Ever wonder why so many people seem to be incompetent in their jobs? Although it was famously explained in a humorous book titled The Peter Principle, there’s an important kernel of truth in it that we all need to chew on. The Peter Principle says that everyone in an organization gets promoted to the level of their competence.
So if you are doing a good job, you get promoted — and promoted again, until you start screwing up at which point you’ve reached your ultimate destiny in the company, your “level of incompetence”.
The joke is that work is accomplished by those who have not yet reached their level of incompetence. The Peter principle is no joke, however. The truth is that your strengths lift you up and your weaknesses weight you down. Think of a hot air balloon. It rises until the lift from the hot air is in equilibrium with the weight of its ballast. In the same way, as you rise up in the company, your weaknesses eventually limit your ability to rise further.
Understanding how your strengths and weaknesses shape your career will help you work smarter and find the right intersection where your needs meet those of the company and your boss. Here are some of the subtleties to consider:
What kind of traits and behaviors would prevent you from becoming a CEO? Some are the same issues we covered in other lessons – too arrogant, doesn’t listen, too confrontational, not flexible enough, too much of a risk-taker, too controlling, and dislikes communicating.
It’s very common for successful individuals to have both strong strengths and strong weaknesses – they often go together. It’s also true that you can reach the stall-point in your career when you lack critical functional experience, in sales or engineering, for example.
This is because many successful people are driven by some type of trauma from their childhood. As a result, they are motivated by fear, need to be in control or desire for recognition and status. This can be as simple as someone driven to avoid the conditions they experienced as a child.
Why the psychoanalysis?
For further reading, Driving Excellence has very relevant chapters titled ‘The Weakness Principle’ and ‘The Human Change Process.’
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For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.