Promotion? — No Thanks

Getting “promoted” could move you away from what you do well.

The popular little book titled “The Peter Principle” was written in 1969.  After studying hundreds of organizations, the author, Laurence Peter, concluded that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his/her level of incompetence.”  We’ve all seen it happen: the great bank teller who gets moved up to branch manager only to leave in disgrace for not being able to sell new business or to manage employees.  The sales rep that gets promoted to territory manager but cannot discipline his former buddies.  The best construction worker who is asked to be project overseer but leaves in anger because he could not understand the budget forecasts.

The author thus proposed that the best “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.”  But isn’t this just a matter of learning new skills and growing in responsibilities?  Perhaps – but frequently it is simply taking someone out of what he/she does well and putting them into an area that does not match their strongest abilities at all.

As a business owner I recognize my areas of incompetence quickly – managing people or budgets are not things I do well.  I love to think, write and be the visionary but I’m fooling myself if I think I can perform all the functions in our business better than anyone else.  I bring in others whose skills clearly exceed mine in many areas.

“Comrades, you have lost a good captain to make him an ill general.”

– Michel de Montaigne  (1533 – 1592)

One of the keys to living out our calling is to be doing work that blends our (1) Skills & Abilities, (2) Personality Traits, and (3) our Values, Dreams & Passions.  Think how frequently we see this violated when someone is “promoted:” The quiet introvert who is thrust into the middle of office interaction; the analytical person who is forced to represent the company in a sales and marketing role.  The best nursery teacher in the school is not necessarily the best candidate for school principal.  A great youth pastor may be miserable as a senior pastor.  This isn’t a matter of unwillingness – we have to realize that even “open doors” and “opportunities” can lead us away from God’s ideal path.  The key is to know ourselves and see confirmation of God’s preparation in other ways as well.

In today’s volatile workplace people are often forced to move from organization to organization.  In many ways, this is a positive occurrence.  Rather than being expected to move vertically up the ranks to a position of incompetence, you can address your strongest areas of competence and again apply them in a new organization or opportunity.

Do you know your strongest “areas of competence?”  Are you using those effectively each day?

26 Responses to “Promotion? — No Thanks”

  1. davidbmc Says:

    Great message Dan! I am on a committee at work that is trying to deal with this very issue. We have people who are excellent at their job but have now been promoted to managerial positions that they are not so good at. Some of it is a training/coaching issue. Some of it is just a matter of them not being in their element.

  2. Frieda Says:

    I worked for 25 years for a textile company in the hope that I would find the niche I knew I was good at. I worked intensely thinking that a promotion is what I needed. I came to realize my strengths lay not in data entry, but in reports, auditing and analysis. Time and time again I tried to play this out, was successful, but then ignored. I was ‘too good’ at data entry it seems. I bid on jobs outside the dept. perfect for my strengths, but when I was approached they had changed the salary to a pay cut on the edge of a complete software redo. The new person would have to set up the new reports, and I passed it with flying colors. It’s too bad the company CEO could not see the benefit in my work and instead decided the job should have such a deep salary cut despite every other assistant in that slot being paid well. The textile industry was deeply affected, and he began with those of us trying to improve and stay loyal to the company.

    I left the company over that and other issues that dealt with bad management.

  3. Beverly Cassler Says:

    How very true-this happens all the time. We take the best at thier present job and make the “assumption” that they will be the best at another position. After all, don’t we (as management) want only the best working for us? However, we often take people away from what it is they are doing that makes them the best and thrust them into another arena where those same skills are not the ones that are the most important for them to succeed when promoted. I work for a bank and the statement about the bank teller is factual as my tellers are often moved up into banker positions and suddenly they are on their own, away from the safety of a team, and asked to shine without having what they needed, and that was the security of the team. The whole bank loses. The teller, now a banker, starts to fail, the teller line needs a new teller who might or might now be good at that job, and sooner than later we lose one and sometimes two team members. The former teller and the new teller, both who could not handle the stress and requirements of the new position. Sometimes we need to see that people who are the leaders are that way because they are in the position they should be in-and give them a raise for doing such a great job and not a promotion where we set them up to fail.

