One Tool that Taught Me Everything about Apprenticeship

Conferences. Workshops, Keynotes, Books…

All important ways to grow as a leader. But, these forms of leadership development are rarely transformational.

It is information transfer at its best. 

The secret sauce of leadership development is summed up in one word: Apprenticeship

At GiANT Worldwide, apprenticeship is defined as the following:

“The intentional transfer of knowledge, skills, and expertise into the life of another for their benefit and organization.” 

Paul Sohn - Apprenticeship Square

Apprenticeship is one of the toughest tools you can learn as a leader. In each season in your life, you’ll apprentice a no more than three people. The reason being, apprenticeship requires intentionality. Each apprentice goes through several stages. Here’s the breakdown:

1. Unconscious Incompetence“I don’t know that I don’t know” – This is when you think anybody can do anything! Here, the apprentice watches you do something you’re incredible good at. You watch and think that it’s not hard to imitate it. For instance, whenever I look at Roger Federer, I am absolutely astonished how he carries himself and plays with such elegance. In my mind, I feel like it’s not that hard to produce the same level of poise, elegance, and competency he displays on the court. However, the moment I pick up my racket and actually record myself on a video, I look nothing like Roger Federer. I suddenly become conscious of my incompetence.

2. Conscious Incompetence“I know that I don’t know” – When you find out that it’s not as easy as it looks. Most people who are going through the learning cycle comes to conscious incompetence. Many of them consequently hit the pit of despair. Do you remember the first time you learning driving? You grab the driving wheel. Your entire attention is focused on so many things that is foreign to you. The brakes, accelerator, mirror, traffic signals etc. The instructor sits beside you and coaches you in the process. At first, emotionally, it feels very daunting and challenging. Many experience an emotional response where they simply want to give up. Thus, they enter a pit of despair. Most apprentices chooses to run back to the beginning and start again. When the apprentice starts to feel consciously incompetent, they often wonder they’ll ever get to conscious competence. Also, the leader at this point also questions whether they made a bad hire etc. To move from conscious incompetence to conscious competence, the leader requires key elements. The leader needs vision, time, and encouragement.

3. Conscious Competence“I know that I know” – when you learn your skills and build up your level.

4. Unconscious Competence“I don’t know that I know” – When you are so competent you can perform well without thinking it! This is the holy grail of apprenticeship. It takes usually years to get to this place.

To become a master of anything, it generally requires a three sequential process.

Information –> Imitation –> Innovation

Unfortunately, many Millennials today bypass the imitation phase. Thanks to the widespread use of technology and social media, the definition of expertise has changed. For many Millennials, they may watch 17 different videos on a specific topic on YouTube and claim themselves as an expert.

A key component is to find a master who can be a model for you to imitate. Simply ask the master to apprentice you. Subject yourself under humility and commit yourself to put in the time and energy to go through the grueling part of the imitation phase. This step will pay huge dividends in the end.

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