How to be a Successful Incompetent

If you are a competent leader and competent in the work skills needed for your job, chances are you are going to be a very successful employee.  By bringing the competencies needed to the table, you are ready to perform your job well.  Of course, work environment and the right attitude can still derail your success, but competent people even know how to work around these obstacles.

So what happens if you find yourself in a job role where your competencies and experience lack what is required?  How can you be a successful employee even if you are incompetent?  While it is done routinely in many positions, it deserves to be called to everyone’s attention.  Simply put, if you are incompetent, you must surround yourself with very competent people.  Everyone that reports to you must be able to perform their job at the highest level, so that your world runs smoothly in spite of itself.

I have practiced this exercise in my hiring choices even though I am a highly competent and skilled individual, because it builds a safety net around my team.  The more people in our group that know more than I do in a given area, allows us to exceed expectations.  I read a quote somewhere that if you are the brightest person in the room, you need to move to another room.  I honestly never like being the brightest bulb on the tree, because it limits our ability to grow.

So while surrounding ourselves with very competent people can make us exceed expectations, it can also mask incompetency in the leader.  So what happens if an incompetent leader surrounds themselves with less competent or under qualified people?

I see this frequently with government leaders, but just as often with corporate roles.  One Chief Administrative Officer in mind is so under qualified for the job it is visible in the results obtained.  Yet, he has gone out of his way to surround himself with managers in each sub department with under skilled people who “need” him to perform their jobs.  They “need” his guidance and his direction to get through the day, and it makes this CAO feel competent because he is so needed.

Human Resources, Training, Facilities, IT and Security all need to perform at top levels for the remainder of any company to achieve their goals.  So what happens when each of these functions report to an under qualified person (this CAO) who needs to be in charge?  What happens when incompetence surrounds itself with incompetence?  You have little success, and total transparency that the leader is in over their head.

Well not always.  In many cases the incompetent leaders hides behind this incompetent staff.  They blame the incompetence on the staff, thus shielding themselves.  This sadly will work, but not forever.  At least it won’t work forever at the same company, which is why incompetent leaders have to move to new companies often.

Personally I’ve never had a job I was not in possession of the right skills, and my practice of hiring even better people to surround me has been a good practice for my success.  What do you think, which works better for you?



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