Competence is the cover charge for getting into the club

There’s a powerful movie about top secret government operatives who killed the most wanted terrorist on the planet. When the agency director finishes his interview with the top candidate to lead his strike team, he looks over to his second in command:

What do you think of the girl?

To which the subordinate replies:

I think she’s really smart.

Then director responds with a cinematic thousand yard stare.

Jeremy, we’re all smart.

Then it fades to black. Whew, the dramatic intensity of that scene gives me the chills. And it’s more than just good acting, it’s a lesson about how to find top talent.

Because all companies are looking for leaders who can create real change within the organization. But considering how competitive the job market is, competence is assumed. It’s table stakes. It’s the cover charge to get into the club.

You have to have it, but it can’t be all you have. Not if you want to take the team to the next level. There are several other qualities hiring managers are looking for that amplify the power of competence.

Like vision. The ability to not only create it, but to also enroll other people in it.

Then there’s empowerment. And the ability to not only inspire others, but bring your own fire and inspire yourself.

Another one is communication. Being direct, insightful, and clear, but also delivering messages and ideas with warmth, empathy and kindness. That way, people will actually want to do a good job for you.

Think of it this way. Diners at a restaurant assume the chef knows how to cook. But that’s not why they’re there.

What do you bring besides competence?

Takes me back to my old job at luxury hotel. Our guest services department had a lobby manager who was incredibly smart, but colder than a well digger’s ass. After enough complaints, human resources moved him to the back of the house where guests couldn’t see him, which worked out better for all of us.

The only problem is, our replacement was a carbon copy of that original guy. Another brilliant asshole. And the rest of the team was thinking to ourselves, wow, we’re in hospitality. Do we really need more smart people, or do we need warmth?

That’s the big misunderstanding about competence. Any idiot can have it.

Real leadership comes from people whose talent stack includes a combination of interpersonal and intuitive qualities. 

What do you have going for yourself besides the fact that you’re smart?


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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