Life’s Messy, Where’s Your Bib?

I’m going to say it. If I hear someone say “We’re all in this together” one more time I’m going to be sick. I know, I know, fundamentally it’s true. It just doesn’t make me feel better or make me feel more reassured. Something that has helped me is to think about the change we’re going through and what we’ll need to do both as individuals and leaders. It boils down to two kinds of change; easy change, or technical change, and hard change, or adaptive change. Think about easy change as downloading an app. Adaptive change is like installing a new operating system. With adaptive change, we’re going to have to rewire how we do things. If you’re interested in going deeper into this, visit the work of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linksy, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership.

We know there has been and will continue to be change. We may have to build and develop new skills. Skill building can be demoralizing. You may massively suck at something for a while. It may feel impossible and hard. A transformation of some kind will have to occur. I know for myself, just knowing this will happen will help me get through it and give me empathy and patience for those around me who are struggling with me.

How many of you are familiar with the competency model? Reviewing the four quadrants has helped me.

  1. Unconscious incompetence is when we don’t know what we don’t know. And we don’t know how hard something is. It’s like when you’re watching Sunday night football and shouting at the screen, “Come on, how could you miss that, it was right there!” If you’ve never been a wide receiver, how could you know the skill and effort involved?
  • To continue with the football analogy, let’s say you decide you want to learn to play football. As you start attending practices, you move into conscious incompetence. You start to understand how hard it is. You realize you’re terrible. It’s incredibly uncomfortable and your ego is challenged.
  • As you work hard, build your skill and learn the rules of the game, you move into conscious competence. You start to catch the pass. You make touchdowns. You start to say to yourself, “I have this.” This is a very exciting and empowering place to be, and it’s when you can best mentor and teach others.
  • Now you’re Jerry Rice. There is an identity change. You have mastered the position of wide receiver so well you don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s who you are. This is unconscious competence. This can be frustrating for others because you don’t know (and can’t explain) how you do a particular thing because it’s just a part of who you are. It’s become automatic.

As leaders, we need to be aware both of where we are in these quadrants and where are employees are. How can we provide motivation and good solid tools to help others along?

Personality assessments and skill assessments like MBTI® or CliftonStrengths, among others, can be helpful tools for getting to know more about your employees. If you’re interested in exploring this, don’t hesitate to reach out.

And remember, change is messy. But it is going to get better, and you don’t have to do it alone.


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