Is the Curse of Competence Rampant in Your Company?

John Krautzel
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Most people work hard to succeed in their careers, so how do you thrive in environments where doing a good job leads to negative consequences? Sadly, being a top performer can slow your growth in companies with backwards leadership, and managers respond to your triumphs by thwarting further progress or piling on harder work. HR and recruitment expert Liz Ryan calls this behavior the "curse of competence," and here's how it can destroy your morale.

Lack of Employee Recognition

Imagine hearing an announcement that your team has a big upcoming goal to meet, and the company is depending on everyone to deliver strong results. You come up with a creative strategy that puts the company far ahead of its target goals, but never hear a word of thanks for your effort.

Withholding employee recognition is a cowardly tactic many managers use to avoid treating workers like valuable assets. Even if your direct manager is happy to acknowledge top performers, higher-level bosses are reluctant to show you how important you are to the company. Fearful managers see smart, competent employees as a complication that could make their jobs more difficult, so they prefer to keep you in line, says Ryan.

Unreasonable Expectations

Surpassing goals should be a source of pride, but it turns into a nightmare when your wins intimidate the wrong people. Instead of rewarding a top performer with growth opportunities, leaders continually raise the stakes and expect you to get the same results. As they see it, your high achievements are a sign that you aren't setting adequate goals, rather than evidence of your talent and skill. If you put up with the curse of competence for too long, you're likely to burn out and lose passion for the job you love.

Disproportionate Workload

High productivity can make top performers a magnet for problems and responsibilities other employees don't want to handle. After all, if you're blazing through your own work, you have plenty of time to solve everyone else's problems. The downside is employers still hold you accountable when something goes wrong, even when you were forced to deal with another worker's responsibilities.

Strained Relationships

Don't be surprised if people you view as friends show bitter feelings toward you for having great ideas or excelling at your work. In an ideal environment, employers nurture talent and encourage employees to value each other’s strengths. In toxic workplaces, leaders take top performers for granted and fail to acknowledge team contributions, regardless of the scope or impact. As a result, employees feel undervalued and take their frustrations out on top performers. Seeing you succeed is threatening because your co-workers aren't comfortable acknowledging their own flaws.

Caring about your work and putting forth your best effort shouldn't be a curse. Smart employers understand the importance of retaining good employees, and they're willing to support your growth to keep you around. As a top performer, your talents are an asset to employers, and you have the option to take your skills elsewhere. Consider heading for the door if you recognize these signs of the curse of incompetence.

Photo courtesy of Sira Anamwong at


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