What ‘The Post’ tells us about the role of intuition in decision making

Have you watched the film ‘The Post’? If you haven’t, I recommend you do. It’s a true story in which Meryl Streep plays Katherine Graham – this first female publisher of a major American newspaper. It’s an interesting watch if you are interested in women’s leadership and it also reminded me of the role of intuition in any decision making which is the main thing that inspired me to write this blog.

Firstly, I want to consider the experience portrayed of her as a woman in a senior role. The film shows her having difficulties showing her authority in a world dominated by men. She had inherited the paper; her father passed it down to her husband and when he committed suicide in 1963, she found herself at the helm. A situation she was not prepared for.

One of the first scenes of her in a work setting was at a Board meeting. She had done all the right things, had read all the papers and knew her stuff but struggled to use her voice and let her male colleagues undermine her. I guess this wouldn’t be unexpected in the 1960’s but I still see plenty of this happening now which is disappointing for the 21st Century.

Anyhow, the paper is struggling and the Editor is keen to do something that would claim their place as a player in the news industry. They struggle to get their break and Graham is cautious at first, not wanted to create waves or rock the boat. However, an opportunity arises to uncover some uncomfortable truths about the Vietnam war and it is time to decide how bold they ought to be.

They seemed to constantly be one step behind the rest and to stand out as a leader takes something cutting edge. In a fortuitous turn of events, one of their main competitors was prevented from printing anything on the war while they waiting for a court ruling after they printed a controversial story.

The Post had managed to get hold of the same document and were writing their own stories in the hope of filling the gap. It became clear though that they could find themselves in hot water if they went ahead so at crunch time, Graham had an extremely difficult decision to make.

The risk was that she could be found to be in contempt of court if she allowed the story to be published. Her advisers wanted to leave it and her Editor could completely understand why she would but she wrestled with her conscience, weighed up the risk and opportunity and made her decision.

It reminded me of the importance of intuition in decision making. Certainly for me, I find that intuition is not a good justification for a decision when I am trying to persuade someone to take a chance on something. However, the right choice isn’t always the obvious or most sensible choice.

We see Graham go through the process of decision making:

  1. She is made aware that there is a problem.
  2. She is briefed on the situation and asks questions to fully ascertain the extent of the risk.
  3. She considers the alternatives and evaluates all options.

At this point, she knows that the logical thing to do is to pull the story. When you look at the facts and information, it is the only option.

However, she then takes a step back and asks her gut. This is the ultimate decider and the point at which she knows what she has to do.

When she considers the role (or mission) of the media and the paper to inform the public and guard the national interest, it tells her something different.

When she considers her role as publisher and business leader to be viable, innovative and cutting edge to ensure their place in the market, it tells her something different.

When she weighed up the risk and opportunity, drawing on how it made her feel, it told her something different.

She made the decision to publish.

Her decision did see her in court but after The Post took a lead in publishing the story, so other titles followed. On June 30th 1971, the court ruled in their favour. In 2013, the Graham family sold the paper for $250m.

It was bold, it was brave but it was intuition told her was the right thing to do. Never underestimate that.

Does this story chime with your own experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

3minuteleadership.org

 

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

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