The Dangers of Promoting High Performers, by EMMANUEL NANDOKHA

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Since time immemorial, institutions have often chosen those who excel at individual performance to positions of management and leadership.

This is based on the false premise that a technically competent and skilled individual, shall excel at a leadership and management role.

This has had a mixed return because people management and technical competence do not necessarily tally.

Many individual top performers have over the years been promoted consistently until they get to their highest level of incompetence then they come crashing down.

Canadian researcher Dr. Laurence J. Peter (1910-90) in his 1969 satirical book 'The Peter Principle.' Said that in a hierarchical institution, individuals are continually promoted until they reach their highest level of incompetence after which they stop rising . The organization is therefore at different levels staffed by people who are yet to reach their highest level of incompetence. This theory has never been subjected to any rigorous research but some interesting thoughts to support this are coming up.

Google, a company that prides itself in being a firm that makes its strategic decisions based on facts, has some interesting facts to support the fallacy of promoting high performers to positions of responsibility.

It surveyed over 10,000 managers and their performance reviews and found that of the 8 traits that make effective managers , technical expertise ranks last .

Based on the list of importance are the following traits

  1. Be a good coach;

  2. Empower your team and don't micromanage;

  3. Express interest in employee's success and well-being;

  4. Be productive and results-oriented;

  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team;

  6. Help your employees with career development;

  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team; and

  8. Have key technical skills, so you can help advise the team.

This ties in to what Daniel Goleman proposes in his research and writing on emotional intelligence and primal leadership. He states that emotionally intelligent individuals work better and lead better that those who are emotionally unintelligent.

Ram Charam in his book “The Leadership Pipeline” poses that as people transition from being individual contributors to team leaders, then to higher levels where they run or manage divisions (other leaders) and eventually lead the enterprise , technical expertise becomes less important than the other softer aspects like emotional intelligence, social skills and strategic skills .

This means that individual high performers who are unable to transition shall continue doing what made them successful initially but not be able to transition effectively to the required behavior needed for the next level.

So what can you do to ensure that the Peter Principle does not apply to your organization?

  1. Rethink your promotion criteria

  2. Develop an internal leadership competency framework that suits your firm/industry

  3. Use the framework to evaluate and develop your potential leaders.

  4. Develop a corporate culture that supports your strategic objectives that the team leaders can exemplify

  5. Set up a 360 degree monitoring system that allows you to evaluate your managers holistically


The writer is Emmanuel Nandokha, Director of Human Capital Development at Wylde International, a firm that helps individuals and firms attain global stature. He has done a lot of work with diverse team of managers across the region over the last 10 years

For more information contact or help making this a reality him on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call Esther of Wylde on +254-706688350