Podcast – Episode 0259 – Using The Stephen Covey Competence Model For Growth

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In this episode, Joel and Antonia use the Stephen Covey Competence Model to talk about building skill, self esteem, and personal empowerment. 


In this podcast you’ll find:

  • Sometimes, we assume we are much further along than we are.
  • Or we put down others from the erroneous belief that we are more competent than they are.
  • Sometimes we are so incompetent we don’t know how incompetent we are.
  • Stephen Covey’s Competency Model 
  • Modesty is the ability not to overvalue or undervalue your abilities.
  • The more complicated something is, the more likely we will start in Unconscious Incompetence.
  • We don’t have enough familiarity with the thing to understand how truly complicated it is.
  • We stay here even after we have consumed a large amount of theory.
  • There is a vast difference between theory and experience.
  • Podcast: DIKW – Data, Info, Knowledge, Wisdom
  • Data and Info are theoretical
  • Knowledge and Wisdom are experiential.
  • We always start with theoretical knowledge because we begin with learning.
  • It is easy when we are taking in theoretical info to project ourselves further along in the competency model than we are.
  • We can convince ourselves we have knowledge and wisdom even though we have minimal real-world experience.
  • Real World performance is very different from theoretical data
  • Pieces of info/experience can be enough to make you feel confident, but it isn’t enough to translate to real competence.
  • The more complicated the skill, the less transferable the skills.
  • After many years we become a very competent driver, but you add a cell phone, and you go back to Unconscious Incompetence
  • We all start with unconscious incompetence
  • How does one get out of Unconscious Incompetence?
  • First of all, you can’t skip steps.
  • If you want to get to unconscious competence, you have to go through all the other quadrants.
  • There is a moment of truth where you get thrown into the deep end, and you’re forced to perform
  • And it becomes clear what you know and don’t know
  • A lot of people assume leadership when they have no idea what is involved.
  • The competency model gets us to where we want to be – and reminds us to be modest
  • “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.”
  • Unconscious = thoughtless
  • The right side of the quadrant puts you in a thoughtful place
  • Conscious Incompetence is a good place to be
  • It’s the first position of true learning
  • Learning doesn’t happen in Unconscious Incompetence
  • Unconscious Incompetence is the more presumptive and assumptive position of all 4 quadrants
  • You are projecting your ideations and how you think things work.
  • If things don’t pan out the way you think they should
  • Victimhood lives in unconscious incompetence
  • If you take failures personally, you are stuck in the unconscious incompetent quadrant
  • If you are willing to admit you have some things you need to learn, you can move to conscious incompetence.
  • Move into a student role
  • We all go thru this cycle as we mature from young adults to adults.
  • We overvalue what ready-made skills we bring with us.
  • Insecurity doesn’t live in Unconscious Incompetence because you don’t know enough to be insecure
  • Lots of Darwin Awards live there.
  • Stupid decisions that put you or someone else in jeopardy live there.
  • Conscious Incompetence feels the worse of all the quadrants.
  • Conscious Incompetence = self-doubt, insecurity, ego hits, way out of comfort zones, etc.
  • Conscious Incompetence is crucial but avoided by people who don’t want to feel insecure.
  • Ego work is helpful here
  • It tears down the resistances you have to acknowledge your incompetence
  • Conscious competence lets go of insecurity and self-doubt, but you still have to apply thought to it.
  • There’s a boost of self-esteem in conscious competence which feels good after leaving Conscious incompetence
  • The best place to be a teacher
  • The only way to build skill is by not doing the same thing over and over
  • You have to get out of your comfort zone
  • Too much teaching in conscious incompetence can keep you stuck there
  • We spend the most time on Conscious Incompetence
  • We tend to feel deficient when we don’t have skill around something
  • We conflate lack of talent and competence with a power dynamic
  • “I feel like I don’t know what is going on here. I feel incompetent because people have power over me and are intentionally making me feel incompetent.”
  • Possible strategies to avoid competence:
  • Abandon ship, topple the power structure, or move the goal post.
  • “To be competent isn’t X it is actually Y.”
  • Change the definition of what competent looks like.
  • You can’t topple the power structure unless you are competent enough to fill it.
  • Make a modest assessment of whether or not you are ready to fill the role you think you want.
  • When infrastructure is corrupt, it is better than no infrastructure.
  • Jordan Peterson: “If you want to change the world, go clean your room.”
  • Put your own house in order, build competency, then make the change.
  • Unconscious competence is a beautiful place to be
  • Knowing, muscle memory, gut instinct. Everything becomes easier.
  • It is hard to explain to others how to follow your path though.
  • Marlon Brando may have the been the greatest actor of all time, but he was probably the worst acting teacher.
  • How do you know you are unconsciously competent and not unconscious incompetent because they are both unconscious?
  • Unconscious incompetence has the hubris to believe it is unconsciously competent.
  • Ask yourself: Do I remember a time where I went through the phases of incompetence to competence?
  • If you can map out the cycles, transitions, and failures of your journey you are moving up the competency model.
  • The wind in the sails boost of self-confidence = competence
  • If you don’t have a map like that in your head and you think you’ve got this, but you’ve never been truly tested, you are still at unconscious incompetence.
  • Bravery is needed to move out of Unconscious Incompetence
  • Surrender to the work you have to do to become consciously competent
  • Let go of the data and trust your gut to move to conscious competence
  • Honor those who are much older and more experienced than you. They have gained competence in areas you are still exploring.
  • Book burning is the ultimate sign of unconscious incompetence – you don’t want to know what you don’t know.

