The Peter Principle states, “Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetency.” From a psychological perspective there is a great deal of truth in that statement. Ever wonder why it occurs? Let’s explore based on depth psychology (Carl Jung) and the concept of temperament. Some background will help.
In depth psychology we have 8 function attitudes. These are ways in which we gather and process information. We all have them. Where we vary is in the preferred order in which we use them.
There are two major ways we can gather information: Sensing and Intuiting. These break down further into “extroverted” and “introverted.” Likewise, there are two major ways we can process information: Feeling and Thinking. These, too, break down further into “extroverted” and “introverted.” Combining this information we end up with the following table:
|Sensing – extroverted||Feeling – extroverted|
|Sensing – introverted||Feeling – introverted|
|Intuiting – extroverted||Thinking – extroverted|
|Intuiting – introverted||Thinking – introverted|
We all have all eight. Where we vary as individuals is in the rank order. Also, for each of us, our number 1 gets the highest amount of brainpower while our number 8 is the most difficult to work use. This leads to an interesting dictum.
“For as strong as you are in one part of life there is a corresponding Achilles heel…and there’s no getting around this.”
For example, someone who has Thinking – extroverted as number one has Feeling – extroverted as number eight. What does this mean?
The Thinking – extroverted part means this is a take-charge type of person. She can give orders and take command. Think of an entrepreneur starting a business. There can be a gruffness present that is somewhat abrasive, but things get done! The business grows. It runs like a clock. In fact, it grows to the point that how it is organized (or should I say “disorganized”) is becoming increasingly important. The number of squabbles between employees is increasing and it is showing in terms of how customers are serviced and outsiders view the business.
This is where Peter Principle comes into play. The very strength that grew the business, Thinking – extroverted, has led to a problem that is the most difficult for the founder to solve. Barking more orders only makes things worse.
Feeling – extroverted has been studiously avoided. People are told to suck it up and get the job done. This may sound macho but the reality is the leader is avoiding it because she is at a loss as to how to deal with the issue. In fact, she’s probably afraid of it. There is an important reason as to why this occurs:
Addressing the weaker functions requires putting the strong one aside.
You can probably hear the entrepreneur saying, “Are you crazy! I built this business based on my commanding attitude and now you want me to listen to their feelings! We don’t have time for that! This is a BUSINESS!” At this moment the Peter Principle surfaces in all its flaming glory and if not addressed trouble occurs. That trouble starts with the leader looking foolish and needing to be “understood” and progresses to a tragedy in which clients aren’t getting served, costs go up due to inefficiencies, and the competition starts eating your lunch.
Don’t despair. In the next blog we’ll go a little deeper and see if anything positive can come of this.
—Through his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Twitter at @garymonti