...it’s what you do with what happens to you”
This quote by Aldous Huxley, the English author best known for his book, “Brave New World” speaks volumes about what leaders are asking themselves and their teams as the next phase of post-pandemic business starts to take hold. In previous posts, we’ve talked about the VUCA business environment and how leaders must adapt to the challenges it presents. The foundation for adapting is how leaders and their teams are learning from the events of last year and creating new experiences to support sustainable success.
To help leaders better understand adaptability, it is helpful to look at the learning process through the lens of the Four Stages of Competence Model created by Noel Burch of Gordon Training International in the 1970s. He identified four stages of skill development providing leaders with a structure to identify and assess where they and their teams and companies are in their development journey. The four stages are:
- Unconscious incompetence ~ You don't know what you don’t know (ignorance)
- Conscious Incompetence ~ You know what you don’t know (awareness)
- Conscious Competence ~ You now know how with some effort (learning)
- Unconscious Competence ~ You know how to do automatically (mastery)
Let’s break down each of these stages through the lens of the post pandemic business environment.
- Unconscious Incompetence ~ Unless leaders spent the last 15 months under a rock, their awareness level is much higher than it was a year ago. The events of the last year shone a bright microscopic light on the true strengths and blind spots of the business leaders, regardless of industry, market, for-profit or non-profit, large corporation or small business, public or private sector. If a level of ignorance still exists around the current level of leadership, the leadership problems run much deeper than was previously imagined!
- Conscious Incompetence ~ It would seem reasonable most business leaders are at least at this level. They now know where the gaps are based on the experiences of the past year and are in varying degrees of certainty on how to close the gaps. We are still seeing too much thought around wanting to go back to “the way it was” versus recognizing the new reality of that option being impractical in so many ways. Processes, especially, were laid bare on how effective they truly were when the world went virtual. The question is what adjustments are being made now that the gaps are known?
- Conscious Competence ~ This is where the magic begins to happen around adapting to the new reality. The leaders who understand the new reality are leading their teams and companies by consciously learning how to leverage the elements of VUCA 2.0 (Vision, Understanding, Courage, Adaptability) to overcome the dynamics and effects of VUCA 1.0 (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity). Because this learning effort occurs over time, it is a very conscious effort necessary to overcome any subconscious habits that may be no longer be conducive to success in the new reality!
- Unconscious Competence ~ This is the point where effective leadership in the post pandemic new reality becomes second nature. We would suggest very few, if any leaders, are yet at this stage. While it is conceivable there are leaders that are both continuous adapters by nature and started adapting to the new reality during the pandemic versus post-pandemic, most are not and did not. However, this is the stage to aspire to by embracing the elements of VUCA (1.0 and 2.0) as natural and continuous. The trap that leaders can fall into is being unconsciously competent in a narrowly defined attitude and skill set that becomes obsolete by the time it is mastered causing the leader to fall into unconscious incompetence without realizing it!
As Michele Darling, former EVP of HR for CIBC, once said, "The rate of learning by individuals, teams, and the company as a whole must meet or exceed the pace of change in the external environment." The external environment changed dramatically during the pandemic and that pace of change continues at a rapid clip in its aftermath. The question is, what have leaders learned and what new experience are they gaining through what they learned?
What are you doing with your pandemic experience to be a more effective leader? If you’re not sure, we can help!