Faking It

interpreter

If you haven’t yet heard, the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life was unfortunately upstaged by the unintentionally hilarious presence of a sign language interpreter who appears to have worked the crowd by “making up sign language” as he went along.

While this sounds a lot like a Saturday Night Live sketch, and might actually have been funnier than some of them, it is more than a little disturbing that many of the world’s most important leaders made their tribute speeches standing just a few feet from a person who was at best a charlatan, and possibly mentally unhinged.

It makes you wonder how a person who was unable to do the job was actually hired to do it?

Or does it?

Incompetence in authority positions is actually much more common than we want to believe isn’t it?

I think we all know, or have actually worked for, someone who clearly had no idea what they were doing.  In fact, you’re probably seeing their face right now because engaging with them was so frustrating that it created indelible memories.

This happens for many reasons, but I feel that two are worth mentioning here:

The first is that regardless of occupation ambitious people get promoted to their level of incompetency.

What I mean by this is that doing good work typically gets you promoted to greater levels of leadership.  Ambitious people accept these promotions until they reach a position that they are incapable of performing in.

When an organization is unwilling to invest in leadership development, or at least demote ineffective leaders back to their last level of success, they will always find themselves with leaders who are unable to motivate their teams… because they spend the majority of their time frustrating them.

The most obvious example of this is The Office’s Michael Scott.

When Dunder-Mifflin promoted their best paper salesman to the role of office manager, they moved him from his highest level of productivity to his lowest.  What made it funny is that we all got to watch it without working there, and the show’s runaway popularity is the sign that we could all identify with it.

If the first reason that incompetency finds it way to large stages is a tragic consequence of success, the second reason is a demonstration of the frightening reality that we are typically forced to hire specialists to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

If I don’t possess a necessary skill, I not only have to hire someone to buttress my personal limitation, but I also have to place my faith in their character based solely on their reputation.

This means that I have opened my doors not just to experts in the skill that I lack, but also to experts in fraud; experts in fraud are not easy to identify are they?

The classic illustration of this is James Bond, a man who appears overnight, gains the confidence of high-level leaders, and then disappears overnight with their girlfriends and secrets.

When we attempt to hasten results by immediately trusting friends of friends, failing to establish qualifying standards, or ignoring those standards in favor of charm, we virtually open up the front door and invite charlatans into the areas of our lives where we are the least prepared to deal with them.

It’s very easy to get fooled by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, when you don’t know what you are doing.

None of the people on the stage at Mandela’s ceremony could point out the faker because none of them knew sign language, and each of them believed that someone they trusted did.

Since incompetence and chicanery get spotted regardless of why they happen, the question is whether they get spotted before or after they embarrass you in front of a global audience.

It was the global audience who alerted the event organizers about the fraud that was being perpetrated on them, it was the global audience that asked for an accounting, and it is the global audience who lost respect for the leadership of the event.

In the end we either take the time to do the hard work of development and the legwork of research, or we get taken advantage of in ways that hurts us and the people that we lead.

Unfortunately Nelson Mandela’s funeral became accidentally humorous and incredibly entertaining in way that detracted from his legacy.  This is because both Michael Scott and James Bond are very entertaining…

…so long as you are just watching them and not working for, or getting worked over, by them.

 

 

One Response to “Faking It”

  1. Bob Weaver December 13, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    Which one is faking it? 1The IRS Scandal and .disastrous roll out of Obamacare and millions of Americans losing their Health Care, 3 $850 Million Dollar Stimulus for Shovel ready jobs, 4.General Motors purchase which cost taxpayers $300, Million after selling it back. 5. AP Phone records scandal. 6. $16 Trillion dollar deficit

    When are we going to say the President is incompetent.

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