  4. ILM Says:

    Thank you for your article! Your message hit the mark with me! I have never wanted my Supervisor’s job. One day I was called into my VP’s office and he had all the paperwork in hand to promote me into my former Supervisor’s position( he had just ousted her from her job). I knew he need someone to fill the position quickly and thought I was a good fit after doing the work for years. I was afraid that if I didn’t take the job when he offered, I would also be let go. I said yes and I was miserable..didn’t like managing people and all the politics. I left within a year!

    I am at a new job within the last 4 months and I was offered another promotion but decided it was not for me and declined. It was a great “nonmove” for me! Thanks for recognizing that climbing the Corporate ladder isn’t the goal for everyone!

  5. Steve Says:

    Thanks Dan for all your insights.
    I first read the “Peter Principle” in 1969 as a 14 year old in junior high. I did not understand the depths of truth it contained but found it interesting and entertaining. In my career I have worked with and under managers living out the principle so it has became real to me. Can be extremely irritating for the workers and especially frustrating for the managers themselves trying to function efficiently and happily in a position they were not designed for. This is a major reason I have resisted my loving wife’s suggestion to get into management. I can learn and grow at my present level without taking the next step to management and fulfilling the principle in my own life.

  6. Alisa Says:

    Dan Thank You! over the past few weeks I have battled over this situation of living out my calling or getting promoted to a Senior level position. This article is straight from God! Thanks!

  7. MarkWC Says:

    Good timing! Just yesterday, while browsing at the book store, I came across a mother-lode of books on the subject of discovering – and playing to – your strengths at work. Their message: identify your talents (i.e., your “strengths”), add knowledge and skills that are appropriate to those talents, and work in a job that allows you to put those talents to use as much as possible. Once you find that special job, don’t allow yourself to be moved to another position that does not utilize your strengths so fully.

    The books, wirtten by folks from the Gallup polls organization, include Now, Discover Your Strengths; Go Put Your Strengths to Work; Strengths Finder 2.0; and How Full Is Your Bucket. Highly recommended.

  8. Nathalie Gregg Says:

    Great article! We often think that success is measure by the size of our office, title, or toys. Success is measured when we focus on our strengths and engage a team. I call it Staying in Your Lane. In order for all of us to be successful we must play our role. If I am the quarter back of the team why would I attempt to play center? Who will play my role if I am busy playing someone else’s? Staying In Our Lane can be challenging but necessary to achieve optimal success.

  9. Rachel Says:

    You wrote, regarding people being outside their area(s) of strength: “the analytical person who is forced to represent the company in a sales and marketing role…”. That is what I dread most about my current job. They even had their HR person give me a personality traits/skills test BEFORE I was hired…and it definitely said that sales/marketing (i.e. “soliciting”) isn’t something I can do or enjoy or have any wish to be a part of. It is what will eventually cause me to move on (that, plus the salary isn’t high enough for me to live completely independently of others).

  10. Diane Huneke Says:

    Dear Dan, I can totally relate to this article. At one of my former jobs, I had the opportunity, on two seperate occasions, to apply for a higher position in my department. And, I would have been able to secure that position, without a doubt, as I had handled every responsibility in the department during any co-worker absences. I worked for that company for a total of 27 years and knew myself well enough to know what I was good at and what I liked to do; I was already doing it. When I was asked by my manager and senior manager, on both occasions, if I was interested in the higher position, I told them “no thanks”. I knew I was already right where I belonged and was happy being there. I asked my senior manager one day if he had any less respect for me; not having applied for the high position and not going for that promotion. He told me that I was doing a great job, he was always happy with my work, and if the job I was already doing was what made me happy, I should keep on doing it. That really meant alot to me and I miss working for that company as they have since gone out of business.

  11. Mark Says:

    I’m the analytical person who got promoted to management. I’ve been miserable for the past 9 years. With the help of your personality profiles and other tests, I’m building a plan to change things. Your prayers will be appreciated.

  12. Pete Says:

    Thank you, Dan, for your insightful article. It really hit home with me. I worked for 12 years at JPMorgan Chase (originally with Chase Manhattan) and was very happy at the beginning of my time there. But to survive three major mergers I was moved to various jobs that suited neither my skillset nor temperament. By the end of my time there I was unable to perform satisfactorily and my performance reviews suffered. Ironically, when I tried to apply for other positions within the company, I was told that my below-average rating prohibited me from applying for a new position.

