Friday, 5 October 2012

How Stages Of Learning Should Influence Coaching Style

The Japanese martial art concept of Shuhari identifies three stages required to reach mastery,
  1. Learn
  2. Detach
  3. Transcend
Another learning model, the Four Stages Of Competence, is defined as follows:
  1. Unconscious incompetence - The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognise the deficit
  2. Conscious incompetence - Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognise the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit.
  3. Conscious competence - The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration.
  4. Unconscious competence - The individual has had so much practise with a skill that it has become "second nature" and can be performed easily.
The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition (which I've selectively quoted for brevity) goes yet further with five stages,
  1. Novice - Rigid adherence to taught rules
  2. Advanced Beginner - Situational perception
  3. Competent - Formulates routines
  4. Proficient - Holistic view of situation
  5. Expert - Intuitive grasp of situations based on deep, tacit understanding
and some petition for inclusion of sixth stage, "Innovation".

There's clearly a degree of overlap between the models and I think it's important to be aware of these concepts when coaching. I've previously blogged about how autonomy is a key component for intrinsic motivation, and while I've not yet written on the subject am generally against Command and Control leadership styles. However I've begun to wonder if, considering the above learning models, whether an autocratic approach might be necessary for novices - those who require a prescribed process.

I suspect this might work well for individuals who are "Consciously incompetent" and may welcome a set of rules to follow, but less well for individuals who are "Unconsciously incompetent", and may feel undervalued or patronised.

It's also common for people to transition backwards from "Consciously incompetent" to "Unconsciously incompetent". They know enough to be dangerous as the saying goes. While in this state attempting to prescribe a process is likely to cause friction and harm morale. It might be better for the individual's personal development to let them fail. Not only will they hopefully revert to being "Consciously incompetent", but they may also acquire the valuable gift of humility.

Yet another possibility is that an individual may actually be competent, but lack confidence in their own ability, i.e. "Unknowingly competent". A skilled coach might recognise this, and assign some task that forces them out of their comfort zone, but I've also seen this backfire. It can cause the individual great anxiety and stress, so once again a culture that tolerates failure becomes important.

Once an individual reaches the level of "Conscious Competence" then I think the coaching style should focus on helping them detach from any previously prescribed process and ultimately lead to them transcending any formal process at all.

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