Have you ever heard of the 4 levels of competence?  I have been using them with my coaching clients as a way for them to “measure” their current skills vs where they want to be.

Often attributed to psychologists Noel Burch and Abraham Maslow, developed by management coach Martin Broadwell, this “model” of thinking outlines the journey from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence, hence once self-awareness achieved, prompting you to acknowledge and adapt your goals and strategies.

The 4 levels of competence are not meant to indicate a linear progression though.

Used as a signpost to understand where you stand in the different areas of your career (and life!), these levels have the potential to help you accelerate your way of thinking and evolving in the corporate world, knowing that they can also come with their own blindspots to watch out for…

So without any further ado, let’s explore!

Mayda Poc Coaching

Level 1: Unconscious Incompetence – aka ignorance

⇒ I don’t know what I don’t know.  

At this initial stage, you are unaware of the skills or knowledge gaps that may be hindering your progress. You don’t know what you don’t know, and this blind spot can be a significant obstacle to reaching your full potential.

In a career context, this can be being oblivious to crucial industry trends, technologies, or essential soft skills – and also can manifest with more sneaky thinking such as that your company is a meritocracy and your work speaks for itself, or that to rely only on your boss to get promoted.

Career accelerator or self-sabotaging? How do you take it from there and ensure you are not missing anything? Embrace the spirit of “I don’t know what I don’t know”.  Be in listening mode as needed and open to feedback even when it is triggering and infuriating – see it as a free advice that you can take or not. 

Don’t overpromise but don’t sell yourself short either, see next level!.

Mayda Poc Coaching

Level 2: Conscious Incompetence  – aka awareness

⇒ above my pay grade?. 

Once aware of gaps in your abilities, you enter the conscious incompetence stage – uncomfortable but necessary for growth. You recognize improvement areas like technical skills, communication abilities, or leadership qualities at this level. 

Career accelerator or self-sabotaging?  At this level, you may experience imposter syndrome- don’t ignore the trickster but don’t trust it 100% either. Use your “I am not good enough” as a messenger to revisit your goals and aspirations, and understand what you need to do to get to your next level, rather than the self-saboteur that imposter syndrome can end up being when it becomes your main advisor.

Level 3: Conscious Competence – aka learning

⇒ I am (also) paid to learn and evolve.

OK! Now time for some productive and exciting action.  

I will pause here for a second and ask you to identify what gets you motivated: fear or expansion?.  It’s likely a bit of both.  

At this level of self-awareness, it is important to find ways to self-motivate through your vision and ambition, rather than only the usual “what if”.

And so it is through effort, training, and practice that you can reach conscious competence. Here, you’ve acquired the necessary skills and knowledge but you will still need conscious effort to apply them, to practice and gain the experience that will lead you to level 4 – i.e. becoming an expert!

Career accelerator or self-sabotaging? Be aware of how you communicate internally and externally.  While you are still in the learning stage, it may be tempting to go “I don’t know enough”.  Focus your communication on your achievements and know how to leverage your experience in the other domains you have already mastered.

Level 4: Unconscious Competence  – aka mastery

⇒ Expertise secured! ready for the next leap forward (whatever I decide it to be).

The mastery level, where acquired skills become second nature – performed at a high level effortlessly. You become that seasoned speaker who seeks value add engagements; the expert in your field and the go-to person. 

Career accelerator or self-sabotaging?  It may be tempting to think “I have arrived, my work is done”.  You can absolutely do that and pat yourself on the back.  However, I would also encourage you to start spotting the signs of boredom and stagnation.

And when this happens, start exploring ways to expand your zone of knowledge to what is peripheral to your expertise, accepting that you likely need to go back to level 1 and work your way up to 4. And although you may dread the “growing pains” of starting afresh, you will be building on an existing knowledge, expertise, and network = a win on all fronts.  

What to keep in check? complacency – but this should be your frenemy at any level!  

Wherever you are right now in terms of skills vs goals and objectives, you will likely find yourself cycling between the different levels – this is normal and healthy.  What is not (healthy) is overestimating your levels of knowledge and competence vs reality, or underestimating what you are bringing to the table, and getting underpaid and looked over for promotions.

Your homework? pen and paper – list your goals, what skills are needed to bridge the gap between now and then, and on to your next actionable step!