Sometimes hardened criminals can teach us a lesson or two about leadership.
In the 1981 classic Escape from New York, Kurt Russell plays the hard-edged Snake Plissken. The movie’s premise is Air Force One carrying the president of the United States has crashed into New York City (which has been turned into a maximum security prison for all criminals in the U.S.). Plissken, who is about to be incarcerated in New York is offered a deal: if he gets the president out of New York, he’ll get his freedom.
Snake has a problem though – the police have implanted a small time bomb in his neck and he only has 22 hours to get the president out and have the bomb neutralized (it could happen! It’s the future!). Naturally Snake is a man on a mission – not only to save the president but also to save himself.
As he rushes through the prison colony that is Manhattan island, Snake teaches all of us a few things about leadership (as well as providing some awesome tips on how to kill hardened post-apocalyptic criminals with bad hair). Here’s what we can all learn from Snake:
Leaders are willing to bet on themselves
Think about the odds Snake faced. He was going into a penal colony full of the deadliest criminals around. He had a choice of simply going to prison and living there (which he could have easily done because he’s a badass) or fighting the criminals to rescue the president.
Tough odds. Snake took the bet. He knew what he was capable of and he understood the value of the prize (his freedom). Sure it was a “stretch goal” to rescue the president but Snake was willing to take that bet because he was confident in his abilities.
Are you willing to bet on yourself when you face huge odds against you? Know what you’re capable of and take an occasional risk. You might surprise yourself with what you’re able to do.
Leaders maintain laser-focus on their objective
Snake had 22 hours. He had one objective – get the president out alive. He made some friends along his journey – Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine), Brain, and Maggie. He also made a few enemies, most notably The Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes).
There were times Snake could have stayed and fought with his friends when they decided to stay behind and fight. He could have stayed for revenge to kick The Duke’s butt. But he didn’t. He directed all his energy toward one single goal – getting the president out. All the other things he could have done would have been righteous but they were distractions from his primary objective.
Do you know what your primary objective is? Do you avoid distractions and side-projects? What do you do to maintain your focus on your objectives?
Leaders take bold risks
Snake could have accepted his prison sentence and not risked his life. Instead, he landed a glider on the roof of the World Trade Center, fought off bad guys, and ran a gauntlet across a heavily-mined 69th street bridge to get the president out. He could have tried to hold his position on the top of World Trade to be extracted by helicopter but he didn’t like the odds so off to the crazy bridge crossing he went.
He had no idea if his risks would work out. But he knew if he didn’t take action, the outcome was certain failure. Snake took the chance and made some bold moves. Of course they worked out (otherwise it would have been a crappy movie).
When is the last time you took a bold risk? Have you considered any bold moves recently? What’s holding you back from taking those chances?
Leaders care about people
After Snake finally gets the president out and has the bomb deactivated, he asks the president what he thought about all the people who died to help him escape from New York. Cabbie, Brain, and Maggie all gave their lives in the escape effort.
The president offers half-hearted condolences for their loss. Snake doesn’t buy it and he sabotages the president’s major peace initiative. Snake knows good people sacrificed a great deal and his last act of defiance demonstrates he truly cared about and appreciated what they gave for the greater good.
So are you the next Snake Plissken?
Do you bet on yourself? How do you stay focused on your goals? Do you make bold moves? Do you really care about the people who are taking those risks alongside you? Take some quiet time today and reflect on these questions. Ask yourself if you’re as good a leader as Snake Plissken was.