Project Description

A View From The Top

Dr. Kym is one of several contributing authors to A View From the Top.  She shares her insights and perspective in Chapter 11.

Chapter 11: The Issue of Competence – More than Performance (An Excerpt)

“Smart or Effective? Opting for the latter may actually cement the former” —Marshall Goldsmith

I remember the day clearly that my boss informed me that the CEO thought that I was incompetent. As I write this, I recall the anguish that flooded my body. Later, what I felt changed from anguish to anger. It was not the first time I had heard this label affixed to someone by this leader. The annoyance I felt on behalf of others, however, in no way compared to what I was feeling for myself at that moment.

Walking out of that meeting, head spinning; it all came flooding back like a tsunami. The twenty plus years of a career jam-packed with professional accomplishments and award winning programs; not to mention the years at this particular organization with above average performance scores, matching salary increases, maxed out bonuses, and rising employee engagement survey scores. “What about all of that?” The question echoed in my head for days. We all have “critical incidents” in our careers. This was a significant one for me. It brought home the fact that the perception of competence extends far beyond performance.

So, what was the real issue? Well, as they say hindsight, is 20/20. If I am to be honest, there were several ways I could have been more effective. In retrospect, previous conversations with the CEO revealed that he “had not heard anything about me, good or bad;” translation, I did not promote my accomplishments or my personal value proposition. Other executives would share that they “did not know who I was.” Translation, they saw “perfect” and were looking for vulnerability, common ground, and something to which they could relate. I worked hard to get the job done, but had not taken the time to build the relationships that would have cultivated familiarity, support, and sponsorship.

The backdrop for a Larger Issue

According to Forbes magazine, women held 49% percent of the jobs in the United States in 2009 and 50% percent of all managerial positions. Now this would be good news if the goals and aspirations of women stopped there. The rest of the story according to a 2011 business report published by Grant Thornton International revealed that women hold approximately 20% of senior management positions globally. This number is down from 24% in 2009. The report also revealed that the percentage of privately owned businesses that have no women in their senior management ranks has risen from 35% in 2009 to 38% in 2011.

This backdrop is important because it illustrates the challenges associated with advancing women into the ranks of executive management and senior leadership. These statistics also point to the reasons for some of the challenges experienced by women who do advance into these roles, which is even more relevant here. What is spoken of most often is the absence of support systems comprised of other women who understand the challenges, the lack of mentors to help navigate and translate culture, and even more important the absence of sponsors willing to leverage their influence. It raises the issue of “fit” and points to the need to find common ground in a way that is authentic and uncompromising.

True success requires comprehensive competence, a construct that extends beyond knowledge, expertise, and performance. Comprehensive competence is achieved when the extent and quality of our professional relationships and the positive perceptions of others is equal to or exceeds our performance. Make no mistake, performance is important, but that alone will not result in a successful career or demonstrate effectiveness in a way that reinforces how smart you truly are.