Promotion to Incompetence.

Many times through my career I have spoken about the Peter Principle.  It always surprised me that a lot of my colleagues had never heard of what I was referring to. 


An observation that in an organizational hierarchy, every employee will rise or get promoted to his or her level of incompetence. The Peter Principle is based on the notion that employees will get promoted as long as they are competent, but at some point will fail to get promoted beyond a certain job because it has become too challenging for them. Employees rise to their level of incompetence and stay there. Over time, every position in the hierarchy will be filled by someone who is not competent enough to carry out his or her new duties. (, 2015).”

I have seen this principle in action over my career and my coaching practice.  In most cases, people may be very good soldiers but it takes a very different skill set to be a good manager.  Now, how does one become a good manager?  There are several ways, one – you were born with the skill set needed to manage others, lucky you.  Two -- you have had a good manager yourself and they have served as a role model for your future behavior.  You paid enough attention to how they worked with those that were reporting to them and can have learned managerial skills and techniques along the way.  Three, you have read and taken classes in the management of teams and have tested those theories with your peers while you were not quite a manager yourself.

The scenarios above are all well and good but what happens when someone has been promoted because they “managed-up” really well and their management ability for direct reports isn’t exactly up to snuff?  In this case, I would hope that their immediate supervisors would recognize this and provide some guidance and support for their newly minted leaders either through coaching, classes or the more invested road of mentoring them themselves.

Most people don’t fail because they lack the capacity.  They fail because they are set-up in positions where they need more support, experience, and training than they have been provided.  Take a good look at your management team, who do you think needs the help and what are you going to do about it?

Reference (2015, February 16). Peter Principle. Retrieved from