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Being Competent is Not Enough

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Being competent is not enough. If you want to stretch yourself to reach your potential, you must go beyond proficiency. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.

Of course, for most of us, just getting to “competent” takes work. We need practice, we need training, and we often need to have the right tools. But competence isn’t just about what we can do, but also how others perceive us.

Woman With Crossed Arms

© Flickr user D Coetzee

People need to trust you before they care about you being capable. When you hire someone to do repairs at your house or on your car, you care that they are qualified. But you are most concerned that they are trustworthy. Character is more important than skill.

This might sound surprising. Don’t want people who know what they are doing? But think about it for a moment: what would you rather have?

  1. A person who is highly reliable and completely honest, but a novice.
  2. A person who is an expert, but unreliable and totally dishonest.

It’s not a fun choice to make, but reliable, honest people are always the best. After all, you can learn new skills. But you can’t teach somebody to be a good person if they aren’t one already.

What about for ourselves? Here are three ways we can build our character:

Integrity – We can improve our integrity by being honest. There is no need to exaggerate or omit facts. People appreciate the truth even when they don’t like the truth. Building integrity is a life long pursuit.

Authenticity– Being authentic is simply being yourself in all situations. If you want to be authentic, work on being the person you desire to be. Learn to be comfortable with yourself no matter the circumstances. Authenticity will overcome office politics.

Discipline – Develop the discipline to live your values, and daily habits. Follow your plan every day. Know that every day means every day.

Although these seem simple, I have found that most people enjoy growing their skill more than growing themselves. Success is not just about competency, it is about being a person that attracts success.

Remember: no matter how much you know, people have to trust you to want to work with you.

Remember: no matter how great your skills, people have to believe that you’re doing the work for the reason you say you’re doing it, or else they will be suspicious.

Remember: no matter how expansive your experience, if you’re not consistent about your work, life, and values, other people won’t perceive your experience as relevant.

We all start out incompetent and have to slowly build our skills up to become competent. But before we become an expert in anything, our first task should be to establish our character and reputation. Show up on time, keep promises, be honest, and be true to ourselves. With this foundation, we can learn to do anything—and others will respect us!

Here are a few of my favorite quotes about character:

“Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way.Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way.” – Aristotle

“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” – Samuel Johnson

“If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-nigh useless.” – Moliere

People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built. -Eleanor Roosevelt

It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through. -Zig Ziglar

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Mark S. Brown
Mark S. Brown is an executive coach who is passionate about personal development. He works to make a difference in people's lives by empowering them with skills and knowledge that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in. Mark has been coached, mentored, and certified by John Maxwell and his team. This coaching certification allows Mark to successfully coach and train individuals, groups, organizations, and companies.
Mark S. Brown


Executive and Business Coach at New Roads Leadership. A founding partner of the John Maxwell Team. We coach for your personal success!
Mark S. Brown
Mark S. Brown

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