Curse of Competence: How Being Good gets in the way of Becoming Great

Just before the storms hit last winter, my father-in-law and I replaced 26 feet of fence on my property. I must say, for a couple of non-handyman-sorts like the two of us, it is a very well done fence.

The fence posts are appropriately spaced and perfectly vertical. Four nails are equally distributed on the fence boards to allow for shrinking and expanding. The boards are evenly spaced and level across the top and bottom.

The whole job took less than five hours from start to finish and several of the neighbors have complimented us on both the quality of the work and the speed we accomplished the job. For my first fence job, it is very well done.

Would I like to do it again? Not on your life!

On occasion, I can appreciate the need to get one's hands dirty to take care of an important job. Sometimes, a person has to do what a person has to do. It was also a good opportunity to dabble in a task that allowed me to grow competence in an area where I am admittedly weak. To save time, money, and the headache of finding, identifying, and monitoring a fencing contractor, it was simpler for me-with my father-in-law's help-to complete the job personally.

But just because you can do a thing, doesn't mean you ought to. The same can be said for companies who expend time and resources performing a task, because they can as opposed to if they should.

Sometimes, companies can end up performing tasks or undertaking roles that they really should not. Mix a little operational necessity with situational urgency; add in a dash of latent personnel competence and a company can find itself performing a function that my father would call, "not its best and highest use."

While it is laudable to shore up weakness, a company should never fail to consistently capitalize and leverage its strengths, its highest and best use. There is a curse in competence. Competence is merely the minimum ability to carry out a task. Why should companies curtail-or at the very least strongly reconsider- activities for which they are merely competent?

* Competence hampers growth - If competence is the minimum ability needed to carry out a task, it requires little or no effort. Growth requires rigor. Where is your time best spent: on activities that make you and your company better or on activities that offer little intrinsic reward for their completion? Growth requires sacrificing what is comfortable. Rigor commands your full attention. You can choose either growth or competence. There is no room for both.

* Competence masks distinction - When you deliberate where to go out to eat, one of the earliest questions you ask is, "What kind of food do we want: Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Steak, Seafood, Vegetarian, etc." Now imagine if you had half dozen restaurants to choose from and they all offered all choices. How would you choose? Your potential customers have the same problem when they are looking for someone who does what you do. In a crowded marketplace, you do not want to look like everyone else. Distinction is strongly correlated with success.

* Hedgehog Principle - In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins identifies factors that set the best companies apart from their competitors. Within the Hedgehog principle, he identifies "What can we be best in the world at?" as one of the key questions that the best companies answered. There is much more to be gained by being the very best at one thing, rather than very good at a number of things.

How can you catch yourself performing a non-essential competence? To start, ask yourself the following questions:

Is this task compulsory?

Are you are doing something because you have to and not because you want to? There are times when forces external to your business compel you to undertake certain tasks. If you and your people are not passionate about the task, but have to perform it nonetheless, consider an outsourcing arrangement.

Does it align with our purpose?

A purpose statement should embody something that you have a reasonable chance of being. When considering whether a task is essential, ask yourself if it contributes to the fulfillment of your purpose. If it does not, then it is drawing energy and time away from activities that will.

How did we come to engage in this task?

Are you not really sure how you got around to doing a task in the first place. In the exigency of performing your natural function, competencies develop. This is a natural outgrowth of effective performance. However, if after considering the history of a task you cannot clearly remember how you got into the practice, chances are it was somewhat unintentional. Consider that a clue.

There are two factors that combine to encourage you to widen your breadth of competence. The first is our corporate role models. Do you have any Jack Welch books on your bookshelf? I do, too. Welch is great. Many of us can learn from his wisdom.

However, that does not mean your business should become a General Electric. There are very few enduringly successful conglomerates in the world. Do not fall into the assumption that just because it works for one, it will work for all, or most importantly, for you and your business.

The second factor is the Judeo-Christian ethic that encourages you to be a well-balanced person. Balance is laudable. The more options you have, the more problems you can solve. Balance provides options. But, balance is not as helpful if you do not live in and leverage your strengths.

By all means, continue to expand your personal horizons. You will be healthier for it. But, your business is weakest when its activities are too diffuse. As an organization, focus on what you do best. Strive to become the best in the world at it. Resist the comfort that comes with mere competence.

REPUBLISHING PERMISSION: You are welcome to download or reprint this article so long as you include my byline and copyright at the end of each piece with a live weblink. Please forward publication specifics to The attribution should read:

"By Jeff Simon of Jeff Simon Consulting, The Client Retention Specialists. Are you having trouble keeping your best clients?

