Too often we run up against false limits in our personal and professional lives. I am convinced that the infamous Peter Principle has played a role in these dire circumstances.
On my way up the professional ladder, I was periodically troubled by the prospect of waking up one day in a senior role that was one step beyond my natural talents. It didn’t worry me every day, because the wind was in my sails. I was ambitious and confident, and my results reflected this.
But, on occasions, I reflected on how miserable it would be to be trapped by my own success with expectations I couldn’t fulfil.
Lawrence Peter and Raymond Hull famously ushered The Peter Principle into the corporate lexicon in 1969 in their book with the same title.
Formally stated, the Peter Principle proclaims that “people in a hierarchy tend to rise to the level of their own incompetence”.
It is not clear if their book was intended for entertainment, or as a serious guide for corporate architects and ambitious executives. It was written as a satire rather than a business manual.
Either way, the Peter Principle has tiptoed through the halls and boardrooms of organizational life for almost 50 years, preying on unsuspecting employees.
It is easy to understand the origins of the principle; a combination of widespread managerial incompetence, the knowledge that junior-level talent doesn’t always translate into executive performance, and the endemic fear of being exposed as an imposter.
Through my own life and as a professional coach, I have learned that there is a phenomenon far more terrifying than the Peter Principle … it is a fear of the Peter Principle.
I have absolutely no doubt that the prevalence of grievous career damage is more often the result of deep apprehension about the limits of our own competence, rather than any real limits!
How do I know this?
Today, I work with courageous men and women who seek my guidance in their quest peak performance. We work together to identify their limiting beliefs, and then leap beyond them using a systematic science-based coaching methodology.
We have been fortunate to be rewarded with extraordinary success.
They have reignited confidence and passion, escaping their perceived performance limits in dramatic fashion. They have leapt forward into a life fully supported by their own abundant competence.
I am ready to declare the end of the Peter Principle. At best, it provided a humorous view of organizational disaster, and perhaps helped us explain some of the frustration we feel when we’re exposed to an incompetent manager. At worst, it has fertilized a rampant self-doubt epidemic, and has precipitated untold human suffering through its evil cousin, the imposter syndrome.
It is time for each of us to turn inward to address the roadblocks we put on our own paths, to emerge as victors, striding forward in renewed vitality and confidence.
Please join me on this wonderful journey, beyond the Peter Principle!