating lots of new tasks/expectations.
  • Are they really a ‘fit’ culturally?
  • Do they need help in balancing out their task/relationships skills?

 

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