The Perception of Competence

The Perception of Competence

Category : 2015

At the executive level, we are surrounded by individuals who are intelligent, well read, and who typically possess tremendous poise and executive presence theintegration of temperament, competencies, and skills that enable leaders to influence others and drive results.

While executive presence and measurable results ultimately reveal more about capability and potential long-term performance, the perception of competence carries a lot of weight in making first impressions and reaping the related opportunities.  In a world where first impressions can create a lasting “halo effect”, some individuals seem to benefit well beyond that initial impact.

Conversely, a less than stellar first impression can limit opportunities.  Most of us work hard to “package” ourselves as best we can relative to our personal presentation.  That is why it is puzzling to see so many people allowing the way they speak and write to atrophy at an alarming rate.    It creates not just a first impression but one that carries forward through force of habit, resulting in a significantly less positive or even negative first, and lasting, impression.

Sure, the decline of grammar and verbal skills are a result of our popular culture with music, social media, etc. leading the way, but the outcome is this…more and more often, really smart people with strong personal presence look great until they open their mouths or put something in writing.  This phenomenon can be easily be attributed to the younger generations of pre-teens, teens, and Millennials.  However, Gen Xers and beyond have also readily adopted these foibles.  Hearing that something “sucks”, confusing “there and their” or “your and you’re,” and a lack of some basic manners, will take the polish off of a good-looking apple.

Sadly, this has become acceptable in more and more arenas.  But wait, has it really?  Take a look around you at the HIPO’s (High Potentials), the cream of the crop, those who run or will run organizations.  Are these negative attributes regularly associated with the key leaders in your organization?  No, clearly they are not.

As a leader, what is your organizational tolerance for the lack of refinement these behaviors demonstrate?  Here are a few suggestions to help address the matter:

  • Bring the topic to the forefront and designate writing and speaking skills as desirable career attributes.
  • Counsel individuals to create an awareness of the need for improvement.
  • Encourage leaders to purposefully model the behaviors and language that communicate competence and executive presence.
  • Provide training to address the capability gaps hidden by the perception of competence.

Raising awareness of speaking and writing acumen as attributes of successful leaders is important.  When we fail to do so, we are doing a disservice to individuals who would otherwise contribute more substantially to the organization and to their careers.