The Appearance of Competence

When I was a young pup Sailor, full of vim and vigor, I was Leading Seaman. The job wasn’t demanding in the sense of new duties, I was already handling the leadership piece without the title. I’d joined the Navy later than many of my shipmates and organizing, encouraging, and leading them came more naturally to me than many of my introverted linguist pals.

I sadly, though, let the title go to my head on my first room inspection at my new barracks. I thought I would do something special, try something a little different. I cleaned my room for the inspection, but I also put in a couple of touches that I imagined would set it apart. As in, I bleached the wall nose-level (have those words ever gone together?) right where the Chief would enter the room. That way, he would smell bleach, conferring the space with a degree of cleanliness perhaps the other rooms did not have.

What I did not do is to hit all the major areas. Yes, I dusted the verticals, the sides of the door; the horizontals, the windows ledges. I vacuumed and wiped the windows down with Windex. But I completely missed Chief’s favorite spot, the refrigerator seal, the gasket around the edge of the door. It was stuffed with crumbs. And I failed.

I am sorry to say that I was shocked. I went by Chief’s office after the inspection and he told me he was disappointed. There are few leadership tools more effective than a Chief shaking his head to you.

But I learned a valuable lesson. The appearance of competence is not competence. Only competence is competence. On many tasks, trying to reinvent the wheel will only bring frustration. Don’t try to do something new and flashy. Just get the basics down perfectly. It is not about you (me), it is about the job. And to do the job well, do the job well. I wasted more time with stupid tricks, like rubbing bleach on the wall at just the right level, than I would have spent if I had just done the job correctly.

33 thoughts on “The Appearance of Competence”

  1. Well, you certainly did step all over my snarky remark with the “Moral to the Story,” wrapup. And a very good Moral it is. Reminded me of… “Too soon we get old. Too late we get smart.” (I volunteer to be the poster boy for that.)

    Now, back to the snarky (and you thought I’d forgotten? bwahahahahaha)

    Nah, I’ll let it go. I liked the story.

      1. What?? Banned? In my days at Monterey (1979) we not only were allowed beer in the Navy barracks, but also had beer machines located on the ground floor in EACH ladderwell. $.50 a can! Get lit on a Friday, then romp on down the hill to the EM Club (where also in my day, we had full nude strippers each weekend). Of course, those were the days before the PC cops infested the senior officer corps which then imposed an affectation of morality upon us all. I wonder what Monterey is like now? Is Compagno’s still there and still making ass-kick sandwiches? What about the Dream Theater? *sigh* “Glory days.”

        1. I don’t know; I was a retread from the Air Force and we had blast in Orlando…at the time, there was no actual Boot Camp for retreads…just mustering at ‘Zero-Dark-Thirty, performing a few tasks and then being released for the rest of the day..most of us went to the beach…I don’t recall refrigerators with beer in them or machines like that but party we did…that was a few years before you Fuzzy in 1975 but nonetheless we had a lot of fun…and Pensacola for ‘A’ school was even more fun…I think I had a hangover for a lot of that time…until I got to the Azores, when I became aware drinking everyone under the table wasn’t a serious life’s ambition…I pretty much stopped those pursuits after that…k

  2. Good friend of mine, Master Chief Jack M. had a saying. “Do what is right even if nobody is looking”.

  3. “There are few leadership tools more effective than a Chief shaking his head to you.”

    I can only imagine! I know I’ve received the same treatment from a few foreman in days past. Very motivating! ***Salute*** ;-D

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