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Don’t Solve a Competence Issue with Confidence or Vice Versa

Recently, I was In Scottsdale, AZ, for eight days of Master Facilitator Equus Training with the Koelle Equus Institute. Many of you know, in 2015 I completed my Equus Coaching Certification and have building my competence and confidence partnering with horses in both individual and team coaching. I love the work! (In fact, CrisMarie and I are developing some exciting new leadership development offerings using the horses. STAY TUNED!)

While at this last the training, Koelle asked each of us to identify our learning edges stepping into this program. She asked us about our level of confidence versus our competence. She clarified that:

  • if a confidence issue was holding us back, that’s a relatively straight-forward mindset issue.

  • If the challenge is a competence issue, the solution would be time intensive, because nothing resolves competence but hours with horses and clients.

She also shared that it is important to know the difference.

As an Executive coach, I am often working with leaders, asking them the same question about their leadership skills. Sometimes leadership issues are a matter of confidence, other times it’s a competence issue – AND YOU need to know the difference!

Mining An Example

Over the last few years we’ve worked with the leadership team of a mining company. When we started the CEO, Mary, had just stepped into her new position, replacing her father who had been running the company. She’d been in the family business primarily on the financial/administrative side for years. Mary was skilled at negotiating contracts and running the financial side of the business. However, she was not competent (didn’t have the hours) in mining operations.

When she first contacted us for coaching to support her in her new role, she was already identifying that her confidence in leading the company was directly tied to her current low level of competence in day-to-day mining site issues.

Fortunately, she was smart and willing to own her learning curve. She dedicated hours at the mine site to acquire the knowledge of mining operations, processes, and equipment, as well as, getting to know the crew.

As she put in the hours, her confidence as the company leader grew. Our coaching focused on her being okay not knowing, or having the answers in all the areas. We also supported her developing strong relationships through taking a team approach to running the mine. It helped her to get up to speed in day-to-day mining, while growing a strong culture that was built around community, real relating, and getting to great business results.

Mary didn’t need to become a competent miner, but she did need to put in the hours out at the mine demonstrating that she had the chops to ask for help, get training in critical areas, get the right equipment, find the right people, and deal effectively with the union. So for Mary it was a competence issue that was impacting her confidence.

Had she just focused on mindset (confidence), she may have become more confident as a leader, but really missed the mark in terms of being an effective CEO of a mining company.

It is important to know the difference between a confidence versus a competence issue.

How to Tell if It’s a Competence Issue

Competence isn’t simply what you think. Competence can be measured by time spent, experiences had, knowledge, demonstrated skill, emotional intelligence, and real feedback you have gotten about what you have done.

Be willing to break your role down to specific tasks and honestly look at the data to determine your level of competence.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you understand your role, task, or job?

  • Do you have the knowledge and experience?

  • Have you put in the hours?

  • Can you demonstrate the skill?

  • Is the feedback you’re receiving congruent with your own opinion?

If you’re a computer software engineer manager, maybe you are competent at designing or building computer software, but you are a new leader of people. It is very possible you are not yet competent at managing people even in a job you know!

As a new leader, you need to put in the hours, or get coaching, to learn how to provide clarity to your people, give and receive feedback, and use conflict to build the team.

It is important to identify where the lack of competence can be holding you back.

A True Confidence Issue

I was coaching a successful HR executive, Betty, who wanted to start her own coaching business but kept stalling. She was about to sign up for a very expensive coach training certification program when we first talked.

I asked her, “Aren’t you already certified as a coach?” Betty said, yes, but thought it would help her feel more confident. I suggested she wait since she was trying to solve a confidence issue with a competent solution.

As we coached, we worked on her mindset to help her confidence. She gathered evidence of her abilities. Betty collected tons of emails with glowing feedback on how she had changed people’s careers, relationships, and lives.

She started to feel more confident. She recognized she really was an awesome coach! She made plans to transition out of her executive job and start her coaching practice. Then, she bumped into a competence issue – marketing. Rather than go get her degree in marketing, which yes, was Betty’s first thought, we talked about hiring someone with marketing expertise.

I’m happy to say that three years later she is a six figure, successful coach who does keynotes and has her own podcast.

In Summary

To be a smart and healthy leader you need to continue to be learning and developing. The key is to know what is your next level up is to identify

We can help you with this. Don’t let over confidence or under confidence stop you from taking the next step in your leadership.

Be willing to do a self-evaluation and get clear where is my next step in building my business – is it in acquiring new levels of competence or in addressing issues of confidence.

Know the difference! Leading is all about working and navigating both of these key business drivers!

The Horse Knows,


P.S. Want to be the first to know when we launch our new leadership development program? Send us an email and you’ll be first on the list!

P.P.S. Want to give working with a horse a try individually? Come join us for Find Your Mojo in Montana, May 2-5 2018.


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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