What is Competence?
By Jim Selman
Fourteen distinctions to provoke fresh thinking about competence and the role a coach can play in developing in these areas.
Competence is more than a skill. It is the ability to make and keep promises. I believe we can teach a skill, but we need to coach people to be competent.
In my work with individual clients and organizations, I stress the importance of two things. One, having our actions match our commitments. And two, not becoming trapped in conventional wisdom, which can block our capacity to create possibilities and produce results.
The following statements are examples of statements I use, within an intention to reveal new distinctions for a client, to provoke new thinking about each of the 14 areas of competency.
1. ACTION MANAGEMENT
Action management presupposes that you know what action is and can observe it. What actions are present when you are “managing”? Consider that all commitments are actions which can be observed and changed.
2. BEHAVIORAL FLEXIBILITY
Behavioral flexibility assumes we have a choice about our behavior. Normally we don’t. Behavior is a function of how we see the world—and we do have a choice about that. We need to learn to observe in such a way that flexibility becomes natural and easy, like dancing.
3. COGNITIVE CAPACITY
Cognitive capacity is not a function of the brain or IQ. It is closely related to another phenomenon called “cognitive blindness”. What you don’t know you don’t know is more important to developing cognitive power than what you do know.
Communication is something that everyone agrees is important. Consider, however, that in spite of this and and in spite of billions being spent to improve communications, there is very little evidence that people in general communicate any better than they ever have. Perhaps the problem is that there is a flaw in our everyday notions about communication. Maybe communication has less to do with exchanging and understanding information than it has to do with commitment.
Creativity is a social phenomenon. It suggests a different model of communication than we normally have available. Learning to be creative begins with learning to observe differently. Specifically, learning to observe what is missing rather than what is wrong.
6. ETHICS & VALUES
Ethics and values are probably one of the top three most important issues to consider in a world of accelerating change and increasing uncertainty. This discussion begins with the question of personal responsibility and choice about “who one is” in the organization.
7. INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS
Interpersonal relations is a description of human practices in relationships. All relationships are interpersonal. The question is, do our practices for relating produce satisfaction and results consistent with what we say we’re about?
8. ORGANIZATIONAL AWARENESS
Organizational awareness, like all awareness, isn’t descriptive. It is more like a sensibility to the context(s) within which our awareness is occurring.
Partnering is a way of relating, a way of listening, an assessment of our commitments to each other and the world. What is important is what are our practices as partners for dealing with breakdowns.
Personality, like style or charisma, is less important than we typically think if we can listen generously and build a culture based more on commitment than assessment.
Self-confidence is a product of taking a stand for “‘who” we are and what we are committed to in life. It isn’t about how we feel, our moods, or what we think.
12. STAMINA / STRESS RESISTANCE
Stamina/Stress resistance is another description which can—and does—obscure what is really going on when we feel stress. Science has proven that physiologically there is no difference between “eustress” (good) and “distress” (bad). The difference seems to be in our interpretation of the experience and the context in which it occurs. Having a breakthrough in this area also involves a transformation in how we relate to whatever it is that we say is causing our stress.
Teamwork is mostly a red-herring used to cover up an unwillingness to talk straight about a lot of basic issues, such as a lack of trust or our incompetence in coordinating actions in a complex environment. When great teams are working, there is never any discussion of teamwork….just working together.
Visioning isn’t having a picture of the future. It is creating the possibility of an unpredictable future that becomes a ground-of-being in the present.