Leadership Tactics: Brute Force vs. Consensus

Column by Janine Popick, Inc.com "Female CEOs"
July 16, 2009

I was watching one of my favorite movies, The Bourne Ultimatum starring Matt Damon. I think I probably have seen this movie about 10 times and not just because Damon is a cutie. On this 10th time, I started watching and listening more intently at certain aspects of how women and men react differently in certain situations. What I discovered was that there seemed to be direct correlations between the movie and the real business world.

First, let’s take a look at the character Pamela Landy, a Deputy Director for the CIA. She was brought in to "quarterback" for Noah Vosen, a rogue government agent who had his sight set on being the leader of the next big agency. Their mission was to capture an ex-agent (Jason Bourne) who had amnesia and had been on the run from the government (who initially trained him) for the past two movies.

Up until Pamela was brought into the picture, the mission belonged to Noah. But the minute she walked into the room filled with people tracking Bourne’s every move, everything changed and Pamela took charge fast. During these scenes when they’re trying to track down Bourne, you’ll hear Noah shouting "use maximum force to get Bourne" or "kill him!" Pamela, however, has a different approach; she keeps telling Noah that they need to bring Bourne in alive and the way to get Bourne is to reason with and get more information from him.

Pretty different views, huh? It appears to be brute force vs. information gathering and consensus building. By the end of the movie, in a strange turn of events, it seems to work in Pamela’s favor since she ends up getting the bad guy with the help of Bourne. The bad guy is Noah.

Does brute force work for women who are leaders in business? Many would be considered the naughty B-word if they were too forceful. Here’s what I’ve noticed over the course of my female business career: women tend to wait and gather more information to make solid and informed decisions. We also try to get a consensus. Men? They can be more like Noah. It’s not to say women can’t be tough. Pamela is tough, but we do see her sensitive side. She wants to know the whole story about why the government is looking for Bourne. She wants to give Bourne the benefit of the doubt before she makes the decision to kill. She gets her team working for her and believing in how she sees things, whereas Noah is focused on his career and wants anyone out of the way who might get in the way.

I found a few studies that relate to this topic. In 1990, author Sally Helgesen performed a study on women leaders and found that most were intuitive in decision making, shared information, and emphasized cooperation. Contrast that to the same study on men in the late 70’s by Henry Mintzberg, a renowned academic and author on business and management, who reported that male leaders were working at an unrelenting pace, controlling information, and being task-oriented.

What does it all mean? What I do know is that it’s ok to weigh all of your options, get as much information as possible, and make an intuitive decision you feel good with, no matter what gender you are.

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