How Does One Develop Competency?

First of all, what is ‘competency”? Webster defines it as “the quality or state of having sufficient knowledge, judgment, skill, or strength”. We all want to be competent in what we do from a child learning how to walk, to and adult learning a new skill, such as developing websites, or becoming a mechanic. In the 1970’s as psychologist named Noel Burch, working at the Gordon Training International, defined a behavioral model of leading that identified the four stages that we go through when leaning a new skill.

  • Unconscious Incompetency
  • Conscious Incompetency
  • Conscious Competency
  • Unconscious Competency
Stages of learning
Stages of Learning

Unconscious Incompetency

Unconscious Incompetency is the stage where, basically, the individual doesn’t know what they don’t know. Using a child as an example, they watch someone riding a bike, just as an observer, but eventually that is something they want to do. At this stage they really don’t understand how useful that could be but see it as a new skill and learning how to do it leads to the next staged. Time spent on this stage is dependent on that desire to learn.

Conscious Incompetency

This is the second stage of learning, of competency. This is the stage where one now knows what they previously didn’t know and recognize this as a deficit in their skill set. This is not an age dependent stage as everyone can experience this part of the process. This might be described as the learning part of the process. Keep in mind that failures are imminent, but as always said, those who fail the most are the ones that succeed. I remember when I was trying to learn how to ride a bike without the training wheels. I did it over and over and over again, until I succeed. I was exhausted but successful.

Child riding a bike

Conscious Competency

So we have leaned what we don’t know, and and have learned the deficit. We understand, work on achieving it, but it requires work to succeed. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally. It requires concentration, effort, repetitive actions, making mistakes, It requires a process. A process is a series of events leading to a goal. It can and usually is intensive, but the success of achieving that skill is exhilarating. That’s how I felt when I accomplished riding that bike on two wheels without help.

When the Student is ready

Unconscious Competency

“I did it!!!” Now it can be done without even thinking about it. Success! It’s second nature, performance it easy, and one can even multi-task while performing that action. This is the ultimate goal of competency. As already stated, the time to get there is dependent on the complexity of the action, skill, and the determination of the individual. Don’t quit during the process because you will never know how close you were to success. And the final proof of competency, teach it to someone else.

See one, do one, teach one
An old surgical adage

Leaders Teach! Leaders Learn! Leaders Lead! Remember competency requires a process.

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