By the time we become seasoned drivers of motor vehicles, we have reached the stage of unconscious competence. A few of us might proceed to stunt driving and find ourselves back at the conscious incompetence stage all over again. Those who persist and survive go on to conscious competence. If they persist some more, they reach the stage of unconscious competence and then enjoy doing the same thing over and over again or lapse into boredom and perhaps seek another skill or competency they would like to achieve mastery over, like parachuting or skysurfing with a motor vehicle, perhaps. Or move into a totally new sphere of endeavour altogether.
Leadership is something like that. However, when you think about it, all of us are already at the unconscious competence level where our quantifiable leadership qualities are concerned. Whether we tend towards Transformational Leadership behaviours or Laissez Faire nonchalance, we need to realize that we are already exhibiting Unconscious Competence in that form of leadership. Unconscious Leadership, that is. I say again that one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard is telling someone, presumably a person junior in age and position, to “Go out there and exercise some leadership”. Leadership is already being exercised. The question is whether it is good or bad leadership. Good or bad examples. Successful or failed leadership. Yes, failed. I do not subscribe to that tripe of hiding failures behind the term “lessons”. Failures are lessons only if you are willing to be taught by those same failures. Everyone is willing to learn. Not everyone is willing to be taught. When I was younger, I tended to use Contingent Reward much more than I do today, perhaps because that was how I experienced the leadership effects of others. Of the Transformational Leadership behaviours, I was probably best at Idealized Behaviours and least effective at Inspirational Motivation. Since I was already very dedicated, loyal and worked enthusiastically, I automatically assumed that everyone else around me would behave the same way. I tended to become morosely negative and disappointed when this turned out not to be the case. I turned a jaundiced eye on those whom I regarded as being less than professional. How wrong I was. I ought to have engaged with them much more, discerned their motivations and perhaps helped them by guiding vital truth around their mental roadblocks. Had I done that, things at the workplace would have been much more amiable and we would have been more effective.
We exhibit good or bad leadership behaviours whether we are conscious of them or not. In fact, when our guard is down and we lead without thinking about it, that is the essence of the quality of our leadership. Notice I said quality, not style. We have hidden bad leadership behind the facade of “style” long enough. Time to acknowledge that it wasn’t the beer talking. We need to take a step back, realistically evaluate the current level of our leadership proficiency, realize where we are in terms of conscious incompetence, and get ourselves trained in those areas until we get to the level of unconscious competence again.
After that, what? Well, just as the top teams always engage in “wind sprints” when they train, so we, too, ought to engage in our own “leadership wind sprints”. Going around and engaging with our people on a regular basis certainly helps. Shopping the competition and visiting organizations from spheres far apart from our own keeps us Intellectually Stimulated. Only when we consistently do this can we then have the luxury of sniffing the wind and deciding whether to chase down some interesting scent.