This month, Rio de Janeiro was the center of the world. Athletes from all over came to show their skills and compete for medals, fame, and even fortune. But how did these athletes get here? How did they learn their sport, develop their skills, and become the best at what they do? And of course, are there leadership development lessons we can learn from their journeys?


Decades ago, Noel Burch developed the concept of the “conscious competence ladder.” His theory outlines the process by which we acquire competence in any area of life, whether learning how to drive a car, set goals for ourselves, or to lead with vision. The four steps of the ladder are:

  1. Unconsciously Unskilled

  2. Consciously Unskilled

  3. Consciously Skilled

  4. Unconsciously Skilled


Successful Biblical leaders multiply themselves by investing in others. They disciple new believers into maturity, coach disciples to become leaders, and mentor leaders to achieve their vision and become leaders of leaders. These four steps can help us develop leaders if we observe the following five practices.


Developing leaders means helping others climb the ladder following in our footsteps. In each step, we adopt practices which can help push our people up and develop them into champions.

1. Step One: They don’t know what they don’t know. “Ignorance is bliss” says the popular proverb, but our goal is never to stay at ignorance. At this stage…

We convince. In the beginning, our main job as disciple-maker, coach, or mentor is to raise awareness, point to blind spots, and challenge people to discover areas for growth.

2. Step Two: They learn they don’t know. In the “consciously unskilled” phase, their eyes are opened to a skill or some knowledge they do not yet have. Now they realize their ignorance. At this stage…

We Teach. This is the beginning of the learning process. Now they know there is something to be learned, so as the more experienced leader, we can begin imparting knowledge and sharing our experience.

3. Step Three: They realize they know. When someone initially learns a new skill, they become very aware and cautious, even tentative. They need help and encouragement. At this stage...

We model. This is when teaching by example works at its best and most of the learning happens. Like teaching a child how to ride a bike, we hold their hand, then let go little by little, until they are flying solo.

4. Step Four: They know and don’t even think about it. This is the “hone in” stage. Whatever they are learning is now becoming second nature, almost instinctive. In popular language, they can do this new skill "blindfolded with their hands tied behind their back.” That’s when athletes become champions. At this stage...

We help them focus. Mentoring is about sharpening focus and pursuing excellence. Perhaps they will become better than we ever were. They are standing on our shoulders.

5. Top of the Ladder: This is the champion stage. This is not part of the four-step ladder, but it is an important part of developing leaders. That is the moment when…

We celebrate: When Olympic athletes win, they immediately turn to their role models / coaches, family members, friends, and even competitors to celebrate. Celebration is an often-forgotten part of leadership development.


The secret of good disciple-makers, coaches, and mentors is to observe the ones they are developing, discern where they are, and then push them forward and upward. The joy will be to see others stand on our shoulders and achieve more than we ever dreamed of.



Who are you developing right now? Who could you help go from unconsciously unskilled to unconsciously skilled – or in Olympic terms, to champions?

by Norival Trindade