#148 – Integrity Idea 016: Pick the Right “Peter Principle”

ESSENCE:  Integrity Ideas are specific actions a faithful leader can consider in leading faithfully through business a better way.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Pick the Right “Peter Principle”

COVERT-OVERT CONTINUUM (six Continuums for action):  Practices

COVERT-OVERT RATING (several levels from Highly Covert to Highly Overt):  Highly Covert


Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization.  “Pick the Right Peter Principle” is about providing coaching and mentoring for employees, particularly those in supervisory positions.  The world’s “Peter Principle” says that people rise in an organization to their level of incompetence, which may explain why managers have been found to be the biggest factor in the variance in worker engagement.  Leaders can accept that as a reality of hierarchical organizations, but that would not be business a better way.  The Kingdom’s Peter Principle is found in 1 Peter 5, which calls people in more senior positions to mentor those under their supervision to help them be all God created them to be.  Providing coaching and mentoring to employees is caring for not only the person being mentored or coached but also for all those under their care and supervision–it creates a domino effect of flourishing.  And that is a sign of faithful leadership. 

Integrity Ideas are specific actions a leader can consider during the Re-Align step of Integriosity®–actions that will begin to Re-Align the organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.

Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization.  We believe some are critical (and necessary) steps in the RENEW/RE-ALIGN/RE-IMAGINE/RESTORE process.  Others are just ideas to be considered if they feel like a good fit based on what leaders prayerfully discern is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY. “Pick the Right Peter Principle” should be a no-brainer, but what implementation is a good fit once you pick it will vary greatly among organizations.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Pick the Right “Peter Principle”

The Worldly Peter Principle.  The world recognizes the term “Peter Principle” to mean the management concept developed by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong.  Stated simply, it says:

In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.

In other words, people get promoted when they do their job well, and they keep getting promoted until they reach a job they can’t do well enough to justify a further promotion.  Cynical–yes.  Accurate–possibly.

If the Peter Principle is accurate, organizational hierarchies are filled with people who are struggling in their jobs.  When people struggle, they feel insecure.  When people feel insecure in a position, they can respond in unhealthy ways such as micro-managing, controlling or disengaging.  John Maxwell suggests that there are three main reasons leaders fail to empower others: (1) desire for job security, (2) resistance to change and (3) lack of self-worth.  At least (1) and (3) line up with the worldly Peter Principle.

People who feel insecure in a position are unlikely to be flourishing and they are unlikely to be helping others flourish.  Work is likely to have become a burden.  When work is a burden for a manager, it is more likely to become a burden for those they manage.

We believe employee “engagement” is a helpful proxy for assessing whether work is perceived as a burden or a blessing.  In prior posts, we noted some troubling statistics from Gallup about worker engagement and the role of managers:

• In recent years, roughly 75% of workers have identified as “not engaged” (in Gallup’s words, “those who are psychologically unattached to their work and company and who put time, but not energy or passion, into their work”) or “actively disengaged” (“those  who have miserable work experiences and spread their unhappiness to their colleagues”).  Other studies have indicated that roughly 60% of the engaged workers do not feel aligned with their company’s mission.  That suggests only 10% of workers are effectively mobilized–experiencing an essential part of their humanity.  The remaining 90% are experiencing varying levels of dehumanization.

• Managers account for 70% of the variance in worker engagement.

• Businesses pick the wrong managers 82% of the time.

• Untalented managers compensate with manipulation and politics.

One might conclude that Dr. Peter was on to something.  We believe “picking the worldly Peter Principle” means accepting that this is just an unfortunate reality of organizational hierarchies and human nature.

The Kingdom Peter Principle.  When we say the “Kingdom Peter Principle”, we are referring to the words of the disciple Peter:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3)

In an organization, “elders” are the leaders and managers.  Faithful leaders are to “shepherd” those they supervise and serve as “examples to the flock”. It is about mentoring.

There is certainly truth to the worldly Peter Principle.  Different jobs take different skills, and too often people are promoted based upon their ability to do their current job well rather than based upon their ability to do the new job well.  That is a disservice, particularly if the leaders in the organization do not have practices in place to help the person succeed in the new position.

A book we like that goes beyond the observation of the worldly Peter Principle and suggests a path forward is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. Goldsmith observes that it is “people skills” that most often get in the way of people succeeding at higher levels in an organization.  The issue is not usually “flaws” of “skill”, “intelligence” or “unchangeable personality”.

We believe the Kingdom Peter Principle is an antidote to the worldly Peter Principle and that “picking the Kingdom Peter Principle” means rejecting the worldly Peter Principle as just “the way things are” and being committed to helping people be all God created them to be.  Henry Ford once said “My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.”

