top of page
  • Writer's pictureSheila

Just when you thought you had it made... you find out you are in Gr. 9 again

When some individuals transition into a new role – sometimes one they have been working towards for years, such as becoming a manager or moving into a leadership role – they can be taken by surprise at how being in the role makes them feel.  

When I was researching the expectations of people in first-time management roles one of the things that many people shared with me was how surprised they were by how much of a hit their confidence took when they became a manager. 

 They had been at the top of their game, feeling good about their contributions, clear about their responsibilities, and confident in their own abilities to deliver. And then this exciting new opportunity came along, and, BAM. There they were – as one person told me - feeling like they were in grade 9 again; not sure what they were doing; not sure whom or when to ask for help – or even if they should ask! 

Sometimes this was even more complicated because they were now managing people who just yesterday were friends, or peers. 

I have had similar conversations with people moving into, or reflecting on their move into, leadership roles.

I think that a lot of what these newly minted managers and leaders were coping with was related to their mindset.


Mindset is effectively the attitudes and beliefs you have that dictate how you will behave in any given situation. 

Your mindset will affect how you think of yourself, and how you fill your role.

As we move through life, we create stories about who we are. Stories that help us to respond to situations, and rationalize the ways we behave. You may have heard the term “rewriting” or “changing the narrative”. All that really means is that you think about the story you are playing in your head, which means paying attention and understanding who you are in that moment, how and why you are approaching something a particular way, and then making a decision as to whether or not you will make a change.

Many people have expectations of moving into a new role fully formed; ready to take on whatever the role throws at them. This is their mindset, and when the reality turns out to be something different, it is surprising at best, and, at times, quite distressing. They discover that the role is not what they expected. Often they don't actually understand what the role is, or what others think it should be. They feel like they should know what to do, and are disappointed in themselves that they don't. And of course, they don't want others to know that they are feeling this. They must show up as wise, informed and confident.

There are a couple of frameworks that I think can be helpful to people in these transitions.

Benner’s Model of Competence

In 1984, Patricia Benner created a model for clinical competence in nursing that has since been applied to other realms where people are taking on increasingly responsible jobs.

What her model shows is that people come to any new role as a “novice”, and then with time, experience, coaching, and training, gradually up their game through the stages of competency until they become an expert.   


And then at that point, there may

be a reward that comes in the form of another promotion or a new role. 

And so, just when you were feeling really good, you find yourself in a new job and back you go to being a novice.  

Or at least feeling like one.   

But the good news is, that, over time, you will again build experience and become more competent, and proficient.   

AND, this is predictable. 

One of the differences though between switching to a management or leadership role versus taking on a new technical role is that you may have to develop some new skills and competencies so that you can become good at the whole job.   

You may need to focus on those skills that will support you in the management / leadership part of the job. The technical stuff you’ve got. 


Stages of Learning

Another model that I wanted to share with you is this one.  

You may have seen this before, showing the stages of learning. Starting at the bottom….

Sometimes you are tripping along, happily doing something and perhaps doing it very badly – but are oblivious to that fact.  

This bottom level - referred to as unconscious incompetence - represents things you are poor at, and don’t even know it. 

At some point something might happen that brings that to your attention. At this stage, you are still bad at whatever it is, but now you know that you are bad. Then you move into the realm of conscious incompetence.   

At which point you might say to yourself “Uh oh, this is something I’m not very good at; something I need to get better at.” And that’s when you really start to learn, when you start to pay attention, and when you start to makes choices about what you want to learn.   

This helps to move you into conscious competence, where you start to elevate your learning; start to pay attention, start to get better, and start to become competent.  And then, if you continue to get better, you will end up in this level of unconscious competence, at which point, your response or action is almost habitual or automatic. 

I like the idea of staying between conscious competence and unconscious competence, because I think that staying “conscious” allows me to make choices, to be deliberate in my actions. If I become “unconscious” in some things, I fear that I might slip.


Growth versus Fixed Mindset

This is the last model I want to share.  This comes from the work of Dr. Carol Dweck. Dr. Dweck is a neuroscientist whose research has shown that there are two types of mindset. 

One is a growth mindset, the other, a fixed mindset.

People with a growth mindset see every opportunity as a learning opportunity. They see everything that they do as helping them to get better at something - whether directly or indirectly.    

If you have a growth mindset, you see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Feedback is welcome because it offers insights you might be blind to, which again will help you to learn and grow.   

And this provides a sense of endless potential.   

The neuroscience shows that people with a growth mindset have brains that physically grow and develop, meaning that their capacity for learning and knowing and their capabilities ARE growing and changing. 

People who have more of a fixed mindset, are apt to think of things in terms of failure. They think that they are limited because of their capabilities – which they see as limited. So, they put a box around what they are able to do.   

They say, “I am no good at math” or, “I can’t learn another language” and then they don’t try, so they don’t learn, and they remain as good at math as they were.   

And then that becomes self-fulfilling, which is what limits them. “I am only this good; I am no good at math and I will never be able to learn math.”

They actually create their own boundaries in their physical brain, and because they think that way, they don’t try new things.   

And because they don’t try new things, they don’t cause change and growth in their brains.   

When they fail at something – that just proves to them that they can’t do whatever it is, and they give up.   

They generally do not welcome feedback because it is received as a judgmental expression of their limitations - criticism of their failings – which further reinforces their existing thinking.   

People with a fixed mindset do not have growth or change in their brains, which means that they ARE in fact limited by their existing capabilities. 


I think that Henry Ford expressed this very well…

Whether you think you can, or think you can’t…. you’re right.

I shared the first two models because a lot of people don’t cut themselves any slack when it comes to their own learning and development. They feel that they need to be at the top of their game all the time, and they don’t recognize that there is a predictable pattern of learning, growth and development.   

I hope that the third model helps you to remember to foster an open-minded stance; a belief in the possibilities that exist for you, and your ability to achieve them

In conclusion, I wanted to show you that the cycle of growth and learning happens to all of us, all through our lives as we take on new challenges. And it is predictable. 

Frankly, if you are good at everything and not feeling uncomfortable, then you are not learning, or growing or getting better. And if you stay in that place you will become stuck there.

I am hoping that you will recognize from this that you are on a normal learning trajectory, no matter where you are on the curve. And that it will change over time.   

That you will keep cycling back to the beginning and that is not failure – rather that is an exciting cue that you are about to embark on a whole new learning and growth cycle.


Also, remember that at any point in time, you could be at different places on these curves for different skills. For one skill you might be “Benner proficient and consciously competent” and for another, you might be “consciously incompetent and a novice”.

So, thinking about these models, there are a few things to pay attention to: 


  • Keeping an open mind - nurturing a growth mindset

  • Recognizing that you are always at some stage of an evolutionary development track

  • Making sure that you know what areas or skills you need to develop

  • And making a conscious effort to develop those things.

If you would like more information, or would like to discuss any of these concepts as they relate to your own growth or that of people in your organization, please connect.



·       Mindset, the New Psychology of Success; Carol Dweck

·       From Novice to Expert: Excellence in clinical practice; Patricia Benner


bottom of page