There’s a concept called, “The Peter Principle,” that is often used to describe the reason for someone’s lack of success. From Wikipedia:

“The Peter principle is a concept in management developed by Laurence J. Peter which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to ‘a level of respective incompetence’: employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.”


The shorthand is that people rise to the level of their incompetence. It’s used to ascribe reason to the limit of someone’s accomplishment.

A less cynical way to think about it though, is that people rise to the level with which they have the opportunity to grow. Or that people navigate their course until they meet an obstacle which requires growth.

Last week, I asked our team to take on a project that they had never done before, but that I know we have the capability to do. They hemmed and hawed, expressed doubt, and confusion, and looked to me to provide the path forward. They wanted a leader to layout a plan for them.

But I didn’t take on that role. Instead, I gave them space and a little coaching so that they could develop the plan themselves. On Monday, they were stuck. A week later, they’re making progress.

Initially, they hit that Peter Principle limit. Then they started to develop the skills needed to form their own plan. Eventually, they’ll become adept enough that this sort of situation will no longer be an obstacle and then we’ll discover what the next opportunity for growth is.