5 Learning Stages To Create Successful Leaders



Learning is a journey.

Every new skill, concept and idea needs to be considered and then take root. Even if when we accept the idea of the skill, we are still not competent. Competence comes with repeated correct practice, or trial and error, learning from each new experience. As a Learning and Development leader in your organization, you want to help new and developing leaders avoid trial and error. You want to provide the correct tools and information to guide them past the mistakes and make the right competent decisions in the many unique situations they will be tested against. With that goal in mind, let’s look at five learning stages for developing competence and replacing a skill.

Stage 1: Learning A New Skill
Stage 2: Learning A New Skill More Deeply
Stage 3: Applying A Newly Learned Skill
Stage 4: Adapting A Newly Learned Skill To Unique Situations
Stage 5: Replacing Old Comfortable Skills With A New One

Stage 1 – Learning A New Skill

This stage is the introduction of a skill. The skill could be how to conduct a performance review or how to use a “Yes and…” circle. The new skill will feel foreign and uncomfortable. New skills are mostly taught in a development session or classroom. We use “Narrative Immersion” to help ideas sink in faster and with more impact. You may use more traditional methods. The path is the same; skills are introduced and learned at a surface level. It’s like learning the scales on the piano, it’s not music, but technically you’re playing the instrument.

Stage 2 – Learning A Skill More Deeply

Here is where competence starts to develop. Think of tennis, Stage 1, you are introduced to the racquet, the ball, the court and the net. Stage 2, you would be shown the rules, how to swing the racquet, how to deliver a serve. You might even practice a little rally with your coach, to get a feel for how the ball hits the racquet.

Back to our performance review example, we might learn about “Sandwiching Criticism”, using “Feel, Felt, Found” or “WYSIITMB” as more in-depth tools than just the performance form we need to fill out after meeting with a team member. In the development session, we might even role play with each other to get a feel for how the performance conversation might go. All of this is not actual application, and yet some competence is starting to build.

Stage 3 – Applying A Newly Learned Skill.

This is where the new skill feels most uncomfortable.

This is the first or second time the new skill has been used without a safety net. It feels foreign, we might report back that using the new skill felt robotic and insincere. We are at a critical point in the development of the skill. It would be easy to move to old habits and old ways of doing things. The new skill feels less effective because we still have low competence, and as a result, we might abandon it.

You can avoid this by providing support right when your leaders need it. Create “Brain Trust” mentoring circles so that peers can reinforce and support each other in the new skill. Use timely coaching to help them prepare for stage 4 and get more comfortable applying the new skill regularly. The team will only become competent with practice and review. Explain the uncomfortable feelings are expect during stage 1 and stage 2 so that it’s not a surprise in stage 3. Just like a tennis pro trying a small change in their swing, it feels uncomfortable until enough repetition creates muscle memory, and it becomes natural.

Stage 4: Adapting A Newly Learned Skill to Unique Situations

Life and work don’t as always play out as expected. We may run into unique situations that become learning opportunities. As a result, we need to apply our new skills to new situations where it does not fit comfortably. Round peg into a square hole!

As practice, coaching and peer mentorship take hold, and the new skill begins to feel more natural, we apply it to new situations and create new solutions. This is a sign of stronger competence, as we can start to diagnose a situation and use the new skill to solve the problem.

Stage 5 – Stage 5: Replacing Old Comfortable Skills With A New One

This is when true competence takes hold, the old skills no longer seems the right choice. The new skill has become the best tool and replaces old patterns.

It is an ongoing learning challenge to replace old entrenched skills with new ways of tackling a problem. Traditional learning environments are not equipped to handle the final three stages needed to have a skill adopted and impact the organization. Tools like “Brain Trust” peer mentoring, coaching, “Practice-Review” sessions and situational aids are all needed to ensure stage 3 to stage 5 occur, or you’ll miss the chance to create stronger, more capable leaders. Support after the learning is critical and must be part of the journey for your team.

If you’re looking for help developing an entire development journey through all stages, talk to us at Learn2, we’re changing the way the world works by changing the way the world learns.

Understanding your natural approach starts with an assessment. Want to learn your natural approach? Take the assessment, and we’ll continue down this journey together.


Each person has a natural communication style.
Understanding yours can and will impact how effective you are when dealing with friends, co-workers and clients.

Save The Titanic Team Building