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Business Philosophy: Asserting Authority vs. Deferring To Experts


Businesses are all about big decisions. Not every decision is going to be correct and not all of them are going to be based on sufficient data. It’s these forks in the road that determines whether you find yourself in the promised land of success, or in the barren wasteland of bankruptcy.

I’ve always thought of leadership as being about being the one person in the room who isn’t afraid of looking like they know nothing. This is because it’s a leader’s responsibility to understand every level of a situation and accept the consequences for decisions that are never fully predictable.

But there are times when you simply don’t agree with the people you trust. It’s during these times that your experts tell you one thing, but your gut tells you another that you face the biggest trial of leadership. Now, a decision needs to be made and as a leader, the final say is yours. When is the right time to trust your gut and when should you defer to your experts?

The hard truth is that there’s no definite answer here. It’s difficult to prepare for big decisions thoroughly because there are so many variables involved. A big discussion can be had when dealing with matters of investments. For example:

A car detailing and restoration business wants to make a dent in the ultra-premium custom market (pun intended). A new technology has recently hit the market in the form of laser rust removal. And while it does allow a greater degree of control and safety for the pain than ever before, the value the tech offers is hindered by a prohibitive ticket price.

Most entrepreneurs would take a decision like this to their top people. Advisors to this business, like financial advisors, will give great advice — but only from one angle. A financial advisor is an advocate for the business’ security, so his or her advice is always going to be biased toward stability and prudence. But is it always the right way forward? No, not always.

A business owner could go against the advice of the best financial advisor in the world and still make the right choice. That’s because the owner has to consider the possibility of expanding, the necessity of finding new markets and the parts of the legacy that goes beyond just the finances.

It’s even more difficult to swallow because of the fact that we are all bound to make mistakes along the way. That’s just one of the consequences of needing to make a decision before you get to know all the variables.

The beauty of the brain is that it enables all of us to learn. There’s a reason why, once we burn ourselves on a stove, we never do it again. The error registers into our memory and it practically becomes branded into it. The same can be said for making the wrong business decisions.

This is why experience is the sole determinant of whether or not you can assert your authority versus deferring to your experts. An experienced business owner is able to see things from more angles than a subject matter expert in a single area. Though, this is assuming that you’re more experienced than your experts. The exact opposite can be said if your experts are more experienced than you are.

The best part about being able to learn is that we are also able to learn from people who are better than us. We all function on borrowed wisdom, and with that in mind, we all improve.

So, whether or not you should assert your authority or listen to your experts is inconclusive because we all have different levels of expertise in different fields. The one true measure of authority cannot be measured in the number of books we’ve read or the type of degree we hold.

True authority stems from in-field experience. But that doesn’t mean that you should make the same mistakes as your predecessor.