Development and Leadership

Earlier this month I sat down with my VP of Sales for breakfast and we had a nice talk ranging from the future of the company to my future goals and aspirations.

As part of that discussion, we talked about how people, in general, develop new skills during their life.  The theory put out by Gordon Training International discuss four stages of learning any new skill.

The four stages for learning any new skill are:

Stage 1 – Unconsciously Incompetent 

You don’t know what you don’t know.  You are inept and unaware of it

Stage 2 – Consciously Incompetent

You know what you don’t know.  You start to learn at this level when sudden awareness of how poorly we do something shows us how much we need to learn

Stage 3 – Consciously Competent

Trying the skill out, experimenting, practicing…We now know how to do the skill the right way, but need to think and work hard to do it right.

Stage 4 – Unconsciously Competent

If you continue to practice and apply the new skills, eventually we arrive at a stage where our actions become easier and ultimately natural.

Everyone goes through these four stages.  It does not matter if we are talking about playing golf, being a sales professional or becoming a manager for the first time.  It is also important to understand that not only do you go through these four stages with regard to your entire role but also each activity you perform.

For a sales professional, you may be stage 3 when it comes to cold calling but stage 1 when it comes to negotiating a contract.  It is important for you to be aware of where you are in each stage of the learning process.

These four stages are very similar to the four stages in the Situational Leadership model by Ken Blanchard.  In Situational Leadership the four stages are:

M1 – Unable and insecure

You lack the specific skills required for the job and are unable and unwilling to take responsibility for the job or task

M2 – Unable but confident

You are unable to take on responsibility for the task but are willing to work at the task to become able

M3 – Capable but unwilling

You are experienced and able to do the task but lack the confidence or the willingness to take on the responsibility

M4 – Very capable and confident

You are experienced at the task and comfortable with your ability to do it well.  You will be willing to take responsibility for the task.

Understanding these maturity levels in Situational Leadership and learning the stages of learning above are key for an individual contributor to learn were they need to gain training and confidence.  In addition for managers, this allows you to change your leadership style based on your direct report’s level.

For your Stage 1 or M1 reports, your role is Directing.  Directing is characterized by one-way communication in which the leader defines the roles of the individual and provides the what, how, why, when and where to do the task.

As your direct reports move to Stage 2 or M2, your role changes to that of a Coach.  Here you are still providing the direction, but now you are using two-way communication and providing the socio-emotional support that will allow the individual being influenced to buy into the process.

For the individuals in Stage 3 or M3, you need to shift to a Supporter.  Supporting is about sharing decision-making task about aspects of how the task is accomplished and the leader is providing less guidance on task behaviors while maintaining high motivation tactics

Finally, for your reps in Stage 4 or M4, you delegate.  In the delegating role the leader is still involved in decisions; however, the process and responsibility have been passed to the individual.  The is involved as a monitor

Leaders need to be aware that no one style is needed all the time, much like each task an individual performs can be in different stages, the leader needs to adjust their leadership style to match the development level of the individual.

For sales professionals, the best thing you can do is be conscious of where you are on the competent spectrum and share that information with your leader so they can adjust their leadership style to help you progress in your skill development.


Thank you and Happy Selling

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