This is a prelude article to a four-part series I will be writing. The next article will be called ‘The four building blocks of servant leadership.’ Before we dive into the four building blocks of servant leadership let us first talk about the stages of growth. It is a simple framework I learned after working with a McKinsey consultant a few years ago.
In a nutshell, when we learn something new, we have to go through four basic steps or stages. The first two stages fall under the responsibility of the person teaching us. The last two stages are our accountability.
The first stage is when we are ‘unconsciously unskilled’ of the new competency we are learning. For example, we are learning how to drive for the very first time. As you enter the vehicle with your instructor, you don’t know what you don’t know. Also, you do not possess the necessary driving skills at this point.
In the second stage, we become ‘consciously unskilled’ of driving. We start to learn the fundamentals of driving. We learn how to start the engine, safely change lanes, keep our distance from the car in front of us, park, and so on. We are now knowledgeable of what it takes to drive safely. However, we are not yet skilled drivers. This is where the responsibility of the teacher ends. From here onward, the student is now accountable for the next two stages.
The student now makes a choice or a mind-shift. The student makes a decision to practice the skill or forget about it. This is the same case in mentoring. Students can learn what it needs to be a great and effective leader or they just don’t bother. Dave Jones, my former direct manager, used to say ‘you can lead a horse to water but you cannot force it to drink.’
The choice to practice the knowledge acquired helps the student develop the new skill. Thus, the third step. The student is now ‘consciously skilled.’ The student has driving know-how and made the choice to hone the skill through practice.
One day the student will reach the final stage ‘unconsciously skilled.’ He no longer has to think about the skill. It has become muscle memory. It’s the same again in leadership development.
For instance, great leaders are great listeners. In the beginning, the leader would have to consciously keep his opinion to himself and let the people in the room share their thoughts. It is always good practice for the highest-ranking person in the room to speak last. This is contrary to a leader’s instinct. They are usually in a hurry to discuss or resolve the issue at hand. They are the first to speak. When this happens, most of the people will either agree with the leader or just keep their opinions to themselves. This is definitely not a collaborative or healthy environment.
I had the privilege to work with a great leader that allows the people in the room to voice their opinions first. Faisal Sakkaf showed everyone that their view is welcomed and respected. Speaking last also gave Faisal the opportunity to hear a possible gem or two from the group. Possibly, there is an idea that comes out of the discussion that is better than his original view. He can then recalibrate his views as the discussion ensues.
Think back about leadership lessons you learned or read about in the past. How far in, the four stages, did you bring the skill? Were you persistent enough to push it through the third and fourth stages?