The Peter Principle Is Funny, But Also A Key Insight Into Our Professional Identity

The Peter Principle states a person will be promoted, at work, until they are one level beyond their maximum skill level. 

This explains how a star salesman can be promoted up to a less-than-mediocre manager, and a million other Michael Scott quality examples. 

If you’ve ever said, “how did this loser get this job,” you’ve experienced the Peter Principle in action. 

But there’s a deeper human element here too that we can’t forget, especially if we’re helping others advance or find happiness at work. 

The hierarchical rules of our society want to promote people, and once they can’t promote them anymore, the rules leave people stranded.

Really take that idea in: the Peter Principle states people will be promoted beyond their capabilities, which means once successful people will get stranded on professional islands where they find themselves suddenly ineffective and without the opportunity to advance further.  

The rules of the hierarchy are made to overlook what makes a promoted person whole in the first place, including the very essence of what makes them great at some specific job. 

The most effective thing we can do, for ourselves and others, is think about our work as a part of our identity, and not where we should or could be promoted to, but where we are in our best place to do our best work. With or without the promotions, titles, or pay increases/quality of real-life reductions. 

If the extroverted all-star salesperson is alive when they’re meeting new people and making deals, why would we ever take that away from them? The answer is we only should if that’s what they wanted. Sometimes that may be true, but other times it may be not. 

The path doesn’t always respect the person. Remember to put the person first. The Peter Principle may be great for a laugh, but it’s also a critically important reminder of how important it is to understand who we are.