Apprentice | Technician | Master

Are your managers in the apprentice zone, technician zone or mastery zone of leadership?

This is a question that is not asked and not really given much though. You see, like becoming an accountant or an engineer or any expertise there are 3 phases. These phases however, are ignored when these experts are placed into management or leadership roles – from team leaders, co-ordinators right through to department managers even business owner’s / general managers.

Just because they are great in their area of expertise doesn’t make them a great manager or leader. However, it also DOESN’T mean they can’t become a great leader. 

The journey of any expert or master starts in the apprenticeship phase. Let’s have a look at an example (feel free to insert any other profession – teaching, accounting, IT, marketing …..the list is endless):


The engineer’s apprentice generally starts at University. Like my nephew Nathan. Nathan started his Bachelor of Engineering and Commerce this year. Step by step he will be taken through the different types of engineering. Over these uni years he will be trained, taught, guided and tested. Interestingly the other day he said to me “I had no idea there are so many different versions of engineering”. He has moved from unconscious incompetency to conscious incompetency. In other words, he worked out there is so much out there in the world of engineering that he didn’t know existed

As he goes through his degree the knowledge will be taken in as theory, then applied in controlled environments and mostly under supervision. When he graduates, he will step into a position often known as a “Graduate”. Now he is in the “real world” he may find he will slip back to that thought “I had no idea there are so many different versions of engineering”, however it may now be more related to specific positions or industries. In essence, he will go back to the unconscious incompetency phase. Still very much an apprentice.

Over the coming years of hands on work, different jobs and being exposed to out of the box problems with the guide of manager’s, extra training / up skilling and working with more experienced people he will begin the transition to the technician. Once in technician mode, according to Jackie Chan, he will need to do the same “kick 10,000 times” not 10,000 different kicks to lead him to mastery.

The key with mastery is understanding we never arrive. A master in any area of expertise stays open, curious and is very aware they never know everything. 

“It took me a lifetime” Pablo Picasso

What I have wondered is:

  1. Why when we promote experts into leadership roles, we don’t approach it with the same perspective?
  2. Why don’t we value leadership as its own skill set to be mastered? So many are put into the role with the expectation that they know how to be a leader of people.
  3. Why don’t we give our promoted experts the training and guidance required to move them through the apprentice, technician, mastery stages of a leader? As opposed to putting them in the position left to fumble through, “doing the best I can” and modelling their previous (potentially ineffective) managers?

Just like any other field, leadership has its own skill set and deserves to be treated with the same respect. The best time for this is when an expert is first placed in any type of leadership role, or someone has been identified as an emerging leader. In saying that, any leader that has not been given the right training and guidance could still be in apprentice mode – and stuck there for years.

With a combination of training, coaching and mentoring their transition from apprentice to technician will be accelerated giving them every opportunity to shine into mastery.

Benefits to the organisation? That’s worthy of another article, however in summary:

  • More effective leader equals more effective and happier team
  • More effective and happy team equals better outcomes for the business

How are you nurturing your leaders through the apprentice, technician, mastery journey?