The Curse Of The Professional

by  John E. Smith  |  Leadership Coaching
The Curse Of The Professional

What do you do easily and with little thought? As leaders, we are usually very aware of what takes conscious effort on our part, but less so about other things. Those things you do unconsciously and easily are important, although they probably range from trivial to essential actions.

Maybe we learned something so long ago that we have forgotten any effort required to gain the skill in the first place. Think tying your shoelaces or checking the rear-view mirror before backing up.

This is why teaching our young citizens basic skills and behaviors is so important. We create our future by how we teach those who are just learning how to read, talk, and think.

Maybe our first leadership experiences came so early in our lives or careers that we have to focus on remembering the influence of those early experiences on our current leadership behavior.

Maybe we have done something so often that it does not require conscious thought on our part. Repetition etches a behavior or a process into our brains. We do something on a regular basis or frequently, so that the steps and the feel become part of us. We know what to do intuitively

We go on auto-pilot as some say, although when we truly know a thing, we still easily sense when things are not going correctly. An error or misstep should quickly bring us to full consciousness and initiate a problem-solving process. We lead as we have learned to lead, and hopefully notice when that leadership is not working.

Maybe we have learned to do a thing so well that it has become second nature to us. Think about master coaches who seem to effortlessly shift into coach mode as needed, and when appropriate, given a situation. The visible ease probably reflects years of learning and practice to make it look easy. Those who cannot smoothly shift from working mode to human being mode may be seen as stilted or stiff.

On the other hand, when as someone one remarked to me, “Well, all you seem to do is sit around and talk to people. I do that all day too”, comparing my work with dually diagnosed patients in a hospital treatment program to their hanging out at the local coffee shop every day.

A truly effective leader is not always the person you notice or the one who broadcasts their leadership. Leadership can be quiet, unobtrusive, and natural, yet also highly effective through one’s influence on others.

The Curse Of The Professional

This is the curse of the professional – we make doing something look so easy that those who do not know the underlying skills think that the thing is actually easy. So easy that anyone could do it, without all that fancy training, education, and practice.

Counselors, coaches, teachers, and other helping professionals know this curse. Highly effective leaders and managers also suffer from this condition.

Yes, I am talking here about the Conscious/Unconscious Learning Model familiar to most of us. As we continue to move behaviors and actions to the unconscious competence stage, we create an image that what we do is easy to do, because we make it look that way.

Getting back to my original question, the responses you give to that question is what the world sees as your skill set.

What do you do without thinking? Does it reflect what you want to be known for doing?
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About The Author

Articles By john-smith
I enjoy helping people learn and grow through intentional, strategic, and social interventions. I coach, teach, train, facilitate, organize, write, speak, design, and lead at the intersection of leadership, learning, and human behavior. I am a CCE Board Certified Coach (BCC) with specializations in both Leadership/Business and Life/Personal coaching. My primary blog is The Strategic Learner on Wordpress.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Kim Ledbetter  |  27 Mar 2015  |  Reply

I love this post! It’s definitely something to think about…. To me the answer to that final question can never be yes… because once I can do something without thinking about it, there is no challenge, and our goals and dreams should naturally progress to the next big thing.

John Smith  |  27 Mar 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Kim – thanks for reading and responding:)

Great point about how we should always be stretching toward the next level. The kiss of death is when we think we are “There” and stop learning and growing. Once we hit Unconscious Competence, we should choose our next challenge and start over in another box of the 2×2 grid. The challenge is identifying those things we do not know we are not competent in, but need to be:)


Page Cole  |  28 Mar 2015  |  Reply

Thanks for the reminder! I’m currently working with my son to take my role in the family business and I needed to hear this! Thanks for making a difference in my family today!

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