What is your level of incompetence?

Last year, I listened to an audio book called, Good Boss, Bad Boss by Dr. Robert Sutton. It was interesting, entertaining, and caused me to reflect on my craft as an educator and my work as a building leader. His statements were challenging, funny, and also sobering. He told story after story about what makes a good boss or a bad boss based on information he received from readers across the world. I liked it so much, I listened to it twice and bought the book for my administrative team.

One question he raised that resonated with me was, “What is your level of incompetence?” I’ve never heard such a thing, but it got me thinking…

As we face a constant state of change in our school systems, I’ve been asking myself that question more often than not… “what is my level of incompetence?” For clarity, Dr. Sutton defines this as, “one’s inability to complete a task due to a lack of knowledge and/or skill.” To admit one’s own level of incompetence is frightening, but also liberating at the same time. I choose the term frightening, because as a leader, one is looked to for direction, insight, and guidance, all of which can be daunting. At the same time, it is liberating because it opens up opportunities for others to emerge as leaders, empowers others in your organization, and allows for positive changes to take place.

As of late, I feel I am reaching my level of incompetence when it comes to taking our building to the next level. We’ve updated our wireless infrastructure, we’ve created a Graduate Profile of 21st Century Skills, and we have a brand new addition to the school that is the “spearhead of change” for our district. These are large changes that challenge our current system so much so that I feel we are in a constant state of flux, which is uncomfortable. It often feels like we have two systems battling for supremacy with no idea which one will win, or if there even should be a winner.

All these things together have created an internal feeling of chaos and discomfort that I can’t seem to shake. Now that I think about it, am I feeling incompetent or uncomfortable? What about you: when you face a challenge, do you feel uncomfortable or incompetent? If you are even thinking about it, I would bet that what you and I are feeling is uncomfortable because our normal paradigm has been shaken and we are forced to learn new ways of thinking, and to develop different strategies to convey a compelling message to lead others to change. Isn’t this what learning is all about? I would love to hear your thoughts.

 Be Great,


 This is also posted on Connected Principals.com

2 thoughts on “What is your level of incompetence?

  1. Hi Mr. Carter,
    First, I want to say I have been following your blog/twitter for awhile and am so impressed by the leaps and bounds you have made since MS social studies teacher. I’ve seen your name listed on various lists as a “presenter” and really respect the work you are doing for educational leaders.

    That being said, I thought this particular post was both timely and relatable in my new situation as ELA specialist at the ORC. It is interesting that you make a distinction between “uncomfortable” and “incompetent,” but I find myself feeling “uncomfortable” WITH my “incompetence” at times. I think the mark of a good educational leader comes from first, admitting the incompetencies, which you mention and do when you allow others to step into leadership positions, and second, learning to compensate for, grow into, and/or develop those areas of incompetence. There are areas in my own professional life that I struggle with, but my discomfort in my incompetence is what drives me to constantly do better. It is because I am uncomfortable with my “lack of knowledge and/or skill” that I always seek knowledge and call myself a lifelong learner. The way we deal with discomforts in our shifting paradigms is what defines our character and the leaders we are/become.
    Thanks for your work 🙂

  2. Hi Cristina,

    Thanks so much for your comments. I really appreciate it! It seems like I am in a constant state of discomfort, but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing right now. Learning is hard work and leadership is even harder. Yet, both are worthwhile! I wish you all the best in your new position as an ELA Specialist.

    Be Great,


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