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Beyond frustration or even blame: how effective leaders harness incompetence

Have you ever caught yourself overreacting to a team member's mistake? Frustrated, wondering what to do, more or less silently stewing in your irritation?


You think "Why can't they do this properly? It's not that complicated"! Sometimes, you might even feel powerless, as if no matter what you do, you can't seem to enact change. So you micromanage or even start compensating—oscillating between grumpiness and disappointment.


You're not alone. Recently, a client shared a similar story that led us to dig into the mechanisms at play. And guess what? We discovered the issue wasn’t so much the so-called incompetent team member..


It's often less about their slip-up and more about our own internal dialogues and insecurities. Let's unpack this.


Unpacking our discomfort with incompetence

In theory, as a leader, you know what you should do: create the perfect environment for people to learn, grow, and thrive! You know you should cultivate psychological safety, a space for mistakes, and beautiful lessons learned so everybody moves swiftly towards their objectives. But it's not exactly how things go, right?

Two women at work in discussion - One being reprimanded
What if there was an alternative to frustration? Credit: wix

Whenever incompetence shows up in our team, it rather feels like a direct hit to our leadership, knowingly or unknowingly. Each mistake seems to reflect on our own abilities (or perceived lack thereof).


It's easy to fall into the trap of viewing incompetence as a personal failure—whether in ourselves or others. This perspective can lead to a fear-based reaction, where we might snap, sulk, or simmer in frustration. However, this response often reveals more about our feelings of inadequacy than about the actual issue.


If you dig deep enough, as my client did, you'll end up face-to-face with your own lack of self-confidence! This fear of not being enough drives you towards excellence until it has a detrimental impact on your leadership.


Why shifting your perspective is essential


True leadership involves stepping back and separating our ego from the equation. Leadership is not about you; it's about your team. When we stop viewing team members' mistakes as a reflection of our competence, we open the door to genuine improvement and empowerment for both ourselves and our teams. Professor Brené Brown captures this beautifully:


"A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas and has the courage to develop that potential. When we dare to lead, we don’t pretend to have the right answers; we stay curious and ask the right questions." Prof. Brené Brown

The courage we talk about here is daring to have tough conversations about performance when needed and, besides, leaving space for learning and improvement through constructive feedback.

The twist? Seeing these moments not as threats but as golden opportunities for growth and leadership. Easier said than done? Maybe but start addressing the issue.


Transformative actions to address incompetence


How can you start dealing better with such issues? Here are a few tips:

  • Start with self-awareness: recognize and accept your reactions to incompetence. Understand that your worth as a leader isn’t tied to perfection but to how you handle imperfections.

  • Cultivate a learning environment: encourage a team culture that views mistakes as natural and necessary parts of the learning process. This shift can change everything—from dread to anticipation of growth.

  • Support proactively: provide specific support where it’s needed. Maybe a team member needs more training or clearer guidelines. Offering help without judgment reinforces trust and confidence.

  • Promote open communication: foster an atmosphere where team members can share their challenges without fear of reprimand. This not only helps in early identification of issues but also strengthens the team’s resilience.

  • Dare to have the tough conversations: sometimes incompetence needs to be addressed upfront to discuss what needs to improve.

  • Model the way: show how to approach setbacks constructively. Sharing your learning experiences can demystify and destigmatize failures, encouraging your team to strive without fear.

And just to motivate you, even more, to learn to deal with incompetence effectively, remember that psychological safety and failures fuel the much-needed changes and innovations we crave in today's world!


In a nutshell


The next time you perceive incompetence, take a breath and choose to see it as a call to leadership, not as a mark of failure. By fostering a growth mindset and resilience, you transform potential threats into powerful opportunities for development.


Ready to lead with empathy and courage? Embrace these suggested changes and watch as your team’s confidence—and your own—soars to new heights.


If implementing all these recommendations still feels daunting, it may be time to tackle the issue at its roots. The insecurities we discussed here are one of the many traits of the so-called impostor syndrome. I have a free masterclass for you if you're ready to dig deeper and start working on yourself so that the "how-to" tips you read about become finally easy.


Grasp the cause of your insecurities and receive a step-by-step guide to overcome them with this masterclass. Imagine a world of quiet and solid self-confidence, even in tough conversations, the assertiveness you dream of, and the ease you crave while being exposed.

All this might be closer than you think…. Just click the button below!


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