Models of Mastery – The Power of Five

Five-Stages of Skill Acquisition

The Dreyfus model of skill acquisition was introduced in 1980 by Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus. This was part of an influential report prepared by the brothers at the University of California, Berkeley, Operations Research Center for the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Their conceptual model outlines five stages that a learner must go through including “novice, competence, proficiency, expertise, and mastery”.

Five Levels to Engagement

Dr. Vlatka Hlupic is an educator and global corporate consultant. She’s developed the Emergent Leadership Model of which “Five Levels to Engagement” is the core focus.

“The aim is to sustain level 4 mindset and collaborative working practices, and occasionally reach level 5 where teams achieve extraordinary results. Levels cannot be skipped, it takes months or even years to move one level higher and anyone can move to a lower level at any time. Once a critical mass of employees moves to a higher level, the new culture spreads like a ripple effect. One of the key enabling conditions to move from level 3 to level 4 is to increase collaboration, networking and interactions, give employees more autonomy and lead by letting go.”

Hierarchy of Needs: Five Stages

Abraham Maslow introduced his “Theory of Human Motivation” and associated 5-Stage Model of Hierarchal Needs in the Psychological Review for 1943. “Maslow was a psychology professor at Alliant International University, Brandeis University, Brooklyn College, New School for Social Research, and Columbia University. He stressed the importance of focusing on the positive qualities in people, as opposed to treating them as a “bag of symptoms.”[3] A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Maslow as the tenth most cited psychologist of the 20th century.”

“None of his published works included a visual representation of the hierarchy. The pyramidal diagram illustrating the Maslow needs hierarchy may have been created by a psychology textbook publisher as an illustrative device. This now iconic pyramid frequently depicts the spectrum of human needs, both physical and psychological, as accompaniment to articles describing Maslow’s needs theory and may give the impression that the Hierarchy of Needs is a fixed and rigid sequence of progression.” As Maslow explained throughout his career this was not the case. In other words, it is not a fixed or rigid model.

Maslow is also famed for his analogy that “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” in his 1966 book The Psychology of Science. Today this axiom is known as Maslow’s Hammer.

5 Levels of Leadership

John W. Maxwell is an American author, speaker, consultant, and Christian pastor for thirty plus years. He has written more than sixty books. Collectively, they have sold more than 20 million copies and been translated into more than fifty languages. His model delineates five levels of leadership maturity. From leadership based on position (level 1) to being a leader by developing other leaders (level 5).

“Rare is the leader who reaches Level 5—the Pinnacle. Not only is leadership at this level a culmination of leading well on the other four levels, but it also requires both a high degree of skill and some amount of natural leadership ability. It takes a lot to be able to develop other leaders so that they reach Level 4; that’s what Level 5 leaders do. The individuals who reach Level 5 lead so well for so long that they create a legacy of leadership in the organization they serve. Pinnacle leaders stand out from everyone else. They are a cut above, and they seem to bring success with them wherever they go. Leadership at this high-level lifts the entire organization and creates an environment that benefits everyone in it, contributing to their success. Level 5 leaders often possess an influence that transcends the organization and the industry the leader works in. Most leaders who reach the Pinnacle do so later in their careers.” (John W. Maxell).

Fifth Discipline

“The Fifth Disciple” by Peter Senge was published in 1990. Harvard Business Review described it as“one of the seminal management books of the past 75 years” ( More than 2 million copies have been sold. Senge and his colleagues formulated the concept of a “learning organization” based on their study of systems thinking. “A system is a cohesive conglomeration of interrelated and interdependent parts that is either natural or man-madeA learning organisation is continually expanding its capacity to create its future” Senge’s five learning disciplines are – personal mastery; building shared mental models, team learning, building shared vision, and systems thinking [The Fifth Discipline, 1994].

“It requires extraordinary openness and willingness to entertain a diversity of ideas. This does not mean that we must sacrifice our vision ‘for the larger cause.’ Rather, we must allow multiple visions to coexist, listening for the right course of action that transcends and unifies all our individual visions.” [Senge, 1994: 218].  

Five Dimensions of Strength

The Army Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program “focuses on five dimensions of strength – physical, emotional, social, family and spiritual. These five dimensions look at individuals as a complete package; mind, body, and spirit … (It) grades along an axis, scores are … tallied for mental and emotional capacity, using self-evaluation.


This article explains why so many classic models of mastery and growth use triangles and stars to denote five steps, or dimensions, to mark progress and ultimate achievement.  They all direct us to the highest point, or apex, of effort and skill development, which is mastery. This provides the symbolic vantage point for wider understanding and even further growth. It’s worth noting the intimate relation between mastery and excellence. Excellence is defined as “being outstanding or extremely good, the highest quality.” Its ancient root is “Kel”, a Proto-Indo-European term for “hill” and “to be prominent.”The Latin “excellentia” meant “towering, distinguished, superior… to rise high.”  In classic military strategy, for example, “the importance of high ground has been recognized for over 2,000 years.”(

Carl Jung observed, “All the greatest and most important problems of life…can never be solved, but only outgrown. This “outgrowing” proves on further investigation to require a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appeared on the horizon and through this broadening of outlook the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms but faded when confronted with a new and stronger life urge” (Psychological Types, Pantheon Books: London, 1923).

Apex  Affirmations
  • Maslow: “Self-Actualization Morality, Creativity, Spontaneity, Problem-Solving”
  • Senge: “Personal Mastery.”
  • Dreyvus Bro: “An Expert Works Intuitively. No Longer Needs Rules.”
  • Collins: “Unique Blend of Humility & Will Required for True Greatness.”
  • Maxwell: “Pinnacle. Respect. People Follow You Because Of Who You Are & What You Represent.”
  • Hlupic: “Individual and Organization; Limitless and Unbounded.”

Editor’s Note: See original Article for Illustrations and further references.

Howard B. Esbin, PhD
My professional life spans the private sector, international development, philanthropic fundraising, and entrepreneurship. Part one, from 1973 – 1988, was spent in the jewellery industry. This included senior management roles in retail and manufacturing. Part two, from 1991 – 1997, involved consulting and senior manager roles in international development. The former included working in Kenya with the International Labour Organization, the Mennonite Central Committee, and the Royal Netherlands Government Embassy. This involved original field research and recommendations for youth entrepreneurship and artisans called Jua Kali. I also later oversaw a $3M fair-trade enterprise called Bridgehead owned by Oxfam Canada. Part three, from 1998 – 2004, saw me as a director of an annual, volunteer-driven philanthropic fundraising event, called HOPE Beachfest. This was the world’s largest one-day volleyball tourney (10,000 players) with an all-day rock concert (15,000 party-goers). Part four, from 2008 – 2018, involves my time as an entrepreneur developing and launching the Prelude Suite™. Additionally, from 1984 – 1998, I attended McGill University on a part-time basis earning three successive degrees culminating with a doctorate in education. My research examined how a carvers’ community transmitted its visual knowledge generationally, informally and non-verbally. Education Canada, the International Labour Organization, and UNESCO have also published my related writings.




Must Read

- Advertisment -