From Novice to Expert


“An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgments simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore” – Edward De Bono

By Eamonn Percy

I am constantly scanning the for real-world examples to help my subscribers be better leaders and run better businesses.

This weekend I came across an article from the world of healthcare that is very applicable to the world of business.  The 1982 article by Patricia Benner, called “From Novice to Expert”, describes the five levels of competency and the leadership attributes of each level.

The levels are: Novice, Advanced Beginner, Competent, Proficient and Expert.  While the article was written in the context of Nursing Leadership, it applies as much to business as it does to nursing.

What really caught my attention was her description of an Expert.  Benner stated,

“At the expert level, the performer no longer relies on an analytical principle (rule, guideline or maxim) to connect her/his understanding of the situation to appropriate action.  The expert…has an intuitive grasp of the situation and zeroes in on the accurate region of the problem without wasteful consideration of a large range of unfruitful possible problem situations.  It is very frustrating to try to capture verbal descriptions of expert performance because the expert operates from a deep understanding  of the situation, much like a chess master who, when asked why he made a particularly masterful move, will just say, ‘Because it felt right.  It looked good.”

This description is very consistent with the business experts I have known over the years that have highly developed emotional intelligence (EQ) and deep reservoirs of knowledge based on many years of business.  They trust their instinct and are able to make great decisions with fragments of information, since the critical data is not seen by the novice.

This raises two very big questions for the business leader, owner or entrepreneur:

Firstly, where am I on the Novice to Expert scale, and what am I doing now to move to the Expert level?

If you are just getting started in your career, or even in the first 10 to 15 years of your career, you still have much to learn as you will likely don’t know what you don’t know.

If you are much further into to your career, you still likely have much to learn but at least will know what you don’t know.  Be honest with yourself and assess where you are.  Get third party assessments and be open to feedback about your skill level from mentors and coaches.

Be realistic and pragmatic about your competency, particularly if you are relatively new to a field or profession.

If you want to move up the proficiency scale, do the following:

  1. Dedicate yourself to a lifelong program of personal development and continuous improvement.  Read good books, take courses, and build good habits.
  2. Find a mastermind group, coach or mentor that will help you accelerate your improvement and teach you.
  3. Get as much experience as possible and embrace the difficulties in order to accelerate growth, so you can make mistakes, learn and get there faster.


The “intuitive grasp of the situation” that Benner believes define an expert comes with time, difficulty and practice.  It comes from staying in the game, sticking with one profession, industry or area of focus, and persevering in the face of hardships.

This is how champions are made, and over time, you too will move you from a Novice to an Expert

, Founder and Principal, Percy Group Capital + Business Advisors, writes, speaks and advises on the topics of accelerating business growth and leadership, based on 25 years of real-life experiences of leading, managing and growing companies. Subscribe to his weekly newsletter, Growth By Design, and receive free content on leadership and business growth. This article first appeared in the Percy Group Blog and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

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