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Showing 7 comments
  • Amanda

    This was such an interesting podcast. I would be curious to know how you relate it to personality type. As an INFJ, I have been noticing that after being at my job for 10 years, I have a lot of unconscious competence in my tasks at this point. It makes me long for seeking conscious incompetence by learning new skills. At least I think that is related to my being an INFJ. But I bet there are some personality types who find conscious incompetence very threatening.

  • Eucklase

    I loved this podcast, the title doesn’t need to be sexy. I think that’s the problem with most of us going for all style and no substance.

  • Sara R

    Thank you for this podcast. As unsexy as the title may be there were so many equally unsexy things I needed to hear in it. I feel like I have been stuck in conscience incompetence in multiple aspects of my life, mostly to do with interpersonal or social dynamics I feel like I “should” have mastered naturally as an INFJ. It’s nice to realize I’m not alone, it does end eventually, and to have a glimpse of what to look out for at each phase to keep the journey on track.

  • Beth

    I find this model very helpful and love overlaying with the car model. I am increasingly conscious of my incompetence in various aspects of relationships. The last ten minutes of this podcasts in which Antonia suggests looking back at your life to see where you’ve acknowledged incompetence, intentionally sought to gain competence, and then mastered something is so helpful! Relationships have so many facets to them and I can see areas in which I’ve grown. Lots of other areas in which I’m newly conscious of my incompetence.

  • Mark

    Thanks for the reminder to try to be/stay a learner.

    “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

    ― Eric Hoffer

  • Jamian

    Another model came to mind when listening to this episode and I’m trying to overlay or reconcile them. It is Daniel Kahneman’s model of thinking fast and slow (book of the same name which I’ve heard some long form interviews about). From my understanding his take is that when we “think fast” we are more likely to miss relevant departures from our programmed narrative of the scenario. The capacity to think fast about a situation seems to represent unconscious competence but it also has its own pitfalls. Thinking slow is a return to beginner’s mind, which may not be as efficient but may reveal benefits of the articulate phases of conscious competence and even maybe conscious but conscientious incompetence, where one examines carefully the areas of uncertainty. Not sure where else to go with this right now but I’ll be percolating on the interface of these two models.

  • Phillip Jacobs

    I once had a wise manager that stressed relationship building in the work place. He said to bring lunch to the operators on the company dime. Due to my self esteem and lack of vision at the time I thought it was a waste of company resources. Now I see how I was wasting company resources by not investing in the people that I worked along side. Thank you Shane Fross for introducing me to Stephen Covey and some good life lessons. I am now at a personal development level where it is sinking in. I’m reaching out and hearing what the people around me are saying and I’m being my confident self in response.

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