“Executive Summaries” are the business equivalent of “Cliffs Notes” and represent an efficient way for leaders to gain a quick overview of a situation. That’s the only purpose they should serve, however, for matters of importance to the organization. If they are used as a crutch for decision-making, great peril is hidden there. An executive summary is nothing more than a high-level snapshot of a subject, one which may also reflect the biases of the person who wrote it. Incomplete information, coupled with bias, are a formula for disaster.
If the executive summary reveals a topic of importance, exceptional leaders take these three steps:
- Read. Actually read the underlying document! This is where the nuances are hidden and where the stories live; without that context, the summary facts are void of substance. Mark it up for ease of reference and make note of items that deserve further study.
- Research. Conduct additional research to achieve clarity of understanding of the concepts. This process can be involved, or quite straightforward, depending upon complexity. Different viewpoints must also be considered.
- Interview. Seek out individuals who are subject matter experts and ask them thoughtful questions on specific points you identified through reading and research. Then actually listen to what they have to say for crucial insights! You’re not looking for people to validate your pre-conceived opinions; seek out those who can broaden and deepen your understanding.