The Gap & The Value: Mastery, Professionalism and Self-confidence


Mastery is important to success as a knowledge worker.  However, a danger lies in the quest for improvement. Knowledge workers can confuse the road ahead with the achievement behind

Mastery focuses on the Gap

Mastery means always looking for ways to improve performance. There is always a gap.  Being self-aware means understanding where those gaps are and working hard to improve on them.  This challenge of improvement is an all consuming quest for many. It is the heart of professionalism.

The challenge of an awareness of shortcomings is that it can distort perceptions. Many highly talented people undervalue their contributions because they measure against perfection not above the bar for performance. It is not uncommon to find the greater the expertise the greater the awareness of the shortcomings and the less aware people are of their unique contributions. 

Performance management processes often reinforce this impact because of the economic incentives in managing down perceptions of performance and reinforcing the quest for improvement. The imposter syndrome is another consequence of awareness of shortcomings. A much more common consequence is a lack of confidence in sharing one’s work, promoting one’s expertise and the value that you bring. This can be devastating for career success when there are significant benefits to sharing your work and building a reputation for expertise.

Success requires focus on the Value

The unique value a professional knowledge worker creates is how they bring their expertise, skills and networks to bear on each problem and how this exceeds the standard of the average peer. An individual who is practising mastery will soon find themselves moving ahead of this level of performance. To understand their value, this professional must keep their eyes on the goal ahead and the bar behind. Both are moving all the time.  

The gap from average performance is unique value. A professional knowledge worker needs to understand this well and capable of being articulated. Self-awareness demands an understanding of both strengths and shortcomings. This self-awareness helps measure the value that is the basis of rewards to knowledge work.

The value and quality of knowledge work can be hard to assess. Price, reputation, networks and confidence all play a role in assessing the quality of knowledge work. Many talented knowledge workers are frustrated that less capable people have higher returns and bigger reputations. Unsurprisingly the difference is usually self-confidence and a willingness to promote. Nobody will believe in your value if you don’t.

Confidence in this value is an important foundation of success because it will influence your ability to argue for the value of your work and promote your achievements. Measure yourself not just against the road ahead but also by the achievement behind.

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