What Does it Mean to Be Competent?

By Dr.Peter Cheng

This article is the second of a 9-part series that discusses the Who-ness and What-ness of a Real Leader who Shapes Culture and Drives Performance.

In my previous article “What Does it Take To Be a Real Leader?”, I shared with you why Real Leadership is much needed for the corporate world that has witnessed once-renowned organisational leaders derail as a result of committing corporate scandals amidst the economic challenges and turbulence. Leaders of today need to rebuild the trust with their constituents to fully engage them, in order to achieve common good for their organisations.

In this article, I’m glad to share more with you about how you can build your COMPETENCE, one of the eight essentials of Real Leadership that will make a significant difference to your leadership and the people you lead.

A leader’s ability to perform what is expected and required for the position, and equip their constituents with the requisite knowledge, skills, attitudes, and attributes to perform their role efficiently and effectively.

1. Real leaders seek constant feedback to ensure that they remain relevantly competent in their skills to get their job done effectively.

Given the rapidly changing business landscape and shift in the workforce age, leaders are increasingly faced with the challenge of keeping in the flow to upgrade their competencies in order to tackle business challenges.

According to the Johari Window concept, all of us have blind spots that hinder us from becoming more aware and/or effective. To overcome this, you can manage your blind spots well by seeking feedback from others inside and outside your organisation. Embrace feedback and act on it to improve yourself to perform your tasks, including leading people in the workplace.

2. Develop the tenacity to learn and stay relevant.

J.F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”. Unpacking this, the essence of leadership rests on a leader’s learning inclination. The Conscious Competence Ladder advocates that there are four levels of competency development. At the base of the ladder, it suggests that we all have unconscious incompetence, meaning that we don’t know what we don't know. Parallel to the Johari Window, this is the blind spot that everybody has.

Real Leaders assert efforts to delve into their unconscious incompetence, seeking feedback from others to discover the areas they don’t know. This will bring you to the next level: conscious incompetence. Having known what you don’t know, follow a disciplined action to work on these areas through various modes of learning and practice to master a competency. Be mindful of how you’re improving over time, track your improvement, and work towards attaining mastery of the competency you’ve learnt.

This brings you to Level 3 of the ladder: conscious competence. With constant, deliberate, and intentional practice, you’ll eventually master the competency and rise up the ladder to attain unconscious competence. What’s important to note is that learning is neither linear nor singular. Learning sometimes invokes unlearning old mental models! You can also engage in simultaneous learning of various competencies to stay relevant, and each new learning can begin at a different level on the conscious competence ladder.

3. Be committed to transform your team members and ensure they rise up the competence ladder to stay relevant to their jobs as well.

Real Leaders also have a keen sense of observation of others. You can practice being mindful of how your team members are doing and assess their competency in various roles that they play.

You can make efforts to ensure others climb the competence ladder towards conscious competence and ultimately unconscious competence. Ultimately, the overall effectiveness of your team and organisation will depend largely on your ability to help your team continually improve their various competencies that are relevant and strategic to the organisation's growth.

4. Ask quality questions to help others see the light when they are stuck.

Professor Marquardt, author of Leading with Questions, once said that “The important thing about leadership is not what happens when you’re there but what happens when you’re not there. Leaders who promote a questioning culture in their organisation move people from dependence to independence”.

By asking questions rather than telling, you create an enabling environment that not only solicits diversity and creativity, but also individual ownership to solve organisational issues effectively. In doing so, your team will learn to solve their problems as they respond to those quality questions you ask of them. When people are able to solve problems in the absence of their leaders, they have “come of age” to be competent in doing their daily tasks. Real Leaders are inclined to develop and coach others. Develop a resolve to get others off the unconscious incompetence rung by giving feedback and reframing their mental models through quality questions.

So what is a “quality question,” you might ask. When people begin to re-examine their assumptions, increase their sense of urgency to act, and think real hard as a result of our questioning, we know we have asked a quality question.

Oftentimes, asking questions and listening to others are indispensably intertwined. The key to asking quality questions stems from listening to what others have to say, which often reflects their mental model. This gives you the opportunity to ask “penetrating” questions to get the other person “unstuck”.

In the next article of the series, I’ll expound on the formation of Character, which is one of the essentials of the Who-ness of a Real Leader.

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