From Beginner to Master: Which Learning Stage Are You In?

4-learning-stages The web site is launched, the confetti is swept away, and the celebratory champagne is consumed.  Opening the official Shi Chen Coaching doors for business would be a great moment for me to sit back and think, “I have arrived.”

Yes, I have come a long way since the days of brainstorming ways I could be a “professional mentor”—the days before I even knew that coaching existed.  But to think that I have reached Yoda mastery status because I have a URL with my name in it, I would be in for a real shock when the work keeps coming in.  The truth is: I have a long way to go before anyone can start calling me Master.

If you are like me on the road pursuing mastery, chances are you’ve experienced the same stages of development.

Anyone who is on the journey from a beginner to a master of a job or skill will experience the 4 stages of learning.  For clarity’s sake, I will define some key terms:

Conscious: fully aware and sensitive to something Competence: the possession of a required skill, knowledge, qualification of capacity

Different combinations of these two characteristics define each of the learning stages.


Stage #1: Unconscious Incompetence Don’t let the double negatives confuse you. In this stage, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Think about a time in your life when you were just starting out at a new job or learning a hobby.  Chances are, you didn’t know the lingo or skills…or that there was certain lingo and skills to know. In the unconscious incompetence stage of my coaching journey (a long time ago), I didn’t even know that coaching was a specific and distinct job and industry, and I certainly was an amateur at it.

Another example is when you are learning to drive a car. You are unaware and unskilled at all the little things from turning the key in the ignition to parallel parking.

Stage #2: Conscious Incompetence In this stage, you practice the skills you need.  You’re not good at it yet, and you know it.

The first time I did a coach practice with a partner in class felt awkward.  I would ask an open-ended question and wait for a response, thinking of million different ways I could have asked the question better.

This stage is challenging but you can learn quickly, because the less you know about something, the more you can be educated and the more you can improved.

Just like in driving, this is the stage where you post a “student driver” sign on your wind shield and find any opportunity you can to take mom for a drive for practice’s sake.

Stage #3: Conscious Competence The conscious competence comes into play when you are aware that you are skilled, but it is not consistently a habit yet.  Getting to the next level can be challenging because the better you get, the less noticeable the gain.

This is like when a coach need 100 practice hours to get certified at the ACC level.  Or, recognizing the need to continue to consistently drive after you get your driver’s license.

Stage #4: Unconscious Competence This stage is reached when you are so confident and comfortable in your skills that they are habitual or automatic.  This allows the conscious mind to focus on other things while you are doing the skill.

The unconsciously competent coach brings the coaching skills to other areas of life, effectively communicating with family, friends, and colleagues.  Or, coaching takes on other venues such as building a business, speaking engagements, and authoring a book.

The unconsciously competent driver drives a car without having to think about what he/she’s doing.  Because driving is now an ingrained habit, the conscious mind can be planning out the day during the morning commute, chatting with a passenger, or singing along to the radio.

With these learning stages in mind, it is important to recognize what stage you are in.  By identifying yourself in the correct phase, you can give yourself permission to learn, grow, and “fail forward.”   You can also appreciate where you are now instead of wishing that you are further along.  There is room to celebrate at every level.

A Self-Coaching Question: In the context of a current job/hobby/skill, what stage of learning are you in?  How does identifying which level you’re in help you?  Would love to hear your thoughts and comments in the box below!

On our way to Yoda-Mastery, Shi signature

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