Don’t Get Caught By the Peter Principle

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    A reader asked for leadership advice on this situation.

    “A new position, which will be a promotion, has just opened up in my business unit. It sounds very exciting even though I haven’t had much experience in that kind of responsibility. But I have a good track record and colleagues are urging me to go for it. I think I’m bright enough to take it on but I’m wondering is it too big a risk?”

    Related: Taking Risks

    The Peter Principle
    It states that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” In other words, the cream rises until it sours. As long as a person performs well at his job, he will be promoted.

    But sooner or later he reaches a level where he lacks the necessary skills to perform. The higher positions are not necessarily more difficult. The problem is simply that people are promoted based on the skills they have, not the skills they need

    Virtually everyone, who has ever worked in a business environment, has recognized someone who seems lost, over his or her head or just plain inept. They have risen to their level of incompetence. Sometime they survive and sometimes they don’t.

    Related: Watch Out For These Sand-traps

    Look Before You Leap
    So if you don’t have the appropriate background, skill sets or experience, you’re obviously going to have to be able to get up to speed fast to avoid the Peter Principle. Here are some things you need to consider before throwing your hat into the ring.

    1. Would your boss be supportive or offended if you moved on?
    2. What are your strengths and how can you leverage them for this position?
    3. How much time would you have before you’re expected to perform at top speed?
    4. What skills do you need to be successful in the position and where will you get them?
    5. Will the person in that position train you or will you have to dive in and either sink or swim?
    6. And most important, if you fail or don’t meet expectations, how might this affect your career?

    These are just a few starter questions to help you assess the degree of career and leadership risk involved in going after this position. Find someone objective, like a mentor or coach, who can help you look honestly at the pros and cons. Then decide is it worth the time, effort and the stress of taking on this kind of challenge.

    Management Success Tip

    Be aware of Murphy’s Law. “If anything can go wrong, it will” helps remind us to plan for contingencies. Also remember, nothing is as easy as it looks; everything takes longer than expected; and every solution breeds new problems. Bottom line: be open to new opportunities as well as be realistic about the challenges. Check out It’s a New Ballgame and Are You a Coaster or Contributor?

    Do you want to develop your Management Smarts?