How to Be Competent at Being Incompetent

Guess what insecure leaders do when one of their weaknesses comes to light? They immediate explain why it isn’t a weakness and how it’s not that bad. I see it all the time.

It’s hard to acknowledge what you can’t do well when you live in a world that expects you to be good at nearly everything. To make matters worse, pressuring someone to acknowledge a weakness is almost always a losing situation.

Reaching your best:

You’ll never reach your best until you courageously acknowledge your worst. Sweeping your frailties, failures, and weaknesses under the carpet – pretending your competent when you aren’t – stops learning, hinders development, and stymies growth. Worse yet, you become the bottleneck that hinders rather than maximizes organizational success.

If leaders are learners then leaders must become those who know less. Lack precedes learning. The more you need to learn the more lack you must acknowledge. Don’t be surprised if it seems you lack more than anyone. The higher you go the less you’ll know.

6 ways to be competent at incompetence:

Incompetence never inspires. You can, however, be competent when it comes to weaknesses.

  1. Acknowledge limitations and weaknesses to individuals and teams but never dwell on what you don’t do well. Maintain optimism.
  2. Always live in solutions (inspired by Bob Burg). Dwelling on what you don’t do well demoralizes and eventually defeats.
  3. Learn enough to be able to recognize and evaluate experts.
  4. Rely on trusted advisors.
  5. Retain responsibility even while leveraging wisdom from others.
  6. Celebrate learning by sharing what you’ve learned.

Side benefit:

Learning organizations are led by learning leaders.

Leaders who optimistically, willingly, and sometimes publicly, express their lack give everyone in their organization permission to become learners. Faking invites fakery; transparency invites transparency. Learning invites learning.


It’s dangerous to let your weaknesses out. How can leaders navigate this challenging territory?


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