Be Unconsciously Competent

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Being unconsciously competent is like driving home without knowing how you actually got there and then realizing that you were on auto-pilot because the process for achievement was second nature. To get to this point, you had to overcome fears and let go of the familiar.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us”.

Joseph Campbell, Author

Often, we are afraid to make even positive changes because we have long-standing unhelpful systems in place intended to motivate people to be successful good citizens. Our well-intentioned parents and teachers (and now bosses) often used (and still use) autocracy, incentives, judgments, and enabling, all in an effort to extrinsically motivate us to do what can only be done well through intrinsic motivation. So, when I help people learn how to create a different type of workplace culture and they begin to learn new skills for managing their relationships, productivity, engagement, they are engaging in a LOT of change. They benefit from understanding the four stages of change itself.

Stage 1: Unconsciously incompetent or unhelpful

Most of us would likely strain a clutch, stall out, or roll backwards on a hill if we got into a car with manual transmission and didn’t know how to drive it. We’d be at a disadvantage because we wouldn’t know what we don’t know. All we need in this stage is information.

Stage 2: Consciously incompetent or unhelpful

Once we know the proper actions, we don’t always choose to engage in them initially. And… then it’s easy to get self-deprecating and impatient. The new behavior is unfamiliar and uncomfortable; we fear incompetency. The same holds true when my clients learn how to be trustworthy, put down gossip, and redirect negative behavior. They get information on why and how to do so, but continue to engage in old patterns anyway initially. Growing up in a Catholic family, this was considered mortal sin; if you knew better and did it anyway, you were going to you-know-where. Being consciously incompetent is simply an oft-needed transition stage in which one grows courage and determination to do what is not at first natural or comfortable. And despite the desire to judge and criticize, the only helpful response is encouragement.

Stage 3: Consciously competent or helpful

Imagine you finally drive the car well but you can only do so with full concentration. No turning on the radio, making a call, or drinking coffee. You are giving full effort to pull it off. That’s what this stage is all about. We grow ever more confident but still have to work relatively hard to do it right. In this stage, all we need is practice. This is a critical stage because this is when change can develop into a priceless habit.

Stage 4: Unconsciously competent or helpful

In this stage, you are driving the car smoothly and can be on the phone, fiddling with the radio, and eating a candy bar, and you make it home without even thinking about how you got there. All you need in this stage is to celebrate your success.

My intent is always to help people get to stage 4 when managing healthy workplace culture practices and developing leadership. It takes warrior-ship on their part as they learn new skills and become brave enough to systemically change, especially when they are moving against centuries of conditioning. Understanding what to expect during change itself, is key to making the smoothest and most successful transition possible. If you are ready for change, let me help. I provide you with systems and a framework to help you confidently improve your workplace while being fully supported in your change process so you create and sustain success.

This article is published in the column The Extraordinary Workplace in St. Louis Small Business Monthly, August, 2017

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