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Pay Peter but Don't Promote Him

June 28, 2011

Peter contributes to your business and makes you and the organization successful.  He has led the team in sales, new ideas, cost-savings, and new project developments.  He is ripe for the next step.  Peter has done everything you can think of in his role to make you ready to advance him.  And he’s up for promotion. These are the performance reviews that dreams are made of… no shortcomings, hitting on all cylinders, let’s talk about everything you do right and then discuss the next step up for you.  This is your call and you are ready to move Peter into leadership.

Over coffee, you share the slam dunk you are about to make.  Your colleague looks puzzled and says,“You’re promoting Peter?”

Airbags deploy.  Shriek of brakes.  Oh no!  With trepidation you ask your colleague, “Uhhhh, what’s wrong with Peter?”  And your colleague rattles off…

“I love Peter, he’s helpful, likeable, upbeat, open to coaching… a great corporate citizen.  He’s definitely modest, content, comfortable in his own skin.  He doesn’t tick people off.  He shares credit for accomplishments and I can’t remember him butting heads with anyone.  Peter is steady as a rock, he stays on task and doesn’t kid around.”

Phew, that was close!  For a minute there you thought maybe you were wrong about Peter.  Sadly though, what was just described is the perfect follower.  In addition to the positive attributes your colleague just mentioned, here are the other things that are likely to accompany Peter’s personality profile:

  • He rarely voices his own opinions and gets uncomfortable when he has to say “no” to others

  • Hating to “rock the boat,” he will eagerly please others and follow those in authority

  • To maintain cordiality and approval, he will defer to others’ judgments

  • Reluctant to act independently, he will over-rely on others, making him indecisive

  • His comfort zone lies in “behind-the-scenes” roles

  • His career agenda is vague and relies on waiting for others to make moves for him

Pull the trigger and you will be the next textbook case of the Peter Principle – promoting Peter to a point where he will perform incompetently.  Leaders in every organization have a duty to seek out successors – the leaders of tomorrow who will keep the organization moving forward.  You can facilitate that effort by conducting targeted assessments to identify people with those competencies.  Just don’t forget that you can also identify those who shouldn’t progress.  And they’re not always lost causes.  You can peg a future leader but you can also peg a brilliant follower.  Don’t rob Peter by advancing him.  Pay him to follow.

The Ultimate Hiring Manager’s Guide

Drew Brock, Ph.D.