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I recently had the opportunity to speak with the leader of a corporation about how he set out to develop his executive team.  His strategy was to identify the skills he wanted them to focus on and then set-up a mentor relationships with peers that were very strong in that skill.    I asked how that strategy worked and he quickly let me know that it was hit or miss.  He didn't understand why some mentor relationships worked well while many floundered.

I asked him to compile a list of the mentor relationships and then go back and survey the participants.  The next time we met I asked what data the leader had gleaned from the survey.  He indicated that the participants in the mentor relationships who learned the most from the mentor relationships received very specific information on skill development, such as coaching models, communication strategies, and team building approaches.  These mentors commented on the skills they shared as learned along the way through classes, experiences, and other development avenues.

Of the population that was less successful with the mentor relationships, the leader recognized that the participants were asked to learn by watching.  When these mentors were asked how they knew what to do, the answer was “I just do, it’s natural”.  Since the participants in these mentor relationships were told to watch and learn, the leader understood the challenges these participants encountered.  This is the day the leader of this organization learned the difference between being a Consciously Competent Leader and being an Unconsciously Competent Leader.

Some sources regard Unconscious Competence as leaders who have progressed through being a Consciously Competent Leader. They have mastered the skills of management, leadership and Job Specific Knowledge and can use these skills without thinking about the discipline.  Here we will consider Unconscious Competence as the leader that is very competent at their job without knowing the discipline of management, development, coaching skills and the like. 

The Consciously Competent leader learns and practices the disciplines and methods necessary to make them successful.  This leader yearns to study and develop their skills.  They practice their skills and have their team do the same thing.  When the question is asked about how they are successful in developing others, operational effectiveness, sales and so on, the Consciously Competent Leader is able to articulate why and can assist in developing those skills in the person asking.  All corporations, sales organizations, retail stores or mom-and-pop shops need this leader.  Without the Consciously Competent leader the organization will not be able to develop this skill in its subordinates.  We know that deepening the skill set at all levels of the business is important since attrition happens.

So, as the leader of the corporation learned, you can have Unconsciously Competent leaders but you likely do not want to use them as mentors.  The business must have Consciously Competent leaders that can coach, develop, and conduct mentor relationships to help sustain growth within the organization.