In a 5-hour period the other day I put together two things.

The first was a kerosene heater. It was more complicated than I expected it to be. Once you put it together you're supposed to take it outside, fill it up, let it sit for an hour for the wick to get nice and moistened, then turn this knob until it elevates the wick to its highest level, push this button to ignite it, and it lights and starts warming things up.

The heater

Problem is it didn't work. Nothing's happening, even after I changed the batteries on the starter. Truthfully, I'm assuming I've put enough kerosene in it, have no idea what the wick is supposed to look like, and I'm not really sure what the outcome is supposed to look like, other than there's supposed to be a fire somewhere. Quite disgruntled...

The second was a brand new chair, because the arm snapped off my other chair. It was much bigger and heavier, took longer to put together, but in a strange way it was much easier to handle. There were no words in the instructions, only pictures, and everything single thing was laid out perfectly. I now have a wonderful new chair with a lumbar support my back is happy about. You should see the smile on my face.

Truthfully, going into each project, I had a vastly different level of confidence. On the one hand, I'd never put together a kerosene heater, hadn't even seen one in 11 years, and the last one we had that worked my wife had put together years before we met so she knew all about it. As far as the chair is concerned, I've put together lots of chairs over the years, as well as cabinets and other furniture, thus I knew that no matter what I'd be able to put the chair together without any problems whatsoever.

Sometimes we have to figure out ways of figuring out our own levels of competence. I know mine pretty well, although sometimes it's depressing. I had a feeling the kerosene heater might not work, but since my wife is out of town I had to give it a shot. I knew the chair would come together perfectly because I have that level of competence; if I know what something is supposed to look like and how it's supposed to work then I'm good.

my chair
My chair

If it's hard for some people to figure out their own levels of competence, it's no wonder so many leaders fail to figure out the levels of competence for those who report to them. Here and there I've asked leaders why they assigned certain work to an employee and rarely has the answer been definitive as to their level of skills. Instead, I usually have gotten "I thought they could handle it." That always leads to the next question, which is "Why did you think that?" The reply most often given: "I don't know."

There are times when you can get away with allowing someone to try something without knowing if they're up to the task. However, it should never be the norm because what it does is sets both the leader and the employee up for potential problems and loss of confidence. If the employee really doesn't know how to do something they're not going to feel well, and if the leader recognizes later on the person wasn't capable they're probably not going to trust them again, which pretty much means that person's growth will stagnate.

This just won't do. Instead of floundering, here are 3 ideas you might want to try the next time you're thinking about giving someone a responsibility you're not sure they're ready for:

1. Not only explain what you want someone to do but tell them what your expected deliverables are. In other words, if you want a graph, a report, a completed project or the results of something, let them know this so they have some kind of idea of what you want.

2. Give them some kind of idea how to do it. Hopefully you'll know how they can proceed on your request, and if so, you should give them help towards your ultimate goal. Make sure you not only tell them how to do it but have them parrot it back to you and ask if there are any steps they're unsure of. If you've fostered an environment where employees aren't afraid to show you what they don't know this will work great.

3. If it's a project that could take longer than two hours, check on the person just before halfway of when the project is due to see how things are going. Don't just ask how it's going, ask some specific things to see if it's progressing the way you need it to.

Competent people don't wait until the last minute to do a project. They always want to have something in case a leader stops by to check on them. If you don't see what you need, either your instructions weren't clear or the person doesn't understand what to do. Either way, it's better to know sooner than later.

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2014 Mitch  Mitchell