Leadership Lessons And Quotes From Jason Bourne

A Reel Leadership Article

The first time I heard the name Jason Bourne, I had no clue who he would be. Then I heard he was the main character, played by Matt Damon, in an upcoming movie called The Bourne Identity.

That was in 2002.

Quotes and leadership lessons from Jason Bourne

Image from Universal Studios

The premise behind the movie sounded interesting: A man is picked up by a fishing boat. His body is riddled with bullet holes. He can’t remember who he is.

This is the story of Jason Bourne. It’s also what got me hooked on the main protagonist of Robert Ludlum’s books.

I still remember being drawn into the world of Jason Bourne in the novels. Then the movies.

Now, 14 years later, the newest Bourne movie is released titled simply Jason Bourne.

So, what can a man with limited memory teach us about leadership? Let’s dig into the leadership lessons from Jason Bourne.


CAUTION: Jason Bourne spoilers ahead

Leadership Lessons And Quotes From Jason Bourne

1. Sometimes one hit is all it takes: During the Jason Bourne trailers, we see Bourne in a street fight in the desert. With one hit he takes out the man he is fighting.

Success takes a lot of work. Bourne honed his body to be an effective killing machine. To the point that he is able to take out a man with a single punch.

Have you been building your business in a way that you can succeed with one good product?

2. Security breaches happen: Nicky Parsons, played by Julia Stiles, was a former CIA operative who knew her way around computers. In Jason Bourne, we see her hacking into the CIA mainframe to extract information.

The CIA wasn’t expecting the breach. Yet it happened.

The same can happen in your business. With most of your information connected to the internet, we have to be aware there are people out there who are looking to get into your systems.

Be careful with what you have on the servers and how you have them secured. A simple data breach could be the end of your business.

3. Ask to be let in: As the CIA discovers they’ve been hacked, they put together a team of analysts and experts to help catch those responsible. Heather Lee was in the room when all of the excitement was going down.

She was going to be passed over for the mission but she asked to be a part of the team.

Those around you may not know you’re willing and able to lead. You have to step up and show them that you have it in you.

When you feel it’s time for you to lead, make the ASK.

4. Know the lingo of the business you’re in: CIA director Robert Dewey, played by Tommy Lee Jones, tells his asset that he needs to close his current account.

The outside world could be left wondering what Dewey meant by this terminology. The asset wasn’t. He knew those words meant to terminate the person he was currently interrogating and move on.

Do you know the language the business you’re in uses? You need to.

5. Jason Bourne:

What’s wrong?

Jason Bourne met up with Nicky Parsons and realized something was wrong. And he did what any great leader would do, he asked her what was going on.

Have you been aware of your team and their conditions? Have you been willing to ask them what is wrong or what is going on?

Leaders are willing to ask tough questions to get things done.

6. Nicky Parsons:

Look at yourself. Look at what you’re doing. You can’t keep living like this.

Nicky Parsons found Jason bourne in a bad state. He was street fighting. He was scrapping by. He wasn’t the Bourne she knew.

And she confronted him about his lifestyle.

Great leaders call people out when they need to. They don’t call them out publicly, though. They take them aside and let them know they see something is wrong.

7. Know your surroundings: One of the things I’ve loved about the Jason Bourne movie series is how keenly aware Bourne is of his surroundings.

He is constantly watching for people or things that are out of the ordinary. When something is wrong, he picks up on it and moves to correct the issue.

Pay attention to what is happening around you. There are signs that can lead you to more success or to your failure.

8. Remain calm and focused: Another trait that I admired about Jason Bourne was his ability to stay calm and focused regardless of what was going on around him.

He could be in the middle of a firefight and still have the mental compacity to figure his way out of the situation. His calmness allowed him to come out of deadly encounters.

Remember that leaders don’t freak out. As trials and tribulations present themselves, leaders retreat to a calm and collected state.

9. Chaos brings opportunity: After meeting with Nicky, Bourne realizes they’ve been spotted. He knows they need to get away.

Nicky is sent in one direction while Bourne goes in another. Where does he go?

Straight into the chaos of a riot in Athens, Greece. Why?

