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Strategic incompetence - upsides and downsides - 3 Plus International

Strategic incompetence – upsides and downsides

by Mar 7, 2024

Strategic incompetence

The idea of strategic incompetence is more common than you think, and like many other common practices it has both upsides and downsides.

 

In a world that glorifies efficiency, competence, and expertise, the idea of strategic incompetence might seem counterintuitive or even counterproductive. After all, who would purposefully choose to be incompetent in any aspect of their life or work?

However, the idea of strategic incompetence is more common than you think it might be. And like many other common practices it has both upsides and downsides.

What is Strategic Incompetence?

Strategic incompetence refers to the deliberate decision to appear or to be incompetent in certain areas or tasks. This concept challenges the conventional wisdom that success is solely dependent on being highly skilled and knowledgeable in all aspects of our lives or professions. Instead, it recognises that individuals have limited time, energy, and resources, and it may not always be feasible or practical to excel in every single area.

The Benefits of Strategic Incompetence

There can be some benefits of strategic incompetence.

  • Identifying a weakness and being open about it, shows vulnerability and allows people, especially leaders to focus on their strengths.
  • This means they delegate the tasks where they are less proficient which can be a great time and energy saver and lead to greater efficiency in building a better-balanced team.
  • Avoiding perfectionism helps to reduce stress rather than having everyone trying to be the best in class at everything. It’s impossible.
  • It means leaders have to admit what they don’t know and ask for help.

Worth a read: Presence and availability culture revisited – 3 Plus International

This might include:

  • A CEO who delegates technical decisions to the company’s chief technology officer (CTO) because they lack expertise in that field but excel in strategic planning and leadership.
  • An individual who hires a financial advisor to manage their investments because they lack the time and expertise to do so effectively.
  • A student who focuses on mastering core concepts in their field of study while accepting that they may not excel in every subject.

Downsides of Strategic Incompetence

There are also several areas where strategic incompetence has a negative impact:

  • The behaviour can be part of a passive-aggressive pattern to avoid doing things we don’t like doing, or think we shouldn’t be asked to do. We then do the task so badly we are never asked to do it again. This happens frequently within couples when they stick to gender stereotyped roles. Women don’t change oil and tires, men don’t change nappies (diapers.)
  • We see this behaviour in typical gender-stereotyped roles such as changing nappies or fixing the printer. This embeds gender stereotypes even further.
  • When anyone is unwilling to learn new skills they are depriving themselves of a growth opportunity

Worth a listen: Gender Stereotypes and Men – Michael Ray and Dorothy Dalton – 3 Plus International

So if you decide to be strategically incompetent  – choose your moments wisely!

 

It is imperative to keep moving forward with your career. That is where 3Plus can help you. Contact us now for more information on our experienced Coaching Programmes.

 

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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