4 Pitfalls of High Competence

We all know that competence is one of the main requirements for effectiveness. But can you become so competent that it actually becomes a detriment?

The answer is yes. If you’ve developed a high level of competence in a particular area, you’re actually in a danger zone. If you don’t identify the pitfalls, it’s likely you’ll fall into one. Here are four to keep an eye out for.

Curse of Knowledge Trap

Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” Emerson was speaking in positive terms, but there is a subtle disadvantage as well. It’s the cognitive bias “the curse of knowledge.” The curse of knowledge makes it difficult or impossible to unremember information you possess.

From a competence standpoint, this means the higher your competence, the harder it is to remain objective and inquisitive with an open, unbiased mind.

Get Sloppy with Basics

My high school football coach insisted that we practice drills until we could do them “lights out” – meaning, in our sleep. That’s the level of competence he and the rest of the staff expected. The pitfall is that once this level of competence is attained, it requires less effort and focus than it did while pursuing the competence in the first place. Performance may remain high for awhile, but without continual focus on the basic fundamentals, performance will start to stagnate.

Stop Developing Talent

It can be very difficult for a highly competent person to relate to a low competence individual. In fact, one of the main benefits of corporate mentorship programs is helping the mentor remember what it was like when they faced past challenges. Ironically, the best talent developers can sometimes be those who gained a new competence recently, rather than long ago.

Stop Learning

My friend Scott Wozniak observed that, “the more I learn, the harder I have to work to keep learning.” When we lack competence, it’s obvious that we need help. Once we’ve gained competence, it’s easy to get by on what we already possess. Competence also brings with it additional responsibilities, which compete with time we might otherwise invest in our own development. Unless continued learning and growth remain a high focus, your existing competence will prevent you from advancing beyond your present level.

Competence should bring additional opportunity. Don’t let it become your ceiling instead.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, facilitator and author of the book Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to download Nathan's free white paper: Nine Ways to Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For.