Has this happened to you? While driving home one afternoon I causally looked in the rear view mirror only to see a police car following me. Immediately I checked my speed, road positioning and posture at the wheel. Phew, nothing amiss. I had just experienced a transition from unconscious complete CPE to conscious competence.

Developed by Noel Burch in the 1970’s, the Conscious Comptetence Ladder describes two factors that affect our thinking when learning a new skill:

  1. Unconscious incompetence – we are unaware that we don’t have this competence to that it’s needed.
  2. Conscious incompetence – we are aware that this competence is needed but don’t yet have it.
  3. Conscious competence – we know that we have this comptence and focus on it when using it.
  4. Unconscious comptence – we are unaware we have this comptence and don’t need to focus on it to use it.

This ladder is a useful tool in a mentoring relationship to explore where a person’s needs lie. For example, first stage a SWOT analysis or some other assessment may be useful. In stages two and three it may be about confidence building or a more coaching focused conversation.

Once stage four is achieved it’s all sorted, right? Not the case. Self awareness is needed to recognise that a competence needs regular use, regular rewview and updating. This is also th4 stage where bad habits can develop. My driving analogy is perfect here. If you were to take your driving test again today, would you pass? I probably wouldn’t.

How could you use this learning ladder in your role as a mentor or mentee? Let me know in the comments.