    I knew it was time to leave and, after reading 48 Days to the Work You Love, much prayer and an extensive job search, I found my perfect job. It pays a little less than my former one but I received a great raise and bonus this past January that more than made up for it.

    I recently heard rumors that my boss may be moving on and was officially told that I’m the #1 performer in the group and the likely candidate to fill his position should he ever leave. But my answer is going to be “No thank you”.

  13. L. Says:

    Sorry, I have a problem with this. I thought your insights and advice were supposed to be based on Biblical principles. If so, how does this explain God taking a shepherd boy and making him a king. Obviously, he was a good shepherd boy and by your examples should have just stayed there. Did God make a mistake in taking him out of what he was doing to become king of Israel? Is it just possible that some of these people when promoted relied more on their own abilities than on Christ’s which is in us. Not sure I would tell people to stay where they are just in case they are not good at it. Perhaps, seeking God and His will would be better advice.

  14. Jim B. Says:


    After 20 years as an investment broker, I sold my book of business a few years back to start a home based business that hasn’t panned out, and am confronted with going back to my former role. Having an introverted/analytical bent, I find it almost enraging that I feel pigeonedholed in a role that I never wanted to go back to but the only one I am getting offers from. I feel stuck and given the belief in what you wrote: “One of the keys to living out our calling is to be doing work that blends our (1) Skills & Abilities, (2) Personality Traits, and (3) our Values, Dreams & Passions”….I’m not sure what to do given depleted funds.

  15. Mary Says:

    Sometimes we allow ourselves to get in a place where we don’t know our goals, dreams aspirations so, therefore, are unable to focus and try to figure out our strong points.
    I’m stuck

  16. Adrianne Says:

    This past year I have come had the pleasure of meeting a lot of new people. Through conversations I’m asked what do I do, do I like it and my answer was always “ehh, it’s alright” but then one day I met someone else with friends and the same question came up. His answer was “I LOVE IT”. Right then and there I knew I needed to discover what my true passion was. I’m good at my current position and love the people I work with but I have no desire to do what my boss does, I know I would not be good in that role. I did do alot of thinking about what my passions are and where I could link that into a career and I figured it out. I am currently back in school working on a second degree. At 31 I am the oldest in all my classes but to do something i will love is worth every minute.

  17. Mimi Says:

    This is a very insightful piece!
    I was a copywriter/creative director in marketing communications for twenty-one years. Then, i got a job (still in marketing communications) where it was believed that i would fit the position and responsibilities of a brand development and business service director just because i had undertaken some similar responsibilities in the past. I reluctantly agreed (i needed the job for financial reasons) on the understanding that i would still be able to do my creative thing on the side. Six months down the line, i had to opt out as it was in no way what i enjoyed doing. Sure, i was competent at it. But i wasn’t being fulfilled. I certainly wasn’t excelling at it the way i used to as a creative person.
    Now, i’m trying to summon the courage to start my own company writing stories for children, Christian inspirationals, and generally creative-driven activities.
    I strongly believe that employers should endeavour to match the skills and strengths of staff to the right jobs rather than try to fit staff into specific positions.
    May the Lord guide us towards fulfilling our purposes here on earth.

  18. Jacqueline Says:

    Some people work well amonst their colleagues, but when given the task to manage, things just don’t add up. I was one of these preformers at an old company that is now closed. I worked well, but showed traits of management material, that I was unaware of. When given the task to temporarily supervised, I jump right in. I did not know fully the responsibility I had when I said yes: I had to listen to complaints, solve issues, prioritize internal and external matters, as some clashed, I had to focus extremely on time-management. I also learnt to deviate from the “friendship” relationship during work hours. I was challenged in areas where I had no control over, and had to coordinate to find answers for demanding clients. It was an experience to remember. I would do it over again, because I love administration, but prefer to train more and gather as much information as I could.

  19. Gideon Anya Says:

    The words in this write-up stricks me like anointing that exposes my inadequacies I need to correct as quickly as possible.
    My job in a manufacturing factory as Manager with engineering background. Faced with managing of many engineering and production workers to meet the daily production plans applying new manufacturing techniquesand practices, I’ve have problems organising things well. But my big problem is that the same thing is trying to creep up again in mr ministry as a branch Pastor of a church. It seems I need counseling, don’t I?

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