Everyone is Incompetent


Nobody’s perfect. And some employees may not be fully ready for the responsibilities you’d like to allocate to them. When leaders embrace that idea and “take the training wheels off,” it can create conditions of safety and empowerment to stimulate improved engagement, faster learning, and enhanced organizational performance. And as an added benefit, it can provide relief for overburdened leaders. Ralph and Bill discuss the tools you can use to take the training wheels off.



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*Note: The following text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it is incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors

Bill Berthel: Welcome to the Get Emergent podcast. Our podcast is focused on individual team and organizational development and performance. We focus on topics such as leadership, human development, and raising the consciousness and awareness of leaders. We aim to provide creative concepts, new ideas, and pragmatic tips and practices for leaders in all walks of life.

I’m Bill Berthel,

Ralph Simone: and I’m Ralph.

Bill Berthel: So Ralph, we’ve got a lot of energy and a great topic today. We’re gonna talk about how everyone is incompetent.

Ralph Simone: Well, we certainly are, and if we’re gonna have some fun with it. And it almost seems counter to what we believe around potential in Everyone’s a genius. They are and they are also incompetent.

And I think if we went into everything with that belief, maybe we would be more inclined to take the training wheels off. And what we mean by that is I don’t think anybody’s ever ready for the next assignment, the next project, right? We’re always in transitioning and there is a learning curve. And so if we could just say, look it, they’re not competent, they’re not gonna do it perfectly, and let’s just embrace that. I think we would be a lot quicker in engaging, utilizing, and developing employees in our organization. So how about that?

Bill Berthel: I love the Training Wheels analogy. Well, first I, I, I can relate to this completely. I don’t think I was ever fully ready for any position, any role, any job, any promotion. But yeah, there was willingness, right? There was excitement and willingness so that, that leaning in. And I love the analogy of training wheels and it makes me think so with, with our son, we never had training wheels to begin with on his bicycle. We utilized the kick bicycle model that’s pretty popular in Europe.

So it’s simply a, a little two wheeled with a frame that he could steer, but there’s no pedals to get in the way. The whole idea was to meet him where he was at his developmental level, to give him the confidence to be on two wheels to kick along. You know what? It never held him back. It never slowed us down as a family on our bike rides.

He was as fast as we were pedaling along cuz he was so excited to be there. And there was the natural transition then to a full two-wheeled bicycle with pedals. Never had a training wheel in his life. The kid.

Ralph Simone: So what I love about that example is that we create conditions of safety for people so they’re willing to take risks while learning.

Absolutely. So we don’t overthink, we don’t have the self to, oh, they’re not ready. What if it goes wrong? You know, we just, you know, take the training wheels off sooner and I think you’re gonna find. More engagement, faster learning, better utilization. I think you’re gonna find people who are happier, right?

It’s not leaving ’em alone to fail, but it is creating those conditions to get into action sooner. Because if we wait until somebody’s absolutely ready, we will be waiting forever.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, no, absolutely. So I think context is really important here. We’re we’re not necessarily talking about your heart surgeon or your brain surgeon.

We want them pretty capable and pretty ready. But what we are talking about is creating that safe environment, those opportunities for people to learn that they’re willing to have that vulnerability to potentially fail or not quite get it right, because that’s such a great learning opportunity.

Ralph Simone: No, it’s interesting, Bill.

So I fortunately or unfortunately, have the opportunity to be treated fairly regularly at a teaching hospital. Yes. And we have a procedure that’s done. I’ve graduated now, it looks like it’s gonna be every six months because I’m showing improvement. Awesome. Congratulations. The doctor has, A resident with him who has done this procedure less often and believe me, I can tell. And , you know, and he does give him the reins you know, the, and he asked my permission, of course, and a guy does it, the man or woman, not as well, but he’s learning and he’s getting feedback and that’s how he’s gonna be the proficient expert. Yes. And, and so even in those situations in a teaching hospital, there’s an opportunity to take the training wheels off.

If he just explains what he’s doing and doesn’t allow the guy to do the procedure, he’s not gonna learn it in the same way. One of the things that I think is a great tool, and we’ve taught people this around taking the training meals off, is the empowerment cycle. Mm-hmm. . There’s kind of an interesting story.

So we’ve, most people probably on this podcast know who Ken Blanchard is. He was the author of the One Minute Manager. He I think with Hersey and I think there’s another person, they created this situational leadership model years ago. Mm-hmm. But some of his students who I later studied with in an organization called Schreder Oak, they came up with this thing called the Empowerment Cycle.

And as the Empowerment Cycle was brilliant because it made, it gave us permission to make handoffs quicker. So instead of trying to figure out if Bill was ready or if I’m ready, they just gave us, here’s the task, here’s why it’s important, here’s when we need it, and then they got the heck out of the way for a little while.

Mm-hmm. Training wheels off, but the safety was provided that they would check in sooner rather than later. For me to describe how it was going, and based on that description, they could adjust how much support or direction they provided. But I think it’s a beautiful technique to get people into action quicker and to take the training wheels off.

