"The incompetent with nothing to do can still make a mess of it."
-Laurence J. Peter
US educator and writer
The Peter Principle
The Cry for Competence
Do we really have a crisis in terms of individualsí competence in their various fields of endeavor? Yes, Yes, and Yes!
Competent: Capable, fit, qualified, able.
For the book Credibility, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner researched the character traits of the most credible individuals. After honesty, competence was found to be the second-most-important characteristic an individual needs to have credibility with others.
I write this article about events happening now. The theme of this issue is frustration with incompetence.
Have you worked for or beside someone who did not know what he or she was doing? Have you been served by a vendor or supplier who was clueless? How did you feel? What kind of emotions did those situations evoke -- irritation, frustration, resentment and even anger?
My question to you is this: Do you believe that we as a society have created this chronic condition called incompetence? I do!
One contributing factor over the past century is that many institutional organizations have been created to protect individuals and groups of people, such as professional associations, unions, and other bodies. They were first formed to protect the rights and limit abuse of individuals from others, including management and other officials. Many of these groups have, however, grown to protect and embrace the incompetent.
Before anyone screams foul, I was once a member of the largest union in the country and experienced firsthand the protection of the incompetent.
My wife, a teacher for the past 20 years, has watched in horror as incompetent teachers were protected in their jobs and childrenís education was being blatantly compromised. But nothing could be done about them unless the incompetent teachers acted in a criminal manner.
Weíve witnessed many professional associations protecting their own: doctors, dentists, police, lawyers, accountants, engineers, managers, professors, bureaucrats, political representatives, religious officials, and many others.
What is the origin of the shallow and false pretense that it is okay to have incompetent individuals on board and that itís okay to protect them?
This stance is not limited to the business world; it is prevalent in non-profit organizations, too. I am a board member at the private school our children attend. The school has experienced some difficult times for one main reason: incompetent staff members were protected and permitted to continue their poor management of the school. Thus the school suffered from both staff incompetence and incompetent leadership because the leaders did not address the issues.
I know of another non-profit group completely in denial about the competence of their senior leader and they keep supporting him. This organization is slowly eroding and becoming a shadow of its former self -- all because of incompetence.
In the book Good to Great, Jim Collinsí team documents the activities of the most successful companies and organizations. One of the top items on the list is that these companies work with only the best (competent) individuals. Not only that, those companies are brutally honest about the abilities of the individuals and the capabilities of their team. They release people who are not competent.
Before you say that is heartless, there is absolutely no value in putting our heads in the sand. In protecting incompetent individuals, companies are doing a disservice -- not only to the group or individuals they serve, but to the incompetent individuals themselves.
- An incompetent person will ultimately fail.
- People working with incompetents feel frustration and lowered levels of fulfillment and passion.
- The productivity of the entire team working around the incompetent will suffer.
- Never underestimate the impact incompetent individuals have in reducing the efforts of everyone around them.
Itís time we called a spade a spade and became courageously authentic . . . and stopped protecting individuals and organizations from their own incompetence. We should start expecting more -- not only from others but from and for ourselves.
I am sharing my intensity and passion for this cause because I have learned the hard way about the enormous cost of not demanding and expecting competence. Over the past three years, my company has hired and contracted so-called experts to help us with various projects. And we have been sorely disappointed by their results.
The cost of working with incompetent individuals is far more than the direct investment. Competent team members, frustrated by the incompetent members, will leave you, so you have a double loss. And there is the emotional toll and physical illness brought on by stress.
What about you? What would others say about you? Are you competent or incompetent? Are you competent in the roles and responsibilities you currently fulfill? If you are not fully competent, what are you doing to ensure that you become competent? What is your level of credibility with yourself and others in this area?
What to do?
First, if you donít expect competence in yourself and in others, you are doing a disservice to all people involved.
Make a personal commitment to move toward competence in your chosen field or interest. No one simply "gets" fully competent. Competence requires a commitment to continual improvement. If you cannot achieve competency, do everybody a favor and find an area where you can excel. If you want to stay where you are, mentor under someone to increase your competence.
Make no false claims about your ability of level of experience. For example, I am talking about individuals who claim to be marketing experts and have never successfully marketed anything in their lives. And those who feel they have leadership skills, yet their organization continues to flounder. And those who constantly fail to achieve success or results -- yet think they are doing just fine.
- STOP protecting the incompetent.
- START being courageously authentic.
- There is no redeeming value to your passively permitting someone to fail or have poor credibility with others. If you do, you have shown your own incompetence.
That may hurt but I say it because I have been guilty of the sin of omission, too. In the past, when I have not followed the above advice, I have paid dearly. I simply want you to avoid or decrease those experiences. Donít be misled into protecting the incompetent by those who would have you be loyal to false pretense and lack of integrity.
Competence has a price and a reward. When you have a competent provider/team member, do whatever you can to keep him or her. Those individuals are rare gems.
When you are working with or being served by someone completely competent, how do you feel? Your reactions could include confidence, calmness, certainty, and feeling productive and positive.
Make it a priority to surround yourself as best you can with competent individuals and organizations. And when you find them, do what you can to stay connected to or served by them.
It is more challenging to achieve competency if you are not passionate and on purpose with what you are doing. Why? Your motivation will wane.
Competence is a reasonable expectation; incompetence is not. Become competent. Insist on competency from others and, when you find it, embrace and honor it.
The Cry for Competence
1. Commit to being competent in your chosen field or in your responsibilities.
2. Use assessments to confirm that your skills and passions are aligned and that you are competent in your life.
3. Ask others to share their perceptions of your competency and credibility levels. If the levels are not high enough or if they could be improved, ask them what you could do to increase your levels.
4. Expect competence in others, both team members and service providers.
5. Be courageously authentic about the competence of the others who are serving you.
6. Stop protecting others and their incompetence. By doing so, you have revealed your own incompetence as a leader.
7. Never underestimate how much money and time that incompetent individuals/organizations are costing you. The total is way more than most people think.
8. Failure and mistakes are different than incompetence. Competence is about ongoing excellence and the ability to perform well most of the time with most tasks.
9. Make a commitment to surround yourself with competent individuals and organizations.
10. Do what it takes to keep competent players around you. They are in high demand because there is such a shortage.
11. When you are working with competent individuals, pay attention to the emotional release and confidence you feel vs. working with people who are incompetent.
12. When you are acknowledged and seen as competent, enjoy the ride. After all, competence is in demand and that means you!
Until next time, keep Living On Purpose,
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Ken Keis is an internationally known author, speaker, consultant, & President of CRG. Many professionals herald CRG as the # 1 global resource center for Personal/Professional Development.
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