THE BLOG
12/22/2014 11:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Upside of Discovering Your Incompetencies

How well do you know yourself? Do you know your weaknesses as well as you know your strengths? Having deep self-awareness about your own shortcomings isn't just important when working collaboratively in any organization -- it's essential. Consider this tale of a whiz kid fresh out of graduate school, hired as an operating officer for a rapidly growing company. In the wake of wild success, he unexpectedly found that things weren't getting done. When he confided in his boss, he claimed that the problems were with the people he managed. But the CEO told him that what they all had in common was him. He was the source of his own problem.

"Ask everyone on your team what you're incompetent at," the CEO said. And he did. One by one, they told him what he couldn't do. "You're not very good with finances," one said. "Marketing just isn't your thing," another said. When he went back to his boss, the CEO told him they were all correct. "Well, they're right. Now make other people do all those things so you can have the time to do what you're best at -- which is, of course, strategy. No one can come up with solutions to complicated problems like you can."

The whiz kid learned to delegate. He learned to rely on the talents of others as he showcased his own talent.

Now, look at your own skills as an innovation leader and classify them according to these four categories:
  • Incompetent: things you simply can't do
  • Competent: things you can do with mediocrity
  • Masterful: things you can do with ease and skill
  • Unique: things you can do with superior talent
First, decide objectively where you think you might be incompetent. Give those kinds of tasks and responsibilities to another member of your team. Next, look at the areas where you are merely competent and assign these actions to other members of your team to supplement your own competency. Then, find the areas where are masterful and choose a member of your team whom you can train as your understudy in those tasks. Finally, determine the areas in which you are unique--your one-of-a-kind gifts or skills. Here is what you always need to focus on. This is the way to maximize your own value to the team.

Whether you're a finance guru or a marketing mastermind, we all really have only one thing that we're exceptional at. It's simply not possible to be a genius in everything. But it is possible to surround yourself with people who can do the things that you can't.