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This is the first in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each example has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.

Business leaders often find themselves having to venture beyond their fields of expertise in order to make management decisions. These decisions have far-reaching impact, negative or positive, upon an organization’s future success, and there’s usually little time to research all the available data. The stakes are high, and as business leaders, we are expected to know everything. But that’s an unreasonable expectation.

Isaac Newton said, “What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.” Say, for example, your organization is shifting to remote working. What you know is this: Your remote staff will need access to information currently contained in paper documents. Therefore you plan to convert paper documents into searchable digital documents.

What you don’t know is this: What conversion software should you use? What metadata fields? What file format? How many levels of security? How is the imaging actually done? Exactly what is “imaging” anyway?

It can feel humiliating to say, “I don’t know.” But there is no shame in calling upon experts when faced with a decision that is outside our training and experience. In fact, it’s the smart thing to do. Great leaders recognize their weaknesses as well as their strengths. They reach out to others to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

We are comfortable with calling upon doctors, lawyers, and accountants to advise us, because they are experts in those fields, and we are not. Other operational areas should be no different. Consider how you chose your business’s law firm or accounting firm – most likely, through your spheres of social and business influence. If these challenging times are pushing you to make decisions far outside your comfort zone, reach out to a colleague who can steer you toward an expert.


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