Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Different Peter Principle

Image by Holly Hayes at Art History Images
In 1969, Dr. Laurence J, Peter and Raymond Hull published The Peter Principle in which they observed that competent people in an organization tend to get promoted until they reach a position that is above their skill level. When they rise to the level of their incompetence, they are no longer promoted and remain in that position. The logical result is that most people are incompetent in the position they hold.

The argument is compelling and may be accurate in some instances, but I have not observed it often in my experience over the last 30 years. Perhaps The Peter Principle no longer applies in today’s highly competitive global economy. With flatter organizations, fewer people are promoted and companies are careful about who they promote. And incompetence isn’t tolerated for long. Those who don’t succeed quickly are moved into a different position or out of the organization.

I want to propose a different Peter Principle based upon a much older book. In the Gospels, there were many people who encountered Jesus and followed him with blind devotion from that point forward. But Peter was different. One of the first followers, he did not follow blindly. In almost every story, Peter was the one saying the wrong thing, asking the wrong questions.

In many ways, Peter’s character was a perfect literary device for the Gospel writers. When Peter made an inappropriate statement or asked a difficult question, it was the perfect setup for Jesus to respond with something profound and mysterious.  But the end of the story makes me believe that Peter’s questions had a more important purpose.  In the end, it is Peter that Jesus puts in charge of leading the church.

My Peter Principle is “If you want to lead, you have to ask the difficult questions.”  It is through questioning and struggling for understanding that we gain the insight required to lead our organizations into the future.

What questions do you ponder?