Please visit Jeff's website for additional articles and resources for keeping your best clients."

More Resources

Unable to open RSS Feed $XMLfilename with error HTTP ERROR: 404, exiting

More Coaching Information:

Related Articles

Coaching: The Art of Putting Yourself In Somone Elses Shoes
COACHING STEPS: The following are five (5) steps a coach can take to change behavior and performance. The goal of this process is to create the context for the person being coached towards one in which excellence becomes the norm.
Freedom for All; Is it Possible?
Freedom for all species and people, and freedom of stress; is it possible? Could the Internet be a tool to getting there?Freedom, what is it? I am an Internet writer whose job is to write about the Internet. Does that mean I am locked into this one area? Am I allowed to write about other things? Well today I am going to test out my supposed freedom, by writing about freedom.
Burn-Out ...Whats Next?
If you feel the heat of burn-out, it is possible to stop the fire before it stops you. Burn-out burns out confidence trust hope Burn-out can burn up your job your marriage your friendships There is a simple strategy for helping yourself prevent burn-out, especially if you are a person with more responsibilities than choices.
Do You Make Less Money Than Your Taller Peers?
A recent study at the University of Florida found that over the span of their careers short people earn less money than their taller counterparts. In terms of cold hard cash, each extra inch in height equals roughly $800 difference in annual pay.
Key Questions for a Coaching Conversation
There are 2 key skills that coaches need to be truly effective, the ability to listen (often for what is missing rather than what is said) and the ability to ask the right question at the right time.Now in reality there are no 'right' questions, there are however some very good, and fairly generic questions that when asked which can make a significant difference to the way in which a coaching interaction progresses.
What I Would Include In A Coaching Book
A coach is an essential figure in providing direction and leadership to his/her team. In sports, coaches are sometimes evaluated on the number of wins they can produce.
What in the World is Life Coaching?
In my speaking engagements I have often compared coaching today to psychotherapy in the 1920s. The level of public understanding of coaching, outside of people in a certain socio-demographic category, is still in its infancy.
Coaching Employees - The Chronic Excuser
Most of us find coaching employees to be an effective, even enjoyable, approach to leadership and management. Coaching provides a way to help team members grow and develop, while achieving business objectives.
Being an Emotional Victim
None of us like to think of ourselves as victims. The term "victim" brings to mind a pathetic image of a person who is powerless.
How to Make $100,000 Dollars as a Personal Trainer - Part C for Client!
My name is Greg Ryan. For the last twenty years I have counseled thousands of personal trainers, fitness directors and gym owners on how be successful in the health and fitness industry.
How to Adopt a Losing Attitude
We have all heard the expression, "Where your heart is?, your treasure will be also." Allow me to modify this tried and true wisdom, to create an equally valid point: "Where your thoughts are, your hips will be also.
Business Coaching Legacy: Reflections on What You Want to Leave Behind?
Updating my will has been on my mind for quite some time now. Life circumstances change, kids grow-up, financial situations changes.
New Definition of Retirement
A new definition of retirement is evolving. It's one that's focused on continual exploration, learning and growth.
Do You Trust Your Mentor(s)?
It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust." - Samuel JohnsonI was on a tele-seminar recently with International Health Coach Jeremy Likness and he asked a very interesting question about Trust.
Could You and Your Business Benefit from a Business Coach or a Consultant?
The surprising answer is "probably". Most individuals don't realize that a certified business coach or business consultant can add enormously to their home based or more traditional type business.
Grow Through It
It's past bedtime for most working men. It's not unbearably late and I have no appointments tomorrow morning so I sit here and contemplate.
Drop and Gimme Ten!
Every one of us have dreams, desires and goals that we put on the shelf. In front of them are a litany of excuses -- but not one reason -- why they aren't being pursued.
Are You Invisible?
Ellen was brought up to be invisible. She was taught to be very tuned into others' feelings and needs, but to never have any of her own.
Be A Champion Communicator by Becoming a Chameleon
Recently, I worked with a client who was having a problem with some of the women in her organization. The organization had just undergone major changes, which resulted in different reporting relationships for many of the women.
If I Only Had a Heart
I know you probably have heard of the movie, "The Wizard of Oz" right? Well, for those of you, who have somehow managed to miss this movie, let me give you a brief description of it.A young lady named Dorothy is upset with her home life and decides to run away.