In just about any role you may fill in your business, there are a consistent handful of skills necessary to succeed. Chances are, you have a natural gift for some of them. Likely, this skill is what attracts you to any particular role in the first place. However, many of the skills you need must be developed, nurtured, and maintained much more intentionally.

How do you get to “mastery?”

There are many theories as to how you master any particular skill. You’ve likely heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s ten-thousand-hour rule. I’m a huge fan of Gladwell, but I struggle buying into this rule in a literal sense. If there are 2,000 work hours in a year, simple math tells us it takes five years of full-time work to master a skill. Multiply that by the number of skills required for a role, and it sounds overwhelming to me. But, who am I to question?

Maybe the issue here is understanding the definition of what it means to “master” a skill. Does mastery mean you are world-class? Should skills be categorized in some way to help determine the effort necessary for mastery? For example, it’s probably a much different path to mastering the violin at a world-class level than it is to merely stand out from your peers with your presentation skills.

This subject’s details and intricacies are WAY beyond my pay grade, but there is a path to acquiring new skills I completely buy into. As you think about any particular skill, we can all be placed into one of four categories:

  1. unconsciously incompetent
  2. consciously incompetent
  3. consciously competent
  4. unconsciously competent

We all must

  1. identify the skills necessary for our success;
  2. be honest about which category/stage of competence we fall into;
  3. focus on what it will take to move us to the next stage; and
  4. spend intentional and consistent time on the effort.

Take inventory

Stop for a moment and list out the three skills most important in your role. Yes, I know it takes more than three, but let’s leverage Pareto’s Principle and focus on the most important.

If you are a producer, some skills to consider would be listening, presenting, questioning, learning (technical knowledge and business acumen), writing, storytelling, and handling objections.

If you are a leader, skills you may choose to focus on include communication, creativity, vision and purpose, motivation, planning, problem-solving, organization, time management, delegation, empathy, and strategic thinking.

If you are a marketer, the skills that help you excel at what you do may include knowledge of your target audience, storytelling, creativity, writing, analytics, and communication.

Okay, now that you have identified your critical skills, let’s figure out in which stage your current skill levels fall.

Unconscious incompetence

At this stage, we don’t know what we don’t know. Not only do we lack the ability to perform the skill, but we also may not even be aware of (or simply be in denial of) the skill’s importance.

Talk about a blind spot in your performance! How dangerous is it to be oblivious to being incompetent at something for which you have no appreciation or awareness of its importance?!

You may not even be able to evaluate yourself for skills in this stage effectively. Because you don’t know what you don’t know, there may be skills you need you aren’t aware of or don’t see as important.

Find someone who does what you do who seems to be at the top of their game and run your identified list of skills past them to see what they feel you may be missing. Better yet, run your list past several people to get a more well-rounded list.

One critical step you can’t look past in this stage is to remain open-minded and buy into the importance of skills you were previously unaware of or considered less-than-important. The most significant factor in how quickly you progress from this stage is creating the motivation to learn the new skill.

Conscious incompetence

This may be the most frustrating stage. In this stage, you are painfully aware of the skills you need and the intricacies of each, but you also know you kind of suck at them. To push through this stage, be prepared for significant frustration; you will make A LOT of mistakes.

The key in this area is to properly define success. Success won’t yet be defined in successfully performing the skill (that is what moves you to the next stage); it will merely be in getting in the practice necessary to start overcoming your incompetence.

Define success each week based on the time spent improving each skill. Maybe even define success based on the number of mistakes made – I’m serious.

Conscious competence

This is the stage where the hard work starts to pay off in measurable results. You now know how to do something and do it well. However, despite the tangible and positive results, it still takes a concerted amount of concentration to produce those results.

The key to moving through this stage is to break your skill down into a defined process and repeat it over and over and over again.

Unconscious competence

Now, you are reaching the promised-land, my friend. You get here due to your commitment to the skill and the repetitive, sometimes mind-numbing monotonous, execution of the process.

By the time you get to this stage, you have had so much intentional practice that the skill becomes “second nature” and can be performed easily, almost without thinking about it. When you get to this stage, others will look at you with envy and assume you are just “naturally gifted.”

You can choose to let them believe that. Or you may choose to share the lessons you’ve learned and help set them on a similar path you have followed. 😏

Resolve to improve

We should never wait for a date on the calendar to start our path to improvement. However, we conveniently have one quickly approaching.

I do question whether it takes 10,000 hours, but maybe it does to truly master certain skills at a world-class level. However, I don’t know that world-class status is necessary for most of us.

It’s a bit like the two campers who come across a bear. While one camper stops to put on his running shoes, the other asks, “You don’t think you can outrun a bear, do you?” To which the other replied, “I don’t have to. I simply have to outrun you.”

Don’t become overwhelmed by the idea of becoming world-class. Just focus on performing your critical skills at a higher level than a majority of your competition and keep improving on those skills over time. This will give you all the dominance you need.

Go forth and dominate my friends.

Photo by Konstantin Yuganov.