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The Peter Principle: The Ultimate Glass Ceiling

Jim McLoughlin


In its raw form, the "Peter Principle" simply states that both organizations and people tend to develop/succeed up to their level of competence -- after which incompetence prevails.


The primary characteristics of the Peter Principle are:

  1. It stealthfully positions a performance 'glass ceiling' upon each of us.
  2. It never goes away.
  3. Its glass ceiling can be advanced (see below) creating added upward mobility.
  4. When ignored, it can do damage.


Because it is difficult to know when we have reached our personal Peter Principle levels, we should always assume we are close to doing so because this will trigger the response necessary to cope effectively with the concept.


Coping With The Peter Principle


The key to overcoming the Peter Principle (i.e.- advancing one's personal Glass Ceiling) for superintendents and everyone else is to improve one's skill sets through education, and/or life style experiences - as profiled below.


1. Family: The death knell for most marriages is when one spouse grows personally and matures more than the other (who is said to be at his/her Peter Principle level) taking them off the same page in life and away from common ground.


How to counteract The Peter Principle: To help each other grow together and become/remain a true interactive and loving team, spouses must/should: first and foremost be good listeners; share a common life; seek mutual adventure; communicate; be generous with and compliment each other; and accept mutual responsibility for the rearing of their children -- and more.


2. Job/Career: Superintendents should always assume that some meaningful percentage of their ground crews are approaching, or have reached their Peter principle levels and, therefore, act accordingly.


How to counteract The Peter Principle:

To ensure that their ground crews are given every opportunity to cope with and grow beyond their individual Peter Principle limitations superintendents should:


a. Focus on new and old program "safety" (OSHA) procedures at every opportunity every year!


b. Assemble updated professional video libraries and regularly quiz crew members on each video topic.


c. Use staff evaluation meetings: to ask employees for new ideas; to review and adjust staff job descriptions as necessary; to present plus/minus critiques of job performance; and to update compensation packages.


d. Assume a moderate (versus an over-demanding) CEO role that would allow key ground crew members to grow personally and professionally. Constructively monitor their work.


e. Establish/monitor delegated chains of command within staff; i.e.- from superintendent to assistants and from assistants to specific staff members.


3.   Golf Associations: The consensus industry opinion today is that all but two of the approximate 300 national golf associations and their many regional chapters and sections across the country have collectively and separately reached their Peter Principle levels.


The two organizations mentioned above that have not met their Peter Principle limitations are the National Golf Foundation and the United States Golf Association because they alone have incorporated adequate private sector expertise within their administrations. More on this topic at a later time!


How to counteract The Peter Principle: Specific recommendations re: how golf associations can effectively deal with their Peter Principle limitations will be presented within this blog series later in the year.


Borrowing from an old university cliché ("publish or perish"), the people on this good earth have the option of either coping with the Peter Principle, or wishing they had, because a lifetime of confusion and disappointment will likely follow if they don't.


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