Last night I was the guest of the IET at their annual dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel here in London, and a fine affair it was, too.
President John Loughhead focused on the future need for skilled engineers – not, as is usually the case in these addresses, to bolster the UK’s global competitiveness, but rather to meet our obligations in tackling climate change. He made a good case for engineering as a crucial profession for the future.
And the after-dinner speaker was a slight, greying American chap who for nearly three decades just happened to hold the record for the longest time spent in space by a US astronaut – Ed Gibson. Dr Gibson took us through some of his extra-planetary exploits, including his three space walks, and talked about what he’d learnt from some of the pioneers he’d worked with, including Gene Krantz, Eileen Collins and Deke Slayton.
In this, he outlined some of the characteristics that made up a great leader, and guess what? Up there on the list, along with all the things you would expect such as vision and courage, came competence.
Now I do have other things in my life other than attending swanky dinners and going on endlessly about competence, but you know, when the two come together, it just makes for a perfect evening.
Plus, a commentator whom I otherwise respect recently said: “we’ve done competence, we know how it works”.
No, I don’t think so.
You’ve never ‘done’ competence. You might understand the concepts, you might know some of the competencies of your people, and you might even have in place programmes for developing them, but you are never ‘done’. The effective use of competencies requires constant monitoring to ensure that they’re working at their best.
So I am not surprised that Chief Learning Officer Magazine predicts that in 2008, once again, competencies will be the top concern for learning professionals:
Competencies have always been the backbone of training. Today, however, amid the shortage of talent, competencies have taken on greater significance. In order to address current and future vacancies, organizations are looking to competency models to help them identify skill gaps and develop the necessary skills internally.
Last September, I mentioned how the US military calls for sacrifice, courage and competence. For Ed Gibson ‘competence’ belongs with vision, courage, altruism, respect, trust and empathy among the characteristics of great leaders. And so it should.
Let’s not be apologetic about the word competence, and let’s not underestimate it, either. Without competence, any vision will remain unachieved, and any courage squandered.