Leadership Principle #1 – Competence

The first Principle of Leadership identified by the Canadian Armed Forces is: “Achieve professional competence and pursue self-improvement”.

Having spent most of my adult life in uniform, my transition back to the civilian world had more than a few awkward moments.  (Like trying to figure out what to say when the barber asked how I’d like my hair cut, but that’s another story.)  There were a number of things that I had assumed to be laws of nature, because I had never known anything different.  As they say, a fish is the last to discover water…

One of the foundational principles of the Army is that nobody is ever placed in a leadership position in operations unless they have been trained and assessed as competent in the skills they need to do that job.  One of my “I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more Toto” moments was the discovery that this is not always the case in the larger world.  Often people are hired into leadership positions and left to sink or swim.  The approach seems to be: if they succeed, that’s great and if they don’t, well we’ll get someone else.(What a recipe for operational inefficiency, missed opportunities and disgruntled employees!)

So, what does achieving professional competence and pursuing self-improvement look like in this sort of situation?  Consider the following:

  • Determine what your role is.  Don’t just rely on your job description.  It may not be complete or up to date.  It may reflect what was needed to get the position approved (which may not even be close to what your boss actually wants you to do).
  • Review what you have learned and identify the gaps in your skills and knowledge (trust me, there will be some).  Are there things that you have never done before which are now a part of your responsibilities?  Are there areas in which your knowledge or skills are out of date and a refresher is necessary?

Once you know what you need to learn, how do you you learn it?  Many civilian organizations can’t afford to send someone on a three-month course, no matter how valuable it may be.  Consider some other options:

  • Is there credible on-line training available?  Perhaps your boss would be prepared to fund it if you show the value to the organization.
  • Are there formal or informal networks of experienced peers that you could tap into?  Is there a current or retired employee who would be willing to mentor you?

There is no substitute for professional competence.  How are you achieving it?  What has worked for you in the past?  What challenges are you experiencing today?  Let’s talk about it.