Have you heard of "The Peter Principle"? I bet you didn't know it actually came from a book by that name. In this 1968 book, Lawrence J. Peter wrote: "In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence...in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.... Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence."
This principle applied to me. But I got out of it, and so can you. When I joined Texas Instruments in 2002, I was the director of strategy. I loved my job. I loved my office in the heart of California's wine country. I loved the people around me. I had a good time. My wife asked, "Isn't TI's headquarters in Dallas? Aren't we going to have to move to Dallas?" "No!" I replied. "But what if they ask you to be a general manager of a business unit in Dallas? Wouldn't we have to move there?"
It's as if she doesn't listen!
Fast-forward 17 months. "Mother Ship" in Dallas called and wanted me to be the general manager of a $100 million business unit, but I would have to move to Dallas.... There is something that my wife knows that I am not privy to. And it's scary. So we moved to Dallas. Plano, Texas, actually. And I took over the business unit. I didn't do a good job. We grew sales by 20 percent and profit almost threefold, but it wasn't because of me. It was in spite of me. I didn't love my job anymore.
One day, my boss asked me if I would be interested in a workshop at the Center for Creative Leadership in Colorado Springs, Colorado. If I remember correctly, it cost the company some $16,000 to send me there for a week. There were a lot of self and 360-degree assessments that were made prior to that. It was an intense yet very enjoyable week. I learned a lot, and met amazing people.
Until the last day. Friday morning, I sat with an organizational psychologist (no, there's nothing wrong with me...). Looking at my background, she wanted to frame the two-hour discussion around the question: Am I a startup or a large company person? "There is another question that bothers me more," I said, "am I a leader, or an individual contributor?" She accepted the challenge, and we talked for the next two hours.
After the graduation ceremony later that day, I headed to the airport, and by the time I landed in Dallas, I knew what I had to do Monday morning. I went to see my boss and told her: "I don't want to be the general manager anymore. I want to be the strategist for our group of business units."
And that's what happened. I became the strategist for a $250 million business group, and launched the industry effort for USB 3.0. Once again, I loved what I did. And I was good at it! Now, 14 years later, I have my own business. I work seven days a week, more than 16 hours a day, but I love every minute of it. And I'm good at it!
You see, when I became a general manager, I rose to my level of incompetence. I could stay there, but I wouldn't do a great job and I wouldn't enjoy it.
Ask yourself: Am I doing what I like? Did I rise to get a better title, but am now stuck doing something I don't like? If you feel stuck, get over your pride and ego and move to a job you really like and are really good at.
Get out of your level of incompetence!