The Unconscious Incompetent Board Member

4-Stages-Of-Learning-A-New-Task

There are 4 stages to learning in any field:

1) Unconscious Incompetence

You don’t know what you don’t know.

This is the equivalent of someone that wakes up one day and says, “I love eating biryani, therefore I should open up a Pakistani restaurant.” This person needs a heavy dose of reality. They don’t know anything about food, cooking, much less running a business or retailing.

2) Conscious Incompetence

Painfully aware of what you don’t know.

This person loves biryani so they decide to dabble in it. They ask their mom how to cook it and quickly realize they don’t even know how to make rice or how to work an oven. The concept of a restaurant is painfully far away.

3) Conscious Competence

Able to do it, but need practice.

This person already knows how to cook, and they’ve worked in a restaurant so they know what is required to make it run. Putting in a little bit of time, and some targeted study they should be able to open and run their own restaurant.

4) Unconscious Competence

You can do it in your sleep.

This person is a master biryani chef, has successfully opened 3 gourmet biryani houses, and now has a multi-million dollar biryani food truck that he drives around for fun. He’s made every mistake you can make and knows his stuff inside-out.

Everyone goes through this journey. You shouldn’t feel guilty for being at stage 1 of something – we’ve all been there. We all are there. No one can be a stage 4 expert in everything.

The true trap is being at stage 1, but thinking you are in stage 3 or 4. This is because you have no idea what else is out here.

Think of a person who does not know Arabic, cannot recite Surah Fatihah properly, has never studied Islam formally beyond a Sunday School level, does not even know what “usūl al-fiqh” means (much less that it is an entire academic subject of study) – but wants an entire community to follow his ‘educated fatwa’ about moon-sighting. Or his opinion on how to conduct an Islamic funeral. Or any host of other issues.

The trap comes because many of those who volunteer their time are successful. Yes, you read that right. They are at stage 4 of their respective professions – medicine, IT, retail businesses, and so on. This creates a trap where a person feels they have the necessary skills to serve a community administratively not realizing that they don’t know what they don’t know. They will agree that there should be a board training program for example, but feel that they don’t need it – just the incompetent people around them.

A person serving the masjid needs baseline levels of knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah. How much tafsīr and sīrah study have they done? How can someone be expected to uphold a constitution or masjid charter that has written into it “follow precepts of the Quran and Sunnah”?

How about strategic planning? Conflict resolution? Management? Operations management? Facilities maintenance? Bookkeeping, payroll, accounting? Event planning? Fundraising? Project management? Construction? Educational administration?

The idea is not to say that we need board members to be in stage 4 of all these arenas – they’re all independent areas of study. But we do need people to at least graduate to stage 2. This way a board member doesn’t need to be an expert on those things – but more importantly, they know when they hit the point that an expert does need to be brought in, and who that expert is.

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Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters, Qalam Institute, Muslim Strategic Initiative, and Debt Free Muslims. He is a regular khateeb and has served in different administrative capacities in various national and local Islamic organizations. He works full time in the corporate field, is a PMP, and certified Leadership Trainer through the John Maxwell Team. You can follow him on on Twitter @ibnabeeomar, and check out his latest project - The Fiqh of Social Media.

Omar UsmanThe Unconscious Incompetent Board Member

3 Comments on “The Unconscious Incompetent Board Member”

  1. Mirza Yawar Baig

    Brilliant illustration using the hierarchy of adult learning to highlight a major problem with many masjid boards where people who have a few dollars rule the roost and call the shots. Sadly many imams kowtow to them because they need their salaries. And the community suffersAmarat from the tyranny of Amaratus Sufaha..as Rasoolullah S) called it… The rule of fools.

  2. Mirza Yawar Baig

    Brilliant illustration using the hierarchy of adult learning to highlight a major problem with many masjid boards where people who have a few dollars rule the roost and call the shots. Sadly many imams kowtow to them because they need their salaries. And the community suffers from the tyranny of the foolish. Amaratus Sufaha..as Rasoolullah (S) called it… The rule of fools.

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