In a previous article I wrote about the key questions to reflect on when you are identifying your goals and creating a significant change in your life. It’s applicable to; your work, career, health, relationships, wealth, in fact any area of your life you want to change. I focused specifically on asking the right questions in the right order. If you didn’t get the chance to read it yet, you can catch up here:

There is another dimension to creating lasting change, and that dimension is what happens in our mind, both our conscious and unconscious mind. The stages we must go through when we psychologically process change successfully, are referred to as the ‘Conscious competency model’. This Four stage model was first developed by Martin Broadwell in his “first stages of teaching” back in 1969. It was later referred to as the “Four stages of learning any new skill”. It is a widely accepted model, but not a particularly well-known one. It is critical to successful change! Here’s how the model works and why I believe it’s so important. It starts with Stage 1…

Unconsciously Incompetent

“People don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their dreams destroyed” Friedrich Nietzsche

Before we begin to learn any new skill, or make any significant change we have a starting point that is ‘Unconsciously Incompetent’. I like to think of this as being ‘Blissfully ignorant’, we simply ‘Don’t know, what we don’t know’, this is a ‘Blind spot’. We are sailing along happily unaware that we are doing things in a way that may not be best for us or the people around us. We may even have massive potential that remains untapped, simply because we do not realise our own ‘power’, or the opportunities that are all around us. The only way to move on from this stage is to; gain some form of feedback, to have an assessment, or for someone to ‘hold a mirror’ in front of us to show us the gap that exists. You will have experienced this in your life or career at some point, someone showed you something you didn’t realise was possible, and it will have changed your perspective.

Once your perspective is changed, you just moved forward to Stage 2, you become..

Consciously Incompetent

“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself” Abraham Maslow

Now that you became aware of a gap in your knowledge, performance, skills or ability you are ‘Consciously Incompetent’. I like to think of this stage as ‘Self-aware & awakened’, and you ‘Now know, what you don’t know’ you can see clearly. This can leave you feeling, fearful, distressed & disappointed. Alternatively, with the right support you can focus on the opportunity to improve, and that can give you real a sense of excitement and positive challenge. For most people this is a critical stage, you either accept your limitations, or you make the choice to grow and move forward. This is best achieved with training and coaching. Once you’ve received the initial training and coaching you move onto Stage 3, you become…

Consciously Competent

“Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong” Bill Stainton

This is one of the most difficult of the four stages in the model, you have learnt what you need to do and now you are doing it… slowly and deliberately. I like to think of this stage as the time to ‘Practice, practice, practice’, you ‘Now know what you need to do’ and you can just about do it, with a focused conscious effort. It’s at this stage that continued coaching is incredibly useful, it keeps you on track and can you really benefit from insight, techniques and advice that helps you refine your newly acquired skills. A mentor and/ or coach will help you to improve your performance and ensure you continue to embed the skill or activity so that you find it gradually easier to do. Repetition is the only way you embrace the new skill or replace an old bad habit, but it takes continual practice and review. You will have experienced this in any change you make, or any new skill you are trying to learn, remember when you first learnt to drive…? All of the different things you had to remember, the clutch and accelerator, changing gears, indicating, mirrors, reversing, then it rained… where are the wipers? The recognised number of times you need to practice any in order to sustain change is 21 times, then you have formed a new habit. So that’s 21 days, generally speaking, to sustain change (repeatedly with no breaks or slipping back into your old ways). Once you have repeated this behaviour 21 times, you have formed a new habit and you move onto the fourth and final stage, you become…

Unconsciously Competent

“Life is not a journey you want to make on autopilot” Paula Rinehart

This stage is where most of us spend our days we are living our lives, busy doing ‘our thing’ without having to think too much about it. I like to think of this stage as one where you are ‘On autopilot’, you ‘Can do it without thinking’, this is your daily life. This is a great place, you flow through your activities, you have skills and experience that enable you to do what you do without any sense of stress of concentration. Remember the last time you drove somewhere with something on your mind, and before you know it you’ve arrived and you can’t remember the journey….? Well that is a great example of being ‘Unconsciously competent’. Whilst this is a great place to be, but it can also be the place of ‘complacency’. The way to overcome complacency is with an attitude of continual learning, growth and personal development. Examine yourself, your actions, your results, be continually aware of the opportunity to improve and increase your skills and experience.

Our personal ‘unconscious’ challenge…

“The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you” B.B. King

When you are moving through the four stages of learning and conscious competency your own unconscious mind will continually ‘draw’ you back to your past habits or behaviours. It’s the reason change is so challenging for most of us. We look for the ‘path of least resistance’ and like to rely on ‘what we already know’ and how to do ‘what we already know’. If you combine the goal setting questions and principles in the previous article with your new-found knowledge about the “conscious competency’ model, your ability to manage yourself (and your teams, if you are a leader) through change will be transformed. You will recognise the stages you or your teams are going through, and you can ask for support or provide it. You will be able to empathise and demonstrate a level of understanding that just isn’t possible while you remain ‘Unconsciously incompetent’ yourself.

This model is another critical component in your change journey, I wish you every success in applying this on your own personal development journey.

Justin Leigh is an accredited Executive Coach and Leadership Mentor. He works with Senior Leaders to develop High Performance organisations. His passion is helping people to become the best they can be. He has worked for large corporations for over 20 years and is experienced in Leadership, Business, Sales & Marketing.

Justin is the Managing Director of Focus4growth Ltd. He can be reached at the following address:

email: [email protected]

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Whether you’re new to sales, an experienced sales professional or a leader looking to improve the consistency and performance of your sales organisation, you’ll gain immense value from these articles, the scorecard and the INSPIRE, INFLUENCE, SELL book. Our systems map out a memorable sales process over several steps and also include mastery content for each stage of the system, which will give you deeper insight and expertise. The combination of foundational and specialist material ensures that no matter where you’re starting from, you can become a skilled salesperson.

You might want to work through these articles at the foundational level and return to the Sales Mastery sections once you get to grips with the overall system and have developed your skills. Each article starts with an experience story in which I share relevant, valuable anecdotes. If you prefer to dive straight into the sales system, you can skip that content. These articles are designed to be accessible and flexible, so that you get the most out of them.

As you work through each stage, I suggest you make notes in a journal or notebook. This will help you learn and adopt the content.


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