Thinking About the Peter Principle

There's a rule in business that's often called the “Peter Principle “. It's given in many forms, but here's my simplest summation:

People will be promoted to their level of incompetency, where they will come to rest.

And, let's be honest, we've all worked for someone who was promoted beyond out of their area of expertise into management where they were at best, ineffective, and, at worst, wildly detrimental to the organization.

But here's the thing:

I've been promoted to my level of incompetence several times in my career. I often seek for jobs above my level of ability. I've told interviewers point blank that I'm trying to punch above my weight class. And then, once I got the job (or not) I grew into it. How else do you grow? How else do you get better? I wasn't qualified to be the sole developer and desktop support person for a job where I was given those exact titles because I created a little static HTML training site for my sales staff. I was competent to be a sales floor manager; I'd been in retail since I was fifteen, and I knew how to do retail. But I wanted to move up, so I punched above my weight, tried hard, and got where I wanted to be.

And then I worked by backside off to prove I was worthy to be there.

So I guess the question is you hit a “Peter Plateau” where you stop growing in your role. If someone decides that they are out of their league and just try to keep their head down and do as little as it takes, then sure, you've got a “Peter”. But I don't think that's the human norm. Granted, I'm an optimist, by choice and act of will. But I still believe that most people will choose to grow to meet the responsibilities given them. We just need to ensure our organizations allow people room to do so.

I’m publishing this as part of 100 Days To Offload. You can join in yourself by visiting 100 Days To Offload.

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