In the process of growing up and becoming a successful leader, you most likely put together a set of well-developed values, beliefs, experiences, and capacities. You have probably done well at suppressing your emotions and demonstrating your rational thinking. Being successful means your mix has served you well; you have been rewarded, “bonused,” and encouraged along the way. You have probably learned to rely on the way you interact, solve problems, and produce results to the point where the basis of your thinking, (your “paradigm”), is now instant, automatic, and unexamined. To paraphrase the Peter Principle, you can expect to be promoted to your level of incompetence, (if you haven’t been already). This means that at some point,”the success train” of your career is coming to a halt. If you happen to own your own business, and are already at the top, it is likely to happen in the form of business expansion. In other words, your business will expand to your level of incompetence.
How does this happen? Our belief is that as your work requires broader and broader reach and impact, the very traits and skills that got you rewarded and promoted to your next level of accountability, (or allowed you to create a successful business), can be what defeats you. You will be working with many more people who differ in their perspectives, learning styles, ways of processing information, and ways of interacting with others the bigger your career or business gets. In order to make the leap past the Peter Principle, you will have to expand your own skills and capacities.
Einstein’s oft-quoted statement “problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them” applies here. If you continue to rely solely on your own thinking and way of operating, (and why shouldn’t you since, after all, you are successful and you got here, didn’t you?), then you are in a place of “self-referencing leadership,” and that means the Peter Principle is “in effect.” To continue to lead successfully, you will be required to think in new ways and benefit from the thoughts and perspectives of others. In other words, cherished self-reliance becomes obsolete. Collaboration, inclusion, openness, the ability to continue learning, respect of others’ skills, expecting others to contribute - these are the traits that are critical to develop.
To collaborate successfully will require opening up to creativity, inspiration, and empowering others. Doing this will require developing the added dimensions of intuition, (gut feel), and heart-centered knowledge to your already highly developed intellect. (See last week’s blog post on using all of your intelligence if this is a new concept.)
So bottomline, when success is at hand, and all the skills you currently possess have gotten you there, it’s time to push yourself to expand. You must increase your capacities to collaborate with others and your “capacities of intelligence” if you are going to overcome the Peter Principle and continue to be a successful, and not merely self-referencing, leader.