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  • Writer's pictureDave Veale

What Ladder are You Climbing?

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

4 stages ladder

Who knew that playing dodge ball or dunking a basketball on a series of trampolines could be so incredibly challenging?!

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that, as I try to use a new skill, I am clearly starting at the very bottom rung of The Conscious Competence Laddersometimes called the 4 stages of Learning Model.

As coaches we often used this model to support leaders as they acquire new skills.

In psychology, the four stages of competence relate to the psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill. As I was reminded at the trampoline park, it’s happening to us and around us all the time. In other words, we all end up on the ladder periodically.

Skill Acquisition…in Stages

Stage 1: The Conscious Competence Ladder suggests that we are initially unaware of how little we know – or that we are at the Unconsciously Incompetent stage. It’s actually a blissful stage to be in. Whether it’s volunteering at your child’s school, attempting to coach a sport for the first time, trying a home renovation or starting a new job, you probably don’t even know where to start or what questions to ask. You don’t know what you don’t know yet. It is a fresh start. And yes, you are unconscious and often… incompetent.

Stage 2: Once you recognize your incompetence – and chances are someone else may have already pointed it out to you – then your next step is to consciously acquire the skill. That means finding the right training, mentor or book to get up to speed. Making mistakes during this stage can be integral to the learning process. Congratulations, you are now officially Consciously Incompetent.

Stage 3: Now that have you’ve figured out the skill, you need to consciously use it. With practice and use of the skill comes Conscious Competence. You now understand or know how to do something but demonstrating the skill or knowledge still requires concentration. There is usually heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

Stage 4: When the skill can be used without it being consciously thought through, when you’ve had so much practice with the skill that you can practically do it in your sleep, that’s when you’ve finally acquired Unconscious Competence. It has become “second nature” (think of driving your car) and the skill can be performed easily. You may be able to teach the skill to others, depending on how and when it was learned. Chances are you’ll be teaching someone who is Consciously Incompetent – and what goes around, comes around.

So, if you have any experience on trampolines, please let me know!

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. Email Dave at or follow him on twitter @dave_veale.

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