Professionals strive for competence.

Competence isn’t just passing a test or passing another proficiency ride. There is a lot more to competence. In fact, competency (or lack thereof) can effectively be described and broken down into four stages. The “four stages of competence” learning model dates back to the late 1960s, and much if not all of the credit belongs to two men. A management trainer, Martin M. Broadwell, initially described the model as the “four levels of teaching.” Then Noel Burch, an employee of the noted leadership training company Gordon Training International, expanded the concept in the 1970s and referred to it as the “four stages for learning any new skill.” Today in leadership and psychology circles, it is often referred to as the “competency ladder” or more commonly as “the four stages of competence,” the latter of which we will discuss in this article.

As we delve into the four stages of competence, understand this: we all are somewhere, at any given time, in one of the four stages with everything. For this reason, learning the model is critical to your success. Simply being self-aware enough to know where you stand on a skill or set of skills will allow you to know exactly what you need to do to improve and master your environment.

The first stage of competence is actually anything but competence. It is the “unconscious incompetence” or “ignorance” stage. This is where most of us start on most things in general. In this stage we simply do not understand or know how to do something, and we don’t even recognize the deficit. According to the model theory, we may even deny the usefulness of the skill entirely. To move on to the next stage, we must recognize our own incompetence and the value of the new skill(s).

The second stage of competence is the “conscious incompetence” stage or “awareness” stage. In this stage, even though we do not understand how to do something, we do recognize the deficit as well as the value of the new skill(s) in question. It has been said that the making of mistakes in this particular stage can be integral to the overall learning process.

The third stage of competence is the “conscious competence” or “learning” stage. We understand and know how to do some particular skill or task. However, demonstrating the skill or explaining the knowledge behind the skill often requires a heavy conscious level of thought.

The fourth and final stage of competence is the “unconscious competence” or “mastery” stage. In this stage, the one we should desire, we have had so much practice and experience with a particular skill or task that it has become second nature and we can perform it easily and automatically.

Professionals are humble.

Guess what? True professionals make mistakes and more importantly, the true professional learns from their mistakes. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know.” Professionals are modest with a humbleness that fosters an increased breadth of knowledge and experience. Professionals know what they don’t know! The famous American physicist Richard Feynman once said, “People who pretend that they know everything and boast about their intelligence are morons; true knowledge makes people humble!” This resonating quote comes from a man who became one of the best-known scientists in the world during his lifetime. Feynman did everything from assisting with the development of the atomic bomb during World War II to serving as a member of the Rogers Commission, the panel that investigated the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in the 1980s. Feynman would end up being the person to discover the exact cause of that explosion. Feynman understood the importance of being humble, no matter one’s level of intelligence or success.

Professionals are prepared. They are ready 110% of the time. I often find myself perplexed when so-called professional pilots who know their Part 135 proficiency flight exams are approaching do everything they can to get ready and prepared for their ride. You could very well be “tested” on any given flight! You owe it to not only the passengers you fly and to your fellow citizens you fly over, but also to your family to be prepared 365 days out of the year, not just for one or two proficiency checks a year.

Being adequately prepared comes from training yourself to make decisions in a safe and efficient manner. I am not suggesting that one be impulsive in his or her decisions; impulsivity is one of the hazardous attitudes that we are taught to guard against. I am simply suggesting that being prepared for a “what if” can lead to better overall decisions and responses to a given set of circumstances.


Sept/Oct 2020

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