I love learning and the chance to build my knowledge and skills. Reading books and magazines, taking classes, attending seminars and conferences – all are ways to increase my knowledge and my competence. I know what I don’t know (or need to know more about) and I go out and find it. But what about the things that I don’t even know I don’t know, the blind spots of my competence, how do I address those things?

I’m referring to a model of adult learning that outlines the four levels of learning awareness:

  • The first is Unconscious Incompetence or “what you don’t know you don’t know.” It’s the blind spots I referred to that prevent you from identifying information, knowledge, and skills that you are not aware you are lacking. My colleague, Mary Ann Singer, recently shared a powerful set of questions and actions to break through your “leadership bubble” and reduce your unconscious incompetence.
  • The second level is Conscious Incompetence or “what you know you don’t know.” These are the areas we can address through learning and seeking out information. Setting goals and having a development plan are ways to ensure you are taking action on your areas of conscious incompetence.
  • Third is Conscious Competence or “what you know you know.” These are the set of skills, information, and knowledge that you have sought out, built on, and deem as assets and strengths.
  • And lastly, Unconscious Competence or “what you don’t know you know” is information, skills and knowledge that you are not aware you have. It may be that it is a skill so ingrained that it is not noticeable to you or it may be a strength that you have that has yet to be revealed to you. For example, a client learned that she had strong resilience and an ability to bring people together in a moment of crisis after facing the sudden death of a loved one.

For all of us, our goal is to build on our Conscious Competence, address our Conscious Incompetence, spark our Unconscious Competence and reveal and reduce our Unconscious Incompetence. We often take for granted all of the experience, wisdom, skills, and knowledge we have built. This competence is what helps us to bring value in our work and greater connection to others. Being more aware, more conscious of these assets gives us self-confidence and motivates us to apply the knowledge and skills in our daily lives. Growth and development comes in addressing areas where you lack competence and in identifying those areas that you are unaware of. The more you can reduce the unconscious components of the model and address areas where competence is lacking, the more effective and successful you will be.

What do you do to be more aware of what you don’t know?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.


To help shed light on the unconscious aspects of your self-awareness, contact Robyn at rmcleod@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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