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True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.’ – Socrates

We should never profess that we know it all. When we do, we are shutting down the learning centre of our brain.

However, we can be honest with ourselves and admit that we don’t know everything. Just from there we are opening up our mindset for new learnings.

There are four stages to learning, building capability and raising our competence in everything that we do. Especially as leaders, we need to keep them in mind when we are mentoring and coaching our team to become the leaders that we know they can be.

I will go through all four competences. You may just relate to one of them, depending on where you are at on your journey. Basically, the process will allow you to see what part of the four psychological states you may be sitting in. Then, you will have the tools to help you move into the next level.

Once you get a grasp of this model, it will assist you by giving you a greater understanding of your team’s learning needs and development areas.

Stage 1. Unconscious incompetence

In unconscious incompetence, the individual doesn’t even realise that a skill or knowledge gap exists. They are unaware of the skill and their lack of proficiency.

This is called the lack of awareness stage.

It can be applied in so many areas when it comes to leadership. You can see it in leaders who want to be more adaptable but don’t know where to start.

On the other hand, they might want to know how to influence a team to begin a movement where everyone is going in the same direction, living and breathing the vision of the company.

Alternatively, it can be that they want to learn how to be composed in a volatile environment and are not aware of the relevant skills that they need to apply for composure.

At this stage, you don’t know what you don’t know. You are not conscious and you have no idea ‘how’ or ‘what’ to do because there is an inadequacy in the area concerned.

Here, you may even resist or deny the pertinence, the importance or the purpose of this new skill because you don’t know it. You are not familiar with it and there is uncertainty around that particular skill.

Solution: Lean into the resistance

In this phase, there may be a level of discomfort. We know from research and experience that when we lean into the feeling of being uncomfortable, the more we do it, the more we become comfortable.

Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is where the magic happens.

You must be willing to be observant of your incompetence before the development of the new skill can take place. Here is where you can have your inner critic step in and have a voice to tell you that you are not ‘good enough’ or ‘smart enough’. But how would you know if you have never done it before?

If you push through in this area – a space where most individuals experience ‘fear of the unknown’ – you will get to the second stage with curiosity. Now, you want to know more.

The point to this is for those leaders who are training, mentoring or coaching their teams, you will notice that everyone will be at a different level. When there is a level of resistance, it could be their inner critic or their own self-doubt. However, at no time should we think that they are not the right fit nor cut out for the role.

It is up to us as leaders to guide them in moving into the next phase of their learning ability. If we sell them the dream, bring the end in mind to life and present the leadership benefits that come with these new skills, it will give them a little bit more enthusiasm.

Stage 2. Conscious incompetence

In conscious incompetence, the individual is aware of a skill or knowledge gap and understands the importance of acquiring this new skill. They are now aware of the skill but not yet proficient.

It’s in this stage that learning can begin.

Here is where you realise that you haven’t mastered the skill yet and there is a little work ahead for you to become experienced.

However, you now have an awareness and an understanding of the presence and importance of this new skill. You can now see the bigger picture and where you fit in the whole scheme of things.

This stage also gives you clarity and insight of your shortage or insufficiency in this area. Once you become mindful of your lack of knowledge, this is where you pull your sleeves up and dive in. Head down to attempt and pursuit you researching and learning your new skill.

Here is where the vision and wisdom take place. The ‘aha’ moment. You now realise and recognise that by improving this area of your skills, you will be able to do XYZ. You will now become the effective leader that you want to be. You are now cognizant of what you must learn and are willing to take it to the next level.

Solution: Bridge the gap

What becomes relevant and clear at this stage is you now know where you are and where you need to be heading. All you have to do is work through the gap – what is it going to take for you to get from the present state to your future state?

Jim Rohn always said that discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment. Therefore, if we remain committed in this phase of our development, this is what will keep us going.

Commitment goes beyond just being interested in a topic or skill. To fully commit is to be able to block out any distractions and alternative possibilities. It’s about focusing your attention on the task at hand. By doing this, you will get momentum, clarity and certainty that you are heading in the right direction.

To commit is to say that you are 100% on-board, where you only pursue and invest your time and energy on one clear path towards your desired destination. This is where you need loyalty, devotion and dedication, even when the tough gets going. You continue to march on even when you are feeling a level of discomfort.

To be committed is to keep your eye on the ball and never back down when you hit an obstacle.

To read the second piece in this two-part series on building new skills and learn about the third and fourth stages in the process, click here.