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Be Technically Competent

USMC for the Office: Be Technically Competent

“To rule over oneself is the first condition for one who would rule over others.”

Jose Ortega y Gasset (Invertebrate Spain 1922)

Be Technically Competent

Any leader who attempts to get by on charm and personality may get people to like him or her, but serious people will never respect that person.

It is disrespectful to subordinates for the leader to not be competent in the basics of whatever field of endeavor. People respect the leader who owns the details, without being overbearing or condescending.

In its simplest terms, knowing your job gives everyone the security of the structure in place that will serve as the platform for success. Even bosses have a boss, and your competence as a leader is evaluated by everyone on the team: your boss, your peers, and the people you lead.

A large part of knowing your job will be dictated by your personal initiative in broadening your knowledge base. This is harder than it sounds. You have numerous responsibilities, your time is precious, and the demands to execute occupy every ounce of your waking strength. What will separate you from others is your willingness to invest time in developing your skill and being intellectually curious about the elements that drive your industry or profession.

Nurses are constantly trained in improved care techniques, lawyers are bound by statute to attend a proscribed number of continuing legal education hours, and only the most arrogant of businessman would not want to “bone-up” on what is considered cutting edge material.

Do not become overconfident or complacent in your knowledge base. Grow. Expand your horizon. Someone is working harder than you to develop themselves.

Knowing your job and keeping abreast of new information you can use means little if your people cannot see it in action, consistently, flawlessly, and with emphasis. Your ability to demonstrate your expertise on occasion is mandatory. Don’t avoid it.

Think of the mortar man in an infantry unit. Hard physical work combined with a technical expertise without reliance on computers, the mortar man and crew use a pamphlet in the absence of direct communication in the field. We all know of a thousand things that can go wrong with live ordnance, but a misfire or hang-fire ranks high on the list of tense situations.

Have you ever seen an officer shake? Not often, but he probably does when he first demonstrates the proper removal of a “dud” from a mortar tube. That leader didn’t have to remove the dud round, but by having demonstrated a competence in a potentially dangerous situation, assuming without incident, he has earned something from his people: trust in his competence.

One last subtle point relating to competence is the ability to discuss nuances and details of the job, either generally or with specificity. Nobody wants a boring drone to recite chapter and verse, but your people want to see the boss has the capacity to discuss the job with enthusiasm and with respect for the process. Your desire to communicate the job will prove to be infectious.

(originally published April 2016)

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