Senate Women Led Effort that Broke Congressional Deadlock



Given the qualities that distinguish women leaders, it’s not surprising that a bipartisan group of female Senators emerged as key leaders in the negotiations that broke the Congressional deadlock over reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling.  The group reached accord on a three-point plan that became the basis for the Senate deal that ended the government shutdown and averted default on our nation’s debts.

The findings of a recent study comparing the leadership styles of men and women shed light on why the Senate women were able to make headway that eluded their male counterparts.

The study was conducted by Caliper, a Princeton-based management consulting firm, and Aurora, a London-based network of 20,000 member businesswomen.  It included a well-tested personality assessment, a demographic analysis, and in-depth interviews with 59 women leaders who were matched to a representative sample of male leaders.

First, the study found that women leaders have “an inclusive, team-building leadership style of problem solving and decision making.”  Despite sharp political differences, the bipartisan group of women Senators—Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Kelly Ayotte (R- New Hampshire), Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), Patty Murray, (D-Washington), Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota)— have been meeting regularly, working together on smaller bills, and held an informal get-together early last week to coalesce around a way out of the deadlock.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that women were so heavily involved in trying to end this stalemate,” Senator Collins told The New York Times. “Although we span the ideological spectrum, we are used to working together in a collaborative way.”

Second, the study found that women have a greater sense of urgency than men and a greater need to get things done.   This explains why the Senate women were the driving force in shaping a negotiated settlement.  Senator Ayotte, demonstrating this sense of urgency, proclaimed on the Senate floor, “Where we find ourselves right now is unacceptable for America. It’s unacceptable as leaders that have been elected by the people of this country.  We owe it to our constituents to resolve this now.”

Third, the study found that women are more interested than men in hearing and really listening to others’ points of view and then making decisions that incorporate the best of everyone’s ideas. Women “can zero in on someone’s objections or concerns, weigh them appropriately, address them effectively and incorporate them into the grander scheme of things.”  By being willing to see all sides of a situation, the study found, women are better able to persuade others.  This illuminates why the Senate women were able to come up with a framework that both sides of the aisle could buy into.

Finally, the study found that women are more willing to take risks than men.  The three Republican Senators all had to face down threats from the right wing of their party to agree to a bipartisan settlement, but that didn’t stop them.  As Senator Murkowski remarked to The New York Times, “I probably will have retributions in my state. That’s fine. That doesn’t bother me at all. If there is a backlash, hey, that’s what goes on in D.C., but in the meantime there is a government that is shut down.  There are people who are really hurting.”

The three-point framework the Senate women agreed upon (which was originally conceived by Senator Collins) proposed to lift the debt limit through February 7, 2014, fund the government through January 15, and require Congress to hold talks and reach agreement by December 13 on a long-term tax and spending plan.  Those are the terms of the legislation that Congress passed and the President signed into law late last week.

About the Author

Susan Weiss Grosshas spent over 40 years strengthening social justice groups so that their people and programs succeed. Her special love is coaching women to realize their full leadership potential. Among the groups she’s assisted are the American Civil Liberties Union, the Children’s Defense Fund, the National Partnership for Women and Families, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Innocence Project, and Human Rights Watch. Susan has written numerous publications on leading and managing organizations, includingSeven Turning Points: Leading through Pivotal Transitions in Organizational Life. (For more information on Susan and her book, go toLinkedIn,Management Assistance, andAmazon.)