Maybe you’ve heard the quote Attitude is Everything! Well, not to dispute the many inspiring leaders who have made that claim, but I beg to differ.

If you’ve read my blog, heard me speak or attended one of my workshops then you already know that I do think attitude is incredibly important, so what gives?

Attitude is important, but if we’re not very good at whatever it is we dowe can’t deliver the Wow Factor, no matter how great our attitude.

For the last several weeks we’ve been exploring our commitment to delivering more of The Wow Factor in 2018. Today, we move on to the second component–competence.

  1. Excellence: Doing things above the average.
  2. Competence: The ability to do something with excellence.
  3. Character: Doing the right thing–even when no one is looking.

The simple definition of competence is listed above but there is perhaps no better way to describe it than the phrase I used with our team at Bracken Paving years ago:

“There is no substitute for being good at what we do.”

There are certainly other things that combine to make a Wow Factor possible–attitude included–but none of it matters much if you neglect competence. In some situations it is the most important thing. If you need brain surgery, it is a bonus if your surgeon is compassionate, kind and of high character. But if you’re like me, your primary concern–by a wide margin–will be his level of competence performing brain surgeries!


We all recognize extreme competence when we see it. Someone who is very good at what they do definitely brings a Wow Factor. That’s great that we recognize it, but how is competence developed? Does it come from intelligence? Experience? Practice?

The short answer is–yes–to all of that and more, though intelligence is often the least important element. In his best-selling classic book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell indicates that time on task (the time spent doing a thing) is paramount to being highly competent, to the tune of ~10,000 hours of repetition for the highest levels of skill mastery.

As you take stock of your own competence level in your most important skill sets, it is helpful to be aware of the Four Stages of Competence. This is a model of learning widely used in psychology.

  1. Unconscious Incompetence
    At this first level, we don’t yet recognize our level of incompetence or what it takes to develop it. Think of it as the “you don’t know what you don’t know” phase.
  2. Conscious Incompetence
    At this next stage, we become aware of our incompetence, develop an appreciation for what it takes to gain competence, and hopefully make a decision to close the gap by gaining knowledge and skill through learning and repetition.
  3. Conscious Competence
    At this level we have acquired a good deal of skill and competence. However, it requires focusing in a step-by-step manner, consciously thinking through what we have learned.
  4. Unconscious Competence
    This is the ultimate level of competence. The knowledge has been ingrained so thoroughly, and the skill has been carried out correctly so many times that it no longer requires conscious focus to perform it correctly. People who reach this level are able to deliver the Wow Factor and perform with excellence on a consistent basis.

I can’t talk about this subject without thinking about my journey of learning to fly a helicopter and getting my pilot’s license. My instructor had 24,000 hours of flying time. He was definitely a level 4, unconsciously competent pilot! As I got more time in the helicopter and learned more I gradually moved from a 2 to a 3. I am a competent pilot and even earned my commercial license but I still have to think through some of the many things that a pilot must keep track of to safely operate a helicopter. Only by continuing to put in additional hours of flying and a commitment to keep learning will I truly reach the point where the entire process is second nature and automatic.

The challenge question for this week: How competent are you at your skill? 

The good news is, if you’re not where you want to be or where you should be, it’s never to late to do something about it!

For each of you, the primary skillsets you need to be competent in to succeed will vary widely. However, there are a couple of competencies that I believe are vital for everyone and we will look at a couple of them in greater detail in the coming weeks.



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