Because he knew the chaos would provide cover and opportunity.

Sometimes we look at the chaos and think the chaos is bad. Nothing good can come from the chaos.

Thinking this way is no good. It doesn’t allow us to see the opportunity that is in front of us.

When faced with chaos, seek out the new opportunities these challenges bring. Then make them happen.

10. Look for abnormalities: We already covered this with our environments but there’s another place we need to constantly be watching. The behaviors of others.

In Jason Bourne, Heather Lee notices something off about the asset Dewey brought in. He was more focused on taking out Bourne than the proper execution of the mission.

This led Lee to believe there was some deeper connection between the two. She was right.

Are you watching the behaviors of those on your team? Slight and subtle changes to their behaviors can signal deeper issues.

11. Great leaders make sacrifices: In probably the saddest scene of Jason Bourne, Nicky Parsons makes the ultimate sacrifice. She makes a sudden move so the sniper will take her out and Jason Bourne can get the encrypted data key she had and escape.

I doubt you’ll ever be called upon to fully lay down your life. However, leadership demands that we make sacrifices we wouldn’t have to make if we weren’t in the position of leadership.

12. Aaron Kalloor:

This changes everything. There’s too much risk. I’m out.

Hearing Aaron Kalloor say this reminded me of the Kenny Rogers song The Gambler. You know the one: You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away and know when to run.

This is a great leadership mantra.

We need to know to stay in. We need to know when to leave. We need to know when to bluff.

13. Leadership has a cost: We covered a similar leadership lesson earlier but I think this deserves its own spot. Jason Bourne’s dad, Richard Webb, told Jason that there was a cost to everything shortly before he was assassinated.

His words hold true in leadership. There is a cost to lead.

You will give up family time. You will gain enemies. You will lose sleep. You will have friends leave you.

There is a cost to leadership.

14. Rethink the plans laid before you: Agent Lee was given the plan to kill Jason Bourne. However, through her research, she believed Bourne could be reached and recruited back into the agency.

She was willing to challenge those above her because she had studied her subject.

You will be given plans. Sometimes those plans are awesome. Other times those plans may need to be tweaked.

Never go with the first option offered. See if there’s another viable plan.

15. Heather Lee:

I’m choosing the CIA because I believe I can make a difference there.

Lead where you can make a difference. There’s always some place that could use you and the knowledge you bring.

16. Bad leaders manipulate the ones they lead: CIA director Dewey was a bad man. He was constantly looking for ways to control and manipulate the ones he led.

Bad leaders don’t care for their team. They want to be the ones to come out on top.

Don’t lead that way. Lead with others in mind.

17. Heather Lee:

You and I have different reasons but we both want Dewey gone

While you may not agree with everyone completely, sometimes you work with others because they have the same purpose.

Bourne did that with Lee. They both knew Dewey was a bad man and needed to go. So they worked together.

However, I want to give a caveat. Be careful of who you partner with. You may be judged by your decision.

18. Leadership is challenging but fulfilling: Heather Lee took her position in the CIA because she thought she could make a difference. She found out that her position was challenging and difficult.

Yet there was an upside. The challenges and difficulties she faced made her work all the more fulfilling.

The same is true for leadership. Leadership is challenging. Leadership is also fulfilling.

This reminds me of the last 15 years of my life leading in the youth group.

Dealing with students is challenging. See these students grow and succeed? Very fulfilling!

19. Jason Bourne:

I’m trying to find a different way

Bourne was able to track Dewey down. He felt the only action he could take was to kill the man. But he wanted a different solution…

We’re going to be put into tough leadership situations. Our choices are going to look bad and badder.

There’s also a different way. Look for the best possible option.

20. CIA director Robert Dewey:

You’re never going to find peace until you admit who you really are

Dewey was a bad man, sure… However, one of his last lines was a doozy.

Peace comes from knowing who, and whose, you are. Discover who you are and embrace your identity.

Question: Have you watched Jason Bourne? If so, what leadership lessons did you see in Jason Bourne? If not, what was your favorite leadership lesson from Jason Bourne that I shared? Post it in the comments and let’s talk about the movie.

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