You want to be a rising star in your company, but your meteoric rise can peter out, literally, if you get Peter Principled. The Peter Principle states that people get promoted to their level of incompetence because their promotions are based on their performance in the current role, instead of on their potential to excel in the next role.

To keep growing on a steep trajectory and avoid getting stalled out by the Peter Principle, find ways to start taking on some of the responsibilities of the next level and see how they fit with your strengths before you ask for that promotion. Here’s a checklist of things you can be doing to ‘try on’ the next level and see how it fits:

  • Ask questions that push your team beyond the status quo.
  • Constantly learn and talk with your manager about how new ideas connect to bigger picture goals.
  • Manage change and conflict to keep everyone on track and achieving goals.
  • Take on projects that stretch you into new areas of learning and responsibility.
  • Lead a team of your coworkers in a project that improves results for your team as a whole.

These kinds of activities will give you an opportunity to start performing at the level of the next role so you and your manager can assess your readiness and potential for it. You don’t need permission to start doing these things. Just start doing them.

You are at the greatest risk for being Peter Principled if your next promotion will transition you from individual performer to supervisor or manager. In that leap, you’ll become responsible for achieving goals through capitalizing on other people’s strengths, not just through your own effort. Here are some questions you can ask to see how naturally you’re already working at the next level:

  • Who is already following you? Where do you have influence even though you don’t have formal power or authority?
  • Do you elevate the game and inspire your teammates to work harder and reach higher?
  • How often do you see what other people do well and position them to succeed? 
  • How many people naturally turn to you for answers or advice or a listening ear?
  • Does your manager trust you implicitly?

So…are you really ready for that promotion? If you are, aggressively pursue that growth – even if it means going to another company. If reading this casts light on areas for further growth, consider your greatest strengths, and figure out how you can use them to help you improve in those areas.


Kim Turnage, Ph.D. works as a Senior Leadership Consultant for Talent Plus and with her colleague Larry Sternberg is author of Managing to Make a Difference. She writes regularly on leadership and everything that goes along with it. Find more of her work here.

 

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