Don’t overthink it. I think people paralyze themselves because they’re not ready. And, and I said to a leader the other day, you’re not ready for God’s sake. He didn’t really like that, but you know, for some of the stuff that you’re tackling, he certainly wasn’t ready for me. And so as, as you start to think about this, we’ve, we’ve got to be more willing to take calculated risks and allow people to learn through the experience, through the experience.

Bill Berthel: So where might our listeners practice this empowerment cycle? What have you seen showing. recently with leaders having an opportunity to practice this empowerment cycle?

Ralph Simone: I think anytime a leader is overwhelmed or overloaded with tasks, it’s a perfect opportunity to say, let’s take a few tasks that maybe are moderate risk and let’s just give them to people.

Yes. And just be mindful of building in the check-in period sooner rather than later, so that you can guide, right? But you’re kinda letting people run. You’re taking the training wheels off and you’re letting them surprise you. I think people are often pleasantly surprised. I just had a, a coaching meeting on Tuesday and the guy said I was reluctant to let go of this task.

The guy is doing it better than I would’ve ever done it, and yet it took him two or three meetings and a lot of prodding to just let ’em run. No, I love that. Right? Just be prepared to be delighted. So one indicator might be that your own to-do list, your own sense of being whelmed or overwhelmed is getting kind of full, kind of high.

Look for some low to moderate risk opportunities that you could delegate off. Give a little bit of time, not a lot, a little bit of time. Create the safety by checking in to see how that’s going. To see what questions they have to see just how it’s progressing.

Yes. Yeah. And just, you know, I was, there’s a number of stories.

I was thinking about all the jobs I’ve ever had, of which I was ready for none. I was a resident assistant in college. Yeah. That give be a little trend. I wasn’t ready for that. Right. I made, I had a willingness, I had a curiosity, but I wasn’t ready for that. I was a buyer negotiating million dollar contracts at the age of 21.

Wasn’t ready for that. . Mm. I was a foreman I couldn’t build a single thing, right? And so as you get into these things, you’re given the time. I got tasks and assignments that were really stretch, but those were the things that energized me. Those were the things that got me asking questions. And I think it requires this growth mindset that there will be learning, right?

And growth throughout the process. We’ve gotta let go of the perfect outcome.

Bill Berthel: That’s exactly it, right? The maybe the 80% rule where you know, it does not have to be absolutely perfect each time. I think we also have to let go of some tendencies to control. I, so, you know, quick example at my home, I’m pretty handy.

I like to do most of my home improvement projects myself. We bought two new overhead garage doors for the garage. My wife and my to-do list really influenced me to have them installed. I, I’ve installed garage doors before in my past and I decided I would have them installed and boy, what a relief that was.

But you know what? One of those garage doors has failed three times since. And I gotta tell you, what’s playing in my mind was I should have done it myself. I should have done it myself, but that would’ve helped me back. That would’ve helped me back in practicing not having that perfection, not having the control.

And you know what, I got a lot done, a lot more important things done in that time that I would’ve been installing garage doors.

Ralph Simone: So the unfortunate thing, potential unfortunate thing is that when things go sideways or not as we thought they could have, yeah, we put the training wheels back, back on You got it.

Yeah. And, and I think that’s one of the things. So I think this idea of letting go of control, I, I just recently, and I, I know the client didn’t really appreciate it, but he goes, well, they’re not gonna be able to do it as, as well as I can. I said, how long you been doing it? He goes, 15 years. I said, well then you can be assured that the first time out of the blocks.

Right. But is that your goal? Remember story from Stephen Covey when he first turned over the stewardship to his son for the lawn? Yeah. Cutting the grass. Yeah.

Yeah. In the vision, the intention was clean and green. Well, you know, the kid, first time he’s using a lawnmower . Right? He cuts it too low. He doesn’t cut straight lines and you know, Covey took the training wheels off, but he, he was gonna take the job back and his wife reminded him, what’s the job, Stephen? Grow grass or grow boys? Yes. And so we think about our job as leaders. We take the training wheels off because our job is to grow other leaders. It’s to grow a high performing organization.

It’s to create these conditions of safety and empowerment that people don’t ask for permission. They tell you what they’ve learned. Skinned and all. They tell you what they’ve learned and, and I think we’ve gotta stop complaining that we don’t have enough people, that people aren’t picking up the ball. We need to give them the ball.

We need to take the training wheels off and we need to drive engagement and utilization. And be delighted by what happens most of the time.

Bill Berthel: And you can listen right here to a new podcast two times a month where we bring you contemporary leadership topics and ideas, balanced with better practices you can apply to your leadership.

1 Comment

  1. Ralph Bott on May 17, 2023 at 11:08 am

    Another valuable podcast. I didn’t know what to expect from the title “Everyone is Incompetent” yet once I started listening and heard the “training wheel analogy” it all came together.
    Your examples and stories on how we all learn make all kinds of sense that we need to remind ourself about. I believe anyone can benefit from listening to this short 11 minute podcast.

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