Competency Trap

We all fall victim in our careers to the competency trap–the tendency to gravitate to those things that we do naturally. Since our workplaces reward us for our proficiencies and expertise, we get conditioned to do the same behavior over and over again because it feeds our need for recognition and appreciation.

The danger of the competency trap is when change comes, it takes us by surprise because we realize we have not stepped out of our comfort zones to develop other badly needed skills. In other words, we realize that what got us here will not get us there.

We are seduced by the notion of playing to our strengths and deliberate practice as we carve out expertise during our careers. We strengthen the same competency muscles over and over again and forget about those intellectual muscles we need to develop that we have neglected.

We can use our strengths to create the space to work on new things. By doing our jobs better and more efficiently, we can carve out the capacity to add new and challenging tasks to our development. In other words, our strengths make us so much more productive that we now have the time to work on those things we have chronically overlooked.

Avoiding the competency trap makes us more adaptable. Travis Bradberry, an emotional intelligence thought leader claims that adaptive employees get into the habit early on of being lifelong learners. They consistently push themselves past their comfort zones.

He says you can identify adaptable colleagues in the workplace as those who have remarkable social awareness. They not only have the ability to look inward but outward as well. They are not only concerned about themselves but prioritize the concerns of their staff and organizations.

I am amazed sometimes despite the 24 hour day news cycle covering the federal government of employees who not more aware of what is going on in their agencies. Is your agency head testifying before Congress? Do you know the status of your agency’s appropriation bill? Are you aware of the legislative priorities of you union? Do you subscribe to news sources that can keep you abreast of your agency and career interests?

What got us here will not get us there. That is Lesson 1. Lesson 2 is what got us here will not keep us here. We have to negotiate both of these realities if we are to be the change agents to transact the public’s business in a volatile, uncertain, constantly changing and ambiguous world.

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