The problem with incompetence is not what we think

Well, actually, it is what we think, just not in the way most people think about it. Stay with me here.... Incompetence at work is a necessary part of any developmental journey. A new skill, a new role, a new culture will all spark a fresh set of incompetencies. This is not a problem on its own, it’s just life. 

The real problem with incompetence is the way we think about ourselves in relation to it.  Do we define ourselves by it and use it to judge ourselves harshly? Or do we simply accept it as something we have yet to master? The way we relate to our incompetencies has such a profound and often hidden effect on how we approach our work. The more we equate incompetence in a task, with incompetence as a person, the more we are inclined to avoid new challenges in order to preserve our self-identity of being capable. No new challenges, means no growth and stagnant development. Eventually incompetence breeds incompetence because we can’t allow ourselves to be beginners again.

On the other hand, when we can make friends with our incompetence, our journey towards competence is ironically expedited. Separating incompetence in skills from incompetence as a person, allows us to be ok with not knowing, to ask the ‘dumb’ questions, to risk failure and potentially looking foolish and ultimately learn faster and more fully.

When we can think of ourselves as capable people addressing an incompetent area, then we will have overcome the real problem with incompetence.

Coaching tips:

  •  On a scale of 1-10, how friendly are you with your incompetence? (1 = best mates 10 = worst enemies)
  • What can you do to make friends with (accept) your incompetence?
  • How will that impact your development at work?
  • How often do you ask for help or admit you don’t know?
  • What becomes available to you when incompetence is not a reflection of your self worth?
  • If you are already friends with your incompetence, how are you role modeling this for others?
  • How can you mentor or assist others to adopt your mindset?
  • Who else can benefit from this new perspective?

And now it’s over to you… I’d love to hear your take on this.