The Peter Principle President

As I attempt to reinvent my career and reflect back on those years in the corporate health care sales industry, the cast of characters boggles my mind. If there was one common denominator it was the incompetence on parade, from regional managers to home office executives, the “Peter Principle” was on full display. Not to say that I was any more competent than my supervisors, but our fearless leader was often the least qualified person on the team.

Author Laurence J. Peter published the best selling business classic, “The Peter Principle” in 1969 and it still resonates today, particularly when it comes to politics. His premise was that in any hierarchy or organization, every member tends to rise to his or her level of “incompetence” and that in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is too incompetent to perform the job. Through a series of pre-reality show age stories and case studies, Dr. Peter illustrates as to why the hierarchies and bureaucracies of the world are so inefficient. Although written as the decade of “free love”,Woodstock, and 1960’s anti-establishment was giving way to “That 70’s Show”, the author predicted that the trend would worsen. He couldn’t have been more accurate, as we see in current day business and big government.

A perfect, yet fictitious example of corporate incompetence is portrayed weekly on one of my favorite TV sitcoms “The Office”, starring the incomparable Steve Carell as an inept paper company manager. Similar in theme is the 1999 classic movie “Office Space”, a relevant parody on the trials and tribulations of the modern work place. Who can forget the coffee mug toting manager Mr. Lumbergh as he epitomizes the boss we all hate.

Of course, you don’t have to resort to the escapism of movies and TV to witness real world buffoons running American business. Some may be unethical and criminal, but certainly incompetency is a key component of their management style. From Enron to the auto companies, to Wall Street, it’s “buyer beware” in business today…

We are now struggling to stay afloat in a river of snake oil created by this way of thinking. Many of us didn’t want to see the lies, exaggerations, and arrogance that pumped up our portfolios. Instead we showered huge rewards on the false financial heroes who fed our delusions.” – Business Week

Yet no organization screams “Peter Principle” louder than our “public servants” in government. Are you telling me that tax cheat Timothy Geithner, Scary Harry Reed, Nancy “Bella” Pelosi, Barney “I saved the banks” Franks, or Bush and McCain is the best we can do? As for our CEO in Chief, we have no idea how “competent” President Obama was as a college student, since he won’t release his grades. He may been an all world “community organizer” or associate professor, but he certainly wasn’t a legendary Senator, unless missing votes(Washington Post) qualifies you as a “competent” leader.

So based on the theory proposed by the “Peter Principle”, where individuals rise to a certain level in an organization, only to be promoted to a position that’s way “beyond their pay grade”, how should we evaluate our current President? Let’s see, he campaigns on “change we can believe in”, and claims unemployment won’t exceed 8%. He proposes to reach across the aisle and end partisan politics, yet tells the public that Republicans caused this “mess”, and they should sit in the back of the bus. He spends more money in 2 years than any President in history, while playing more golf than I have, (and I have played my share of golf)…

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that President Obama has succumbed to the aforementioned “Principle”. With tax rates about to expire and the private sector stagnate, he jets off to Afghanistan. It seems clear that Michael from “The Office” or even Mr. Lumbergh with coffee cup in hand might be the better man…

The Peter Principle President
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