FOCUS: Is Your Competence “Fake It ’til You Make It”!?

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What kind of reality do you live in?

This is more than a philosophical or existential question, reaching past any famous figures “Reality Distortion Field” or the stories we tell ourselves, good or bad. As regards our true competence, the role we fill in our business lives, it is more about the difference between APPEARING competent and our ACTUAL competence. Wanting to display ourselves as knowledgeable, “Fake it ’til you Make it!” can get you into big trouble.

Feltman defines competence as, “the assessment that you have the ability to do what you are doing or propose to do. In the workplace this usually means the other person believe you have the requisite capacity, skill, knowledge, resources and time to do a particular task or job.”

Sometimes we have to battle the “brightness effect.” This causes others to believe that since you are associated with competence in one area, you are also competent in another area. I experienced this a lot when I worked for Microsoft. Many I know (a LOT of family members…..) assumed that, since I worked at Microsoft, I could fix whatever was wrong with their computers. Granted, I lived in a PC-centric world for many years, but that didn’t turn me into a computer engineer any more than standing in your garage turns you into a car! An example of this in business is a high-performance individual who is promoted into a management position. As many of you know, managing others is likely a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SKILL from whatever the individual specialized in. The best you can do is be clear about what you know you can do, and what you have yet to learn. Then work with your management to get the resources to better your chances of success in your new role. Try very hard not to let them get away with “just figure it out.” Your success and the success of your team hinge on your becoming better.


Being competent does NOT mean being perfect. While we’d all like to be the tops in our profession, there’s actually only one #1. The solution to the problem you’re working on may not require super-human powers. Be open and honest about your abilities. Your willingness to learn and ask for help, feedback, direction and suggestions will enhance your credibility. This will also allow you to build the kind of trusted relationships with your manager, peers, and people who work for you that will strengthen the overall effectiveness of your efforts.

So, how do you go about building trust in your competence?
  • Make a list to clarify to yourself and others the areas you claim competence in. – Be real, honest, and don’t underestimate what you actually ARE competent at. False humility is not something that should be part of this list.
  • Define the standards by which your competence is assessed. – An objective measure can really be helpful. If you have a certification, demonstrable work examples, honest testimonials, well-known assessments and the like it can enhance the communication about what is required and what you can do. However, when standards for the task, job, or role being performed are unclear, or people disagree about them, it can easily lead to having at least some people distrusting your competence.
  • When you don’t know something, say so, and ask for help, clarification, training, or whatever you need to perform what was asked. – Building trust in your competence doesn’t mean you have to be the “full meal deal” from the start! Honesty about what you can and cannot do, and what you do and do not know, will do much more to cultivate the trust you need.
  • Ask for feedback from others about your performance. – Don’t wait until the project is over and the postmortem takes place to discover all the mistakes made! Be proactive and ask frequently. Many people won’t tell you your performance isn’t good enough until you’ve already made huge mistakes and they actively distrust your competence.
Competence speaks to that portion of our being that is really the Technician……we love to do it (especially in the case of entrepreneurs and other roles in business for which you have a real passions…). It seems like it’s the piece of who we are that we have at least SOME control over, but how others perceive it is a different matter.

Be clear, be honest, and, to reuse an older military marketing motto, “Be the Best You Can Be!


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