Six Ways To Practice Conscious Leadership


by Kevin Watson



It could be said that many leaders are unconsciously incompetent when it comes to leading!

Anyone with experience in training will have heard of the Four Stages of Competence, or the Conscious Competence” learning model.

This relates to the psychological states involved in the process of developing a new skill.

The theory was developed by Noel Burch from Gordon Training International in the 1970s. It’s since been attributed to Abraham Maslow, although it doesn’t appear in his major works.

The model suggests that people are initially unaware of how little they know. As they recognise their incompetence, they consciously acquire a skill, then consciously use it.

Eventually, the skill can be used without it being consciously thought through. The person is said to have then acquired unconscious competence.

The four stages of competence are:

Unconscious Incompetence

The person does not understand or know how to do something, and is unaware of this. Before moving on to the next stage, the person must recognise his or her own incompetence and the value of the new skill. The length of time someone spends in this stage depends on the motivation to learn.

Conscious Incompetence

Though the person does not understand or know how to do something, he or she is aware of this. At this stage, making mistakes can be an important part of the learning process.

Conscious Competence

The person understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge still requires concentration. It may have to be broken down into steps, and there is a real conscious act in exercising the new skill.

Unconscious Competence

The person has had so much practice with a skill that it has become second nature and is performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. He or she may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

It’s rather like learning to drive a car. At first, you are unaware of what you don’t know. Then, sitting behind the wheel for the first time you get overwhelmed by everything you have to remember to do.

Soon, you’re fully aware, concentrating on everything ahead of that all important test. Finally, after months of driving regularly, you can’t even recall how you’ve driven the past few miles along the highway!

And I guess that leadership can feel a lot like that, too.

When you’re appointed as a leader for the first time, you may be completely unaware of what you’re doing, and what you’re not doing. After all, your technical skills have got you here and someone must have thought you were good enough to be promoted, eh?

You then start to become aware that there is more to this leadership game. This is the point where it can start to go well or horribly wrong, as you need to want to learn and practice.

There is then a time, and it can seem a long time, where you practice, practice and practice until finally you lead with ease.

To change a habit, make a conscious decision, then act out the new behavior.Maxwell Maltz

Call to Action

Here are six ways to help you with conscious leadership and make it a deliberate act:

  • be awake!
  • be conscious of wanting to lead
  • have a clear purpose
  • align your purpose with your customer, organisation and team goals
  • be open to receiving and giving valuable feedback
  • be committed to continuous self-improvement

What other ways are you willing to explore to become a more conscious leader?

Drop me a line or leave a comment below to share your thoughts.


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About the Author

Kevin Watson

Kevin is a highly experienced Leadership Coach and acts as Consultant to several boards of global organisations, as well as local business owners. He is passionate about making a difference by enabling and encouraging leaders who want to create and sustain meaningful change in themselves and the organisation.



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