Do You Feel Competent?

The Foundations of Resiliency: Part 4


Competence is a component of self-efficacy, and an important precondition for resiliency, in its own right.

There are two dimensions to competence: measurable skill and perceived competence.

Measurable skill is the objective result of training and experience; can be observed or measured; and is connected with productivity, accuracy, workload management, and effective communication.

Perceived competence is the subjective recognition by others that you are ‘good at what you do’ and so are looked to for mentorship or leadership.

When the members of an organization have high levels of measurable skill, the organization more effectively rides out storms as strong productivity, quality work, balanced workloads, and good communication reduce damage. As importantly, the perceived competence inspires confidence in colleagues and other stakeholders. In tough times, team members with high levels of competence can inspire confidence through decisive and effective action.

We have all seen this played out. There is a calm that descends on a team in trouble, when someone with real skill and perceived competence arrives on the scene: tasks are broken down and delegated effectively; priorities are established and communicated. Details are managed while the larger purpose is not lost.

The Conditions for Competence

  • Training – Do we have the training and experience in the skills our position requires?
  • Specific skills – For operational roles, skills can be quantified in terms of speed, accuracy, knowledge, and the ability to apply them across different situations. At strategic and tactical levels, skills become less easily measured. Leadership performance in a field often encompass such a complex cluster of skills that competence can only be inferred from total performance, rather than being observable or measurable in their discrete parts. The growing power of data-driven human capital analytics may, over time, give us greater ability to balance the verifiable against the perceived or assumed.
  • Consistency – Consistency is central to competence. People of lesser competence can often get away with ‘faking’ competence a couple of times, but are they able to consistently manage situations and create positive outcomes, especially under varying conditions?
  • Transferability – Are we able to take our learning to a variety of challenges or does each new situation stump us?
  • Effective delegation/scaffolding – Do we have the level of mastery that allows us to break down complex tasks into smaller steps with expert knowledge and intuition?
  • Self-awareness – Do we have that confidence that comes from knowing our true capacity? That is self-efficacy again: the confidence that the situations we are looking at we have seen before and we know what to do. It also means establishing expectations we can actually deliver.
  • Innovation in unpredictability – Highly competent people don’t just cope with unpredictable situations, they are often able to turn them to their organization’s advantage. That ability comes from having the confidence to stay ‘above’ the problem, and act from prime principles rather than becoming lost in rules and details.

Developing competence or mastery is largely the domain of the individual. But organizations can do a lot to support their team members in this. By making continual learning a priority, making risk-taking and candor safe, organizations can nurture collective competence.

The rest of the series

About the Author

Clemens Rettich

I am an organizational consultant and educator with over 20 years of experience in supporting the improvement of organizations and organizational management across North America. I work at the intersection of people, systems, and change with a human-culture-first mindset that values joy, innovation, and collaboration. As a teaching professor at the University of Victoria's Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, I teach in the areas of leadership and organizational behaviour. In my work I explore the nature of the human organization in a post-colonial, post-technocratic society. I hold an MBA (Leadership and Organizations), and an undergraduate degree in music (Musicology, Performance). My areas of practice include management and leadership, organizational behaviour, process improvement, organizational change, and talent development and training.
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