The Delusion of Competence

Delusion of Competence
If you have achieved almost any level of success, it’s very easy to get caught up in all the praise and exaltation. This can create what I call the Delusion of Competence. This is our tendency to achieve a little success or understanding, and then say to the world, “I got this.”

We’ve seen it happen time and time again. Someone achieves a major success in athletics or business only to fail gloriously at his or her next effort. This has contributed to the downfall of many leaders as well as created huge tragedies including architectural disasters, airliner crashes, and the sinking of “unsinkable” ships.

Delusion prevention requires constant diligence and much introspection. Multiple turn-a-rounds, executive coaching, and research have taught me a four key concepts on how to prevent the Delusion of Competence.

  • Just because you were successful in something once or twice does not mean you have proven mastery.

    I’ve seen too many times in business where someone was in the right place at the right time, hit a home run, and then claimed to be the next Babe Ruth. It is important to keep our successes in perspective.

    It’s OK to take some credit, but we should always remember we don’t achieve anything alone. There are always plenty of people to thank.

    I am by all means not against success. However, we must acknowledge that success in one or two instances does not equal mastery. It only proves that things worked out within a specific set of circumstances, many of which we had no ability to control. Therefore, it is only after multiple times of succeeding in spite of things not going according to the plan that we can claim true competence. Failure is an integral component of building competence. Those who have achieved true mastery have failed more than others.

  • Our natural talents can set us up for failure.

    When we are working in an area that comes easily for us, it is common to become overconfident in our mastery of the skill or process. However, it is only when we have experienced and learned from failure that we truly develop mastery. It is failure that takes us to a deeper level of understanding.
  • Success can be your biggest weakness.

    Success has a tendency to make us blind. Use the trophies of the past as a source of encouragement to continue to drive you forward, but don’t let their warm glow lull you into a state of overconfidence in understanding your current situation and weaknesses.

  • The Right Team Really Does Matter.

    You are not trying to create a cult of personality. It is critical to build and maintain the right team to protect yourself from the pitfalls of success. If your team agrees with you too easily, either you are not discussing big enough issues with them or you need to examine whom you have on the team. Your core team should have enough diversity, intelligence, and confidence that you engage in healthy conflict around most decisions within the organization. Without differing perspectives, the organization will not be able to accurately consider all the potential effects or obstacles to a chosen path. Your key team needs to have a minimum of four areas covered: sales, marketing, finance, and operations. You still may decide to take the original path, but after the dialogue, you will be better prepared for what you may encounter.

By remembering these four things, you can reduce the chances of allowing hubris to undermine your future success.

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