COMPETENCE (Q3.5)

The Ability To Perform Mission Essential Tasks

Competence is the third of the 5Cs, the F3 Leadership Characteristics.

Leaders are good at doing the things within an Organization or Team that are central to its reason to exist. A pilot must be good at landing the plane. A surgeon must good at making an incision. A pastor must be able to explain complicated points of scripture. Regardless of the type of Organization, an incompetent man is unlikely to be followed very far or long.

A Leader Is Not Required To Be Good At Everything Which An Organization Or Team Does

A pilot can be an incompetent baggage handler, a surgeon might not have a clue how to operate an MRI and a pastor may not be able to carry a single note of a single hymn. Yet all three may still be Effective Leaders because the things they cannot do are not essential to their Mission. It is only the performance of Mission-essential Tasks that require Competence.

Demonstrating Competence Is The Most Efficient (But Most Difficult) Way For A Leader To Establish Credibility

Consider how long it would take for a man to prove himself to be Candid, or how rare the opportunity for a Leader to exhibit Courage. Likewise, to demonstrate Commitment and Contentment, a Leader needs both time and opportunity. Of all the Leadership Characteristics it is Competence alone that can be quickly and firmly evoked by the Leader at a time and place of his choosing.

Yet, while it is the Leadership Characteristic that provides the most opportunities for demonstration, Competence is the hardest of the 5Cs for a Leader to maintain. As a man rises through the Leadership ranks of his Organization, he will find an ever increasing amount of this time being taken by things that have little to do with Missional-essential Tasks. Nowhere is this more true than in the military. The higher the rank, the more time spent behind a desk. If a man wants to stay Competent in that environment, he has to work at it.

When I was a young infantry lieutenant the colonel who commanded my battalion was a powerful Leader. One day, I had my platoon assembling and disassembling the 50 Caliber Machine Gun. The colonel was observing this training when one of my old sergeants asked him if he wanted to “give it a shot”. I thought it was kind of a wiseass move, given that the man may not have touched a 50 Cal in the twenty years since he had been a young lieutenant.

Without a word, the colonel dropped down next to the sergeant, disassembled the gun and put it back together like he had done it just yesterday. When he was done, he stood back up, told me to “carry on” and walked calmly away. His Competence amazed my men and gave us all great confidence in his Leadership.

Maybe a year later (with that incident long forgotten), I found myself as the battalion duty officer, which meant I had to spend the night at battalion headquarters. Hearing a noise from the colonel’s office, I walked down the hallway to investigate and found him sitting on his floor with the components of a 50 Cal spread around him. Since he spent most of his day pushing paper I couldn’t understand why he was messing around with a machine gun in his office at midnight, but it not being my place to question the commander, I wished him a good night and went back to my desk.

Which is where it hit me. That’s how the colonel was able to “amaze” my platoon the year before. There was nothing amazing about it at all. The man worked at it. He practiced to remain Competent. The reason he did it at night was that his day was taken up with his other duties, the ones that kept him behind a desk.

Something else occurred to me too, but I couldn’t test my theory until I saw my old sergeant the next day. “Hey,” I asked him, “do you remember that time you asked the colonel if he wanted a turn on the 50 Cal and he blew us all away?”

“Yes sir,” the sergeant answered. “What about it?”

“At the time I thought you might have been messing with the colonel. But it’s the opposite isn’t it? You did it because you knew he could do it just like he did it. You did that to give our platoon confidence in the chain of command.”

That sergeant just smiled at me and walked away.

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