Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Everyone has things they're good at and things they're not.

Everyone's list is different.

I'm strong at problem-solving (among other things) and weak at delegation (among other things). You're strong at some things and weak in others. The process of moving from weak in a skill to strong in it--the process of moving from incompetence to competence--has four stages. It might sound simplistic, but it's been a useful approach for me.

1. Unconscious incompetence - You're bad at this and don't even know it.
2. Conscious incompetence - You're bad at this but are aware of it.
3. Conscious competence - You're good at this because you're aware of it.
4. Unconscious competence - You're good at this without thinking about it.

There are plenty of things you do where you're a 4 already... you're good at this without thinking about it. What about the stuff where you're a 1, though? What do you do about that?

As I said, delegation is hard for me. It's not something that comes naturally... my natural approach is to do everything myself. That works great if you're trying to lead 2 people, or 20. 200, not so much. For 2000 (the number of individuals hypothetically under my care) it's a train wreck. So this is an area where I'm really trying to get better.

After 4 years in this role, I've finally moved solidly out of stage 1. I'm not good at delegating and I'm aware of it. It doesn't come naturally, but at least I'm no longer in denial.

I've begun, over the past 18 months or so, to move well into stage 2. Now I'm conscious of my lack of competence. I've begun to have times where I'll think to myself "If I was good at delegating, this is probably something I'd delegate." I've begun asking myself the question "If I was good at delegating, what would I do in this situation?" Sometimes I know the answer and sometimes I don't. When I don't, I try to find out (by reading about it, my sitting and thinking it through, by experimenting, or by talking to someone who IS strong in this area). Once I have an idea of what someone might do who's good at delegating, I try to do those things, no matter how unnatural they feel. It's not natural for me to give away anything critical, but that doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do.

I have faith that at some point, my awkward attempts to delegate will begin to bear some fruit. By mimicking the behaviors of competence, I will at some point begin to look (from the outside, at least) like someone who can delegate effectively. Internally, of course, it still won't be natural. I'll be like the kid shooting a free throw for the first time, standing in front of the hoop and repeating to myself: "Feet on the line, shoulder-width apart, two dribbles, line up my hand on the seam, deep breath, bend my knees, ball to the shoulder, straighten up, shoot, motion in the wrist, follow through." But if the ball goes in the basket then it's a success, no matter how unnatural it feels at first.

Eventually, the pattern of behavior will become so ingrained that I'll be able to do it without thinking. Like a muscle memory whose steps are programmed into my brain through repetition, I'll just think to myself "delegate this" and the steps will come naturally. I'm not anywhere close to this yet, but I know I'll get there someday.

So what are you good at (a natural 4)? And what things could you be better at? This progression really works in a wide variety of settings... from cooking to conflict management. Give it a try... the behaviors of competence can be learned, and you can learn them.

1 comment:

ylmurph said...

I'm now a 4 on no-knead bread. I do it without even thinking...sometimes I just wake up and there is a delicious loaf of bread just waiting for me.