The Peter Principle II

Unless you are living on a mountaintop alone, you are going to have to deal with people.  And, for the good order, you must also accept that they are going to have to deal with you.

Most of the time we can take it or leave it when it comes to dealing with people, but when it comes to work we usually find it’s basically a one-way street –  “take it.”  And that’s when we begin to pay more attention to how this “boss-employee” thingy is working, as opposed to how we expected it to work.

The Peter Principle affirms that we are not crazy when we realize that our boss falls into one of the two categories:

  • Competent People Managers
  • Incompetent People Managers

Competent People Mangers all typically seem to behave the same, as if they had an instinct or were trained to treat their subordinates as if they were a more than just a resource but more as an asset that had a particular purpose. Like an expensive tool, they needed to be taken care of properly so that they would be available and in the best shape possible when they were needed. At least whoever came up with the concept of “Human Resources” was on the right track.

Incompetent People Managers, however, seem more like someone who was never taught, or never learned, that tools needed to be used properly, used for their designed purpose and then put back where they belonged so they were ready to go when needed.  And to keep them oiled so they wouldn’t corrode. Why these people are still around seems to indicate that the fullness of the “Human Resources” concept hasn’t fully filtered all the way down.

I’ve had both types of people managers in my career and, on the whole, I prefer having a Competent one.  What I was taught to expect (from various assorted “theoretical studies,” textbooks, and pontificating seminar speakers) is that a Competent People Manager, besides managing a group to achieve specific objectives, will recognize the value in an employee (their strengths and weaknesses), and mentor and develop them for the benefit of the organization.  In other words, one of their jobs is to increase the value of the employee to the organization.

On the other hand, an Incompetent People Manager not only does not do these things, but in many cases engages in other behaviors.  They may feel intimidated and/or threatened by the employee (or clueless as to why they are there) and consequently overlook them.  They may even secretly identify them, deliberately fail to mentor them, and perhaps even work to block them or even set them up for failure.  Once upon a time, when newspapers were still in vogue, I would never miss my daily fix of Dilbert just to know all was still unwell somewhere in the world.

What became clear through my many experiences is that we were not all on the same playing field, my incompetent bosses and I (and coworkers).  We weren’t even playing by the same rules and often not the same game, even though the publicly understood rule was “to manage tasks and the group of employees to achieve organizational goals.”

According to The Peter Principle, The First Commandment of Hierarchical Life for incompetent leadership is to preserve the hierarchy.  This means that any change to the hierarchy (including added value) will be resisted or prevented.  The fear seems to be, “If you get stronger, then I must get weaker.”  It became clear that the rules of the game being played out below the surface were, at best, for a Zero Sum (0∑) Game and one that could easily devolve into a Negative Sum (-∑) Game.

A Competent People Manager, on the other hand, actually follows the rules for what is known as a Positive Sum (+∑) Game – one in which everyone can benefit; it’s win-win-win for the customers, the company, the shareholders, the manager, and the employees.

While The Peter Principle dealt primarily with the work environment, I suggest that we need to know it is equally applicable in any other environment in which we find – people.  And while The Peter Principle did not identify the Games People Play, or the reality that they can be playing multiple games at the same time and even changing the game in a particular situation, it did describe the behaviors and outcomes.

These Games People Play are important enough to place them in the Fundamental Principle category, so that will be next up.  In the meantime, just based upon the brief descriptions above, ask yourself the following,

  • Do I even know I am playing games?
  • What game am I playing in life?
  • Do I play a different game depending on the situation?
  • What is my dominant (preferred) game?
  • Do my behaviors indicate which game I’m playing?

When you know what behaviors to look for, you can tell what Game other people are actually playing.  And, if they’re informed, they can tell which Game you are playing.


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 03: The Peter Principle and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Peter Principle II

  1. Ray Martin says:

    CEOs often get appointed based on their technical skills earlier in their careers, but then get fired because they can’t get along with people. They are caught off guard because it hadn’t been a requirement earlier in their professional life. This article gets at the heart of the matter.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s