For a faithful leader seeking to lead faithfully through business a better way, picking the Kingdom Peter Principle is a necessity. It means implementing practices that provide the mentoring/coaching people need in order to flourish in their work and to help others flourish.  Providing coaching and mentoring to employees is caring for not only the person being mentored or coached but also for all those under their care and supervision–it can create a domino effect of flourishing that changes the culture of the organization.

Providing coaching and mentoring says “We care“, “You matter” and “We believe in you“, and those phrases capture the commandment to love your neighbor as well as the concept of Imago Dei.  Hearing them is humanizing.  Speaking them is humanizing.  The impact can go far beyond work performance and organizational excellence.  Coach John Wooden observed:

A good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life. 

CONTINUUM: Practices

The Integriosity model organizes “heart change” along six Covert-Overt Continuums.  There is nothing magic about these categories, but we believe they are helpful in thinking about practical execution of a Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and a Re-Imagined Culture.  The Continuums are Prayer, Proclamation, Policies, Practices, Products, People.

Each Continuum represents an area in which leaders can begin to think about, plan and institute Re-Alignment changes to the heart of the organization.

“Pick the Right Peter Principle” is on the Practices Continuums. Mentoring/Coaching is something an organization’s leaders can put in place to help move toward leading faithfully through business a better way.


The Integriosity model breaks the Covert-Overt Continuums into six gradations–from Highly Covert to Highly Overt–that we believe are helpful in beginning to pray and think about what is most appropriate for an organization at a particular moment in time.

Most Integrity Ideas will have one place on the scale.  Some can vary depending on how they are implemented.  “Picking the Right Peter Principle” is Highly Covert (an action that would be taken by a secular company), because it is something every organization should implement.  The worldly Peter Principle is something an organization should work to overcome, whether or not its leaders believe in the Kingdom Peter Principle.


When we categorize faith-based actions, we also consider the stakeholders principally impacted by the action: Employees, Customers/Clients, Owners, Suppliers/Vendors, Community and Kingdom.

“Pick the Right Peter Principle” serves employees by allowing them to experience flourishing through their work by helping them overcome obstacles to excellence, identify and address blind-spots, and promote the engagement and flourishing of those under their supervision.  Providing coaching and mentoring to employees is caring for not only the person being mentored or coached but also for all those under their care and supervision–it creates a domino effect of flourishing.

A good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life. (John Wooden)


Implementation of what we are calling the Kingdom Peter Principle will vary greatly depending on the nature of the organization.

For a smaller organization without a hierarchy, it may just mean a commitment by leaders to mentor/coach their employees to ensure that they grow into and are able to flourish in their positions.

For a larger organization with one or more management levels, it will mean putting in place practices to ensure that mentoring/coaching is happening all the way through the organization.  Part of mentoring/coaching a manager in their position is helping them become mentor/coaches for those they shepherd.  Ultimately, responsibility flows up to the faithful leader at the top to ensure that the domino effect flows all the way down.

Here are just a few questions to consider when planning an intentional Kingdom Peter Principle mentoring/coaching strategy for an organization:

• Can mentoring/coaching be done using internal resources or should the organization engage experienced coaches to help themselves and others to be healthy managers and then to be effective mentors/coaches.

• Will mentoring/coaching be done only by leaders and managers for those they are shepherding or should mentoring include intentional “peer” mentoring.

• Will mentoring/coaching be focused only on ensuring people are equipped to excel at their jobs (including their management of others) or will mentoring/coaching include life mentoring/coaching.

• Will mentoring/coaching be a resource that employees can utilize or mandatory training (particularly for managers).

• Will mentoring/coaching include a faith element for some or all elements of the mentoring/coaching initiative, which would move it toward the Overt end of the Practices Continuum.  

As an example of a large organization utilizing external resources for faith-based mentoring, Coca Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated implements an intentional mentoring program utilizing the resources of two related programs:  Radical Mentoring for men and Known Collective for women.

Choosing the Kingdom Peter Principle is not an act of denying the truth of the worldly Peter Principle.  It is recognizing that the worldly Peter Principle is merely describing one dehumanizing impact of business as usual that does not have to be the organization’s reality.

We believe God has provided an alternative reality–an organization aligned with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities in which people rather than profit are the priority and maximizing flourishing is the goal.  It is business a better way.  

It is the narrow “ancient path” back to God’s design.  God created humans to create organizations to organize humans to work together in relationship to create products and services that serve humanity.  First and foremostleading faithfully through business a better way is a path to RESTORING people broken by work as usual. 

RESTORE is the final stage in the Integriosity journey of leading faithfully through business a better way.  Workplaces where lack of purpose in employees is evidenced by widespread disengagement can be RESTORED to promote life-giving engagement.  Identities wrongly centered around WHAT people do can be re-aligned toward WHO they are.  Dehumanizing cultures in which people are merely tools can be RESTORED to cultures that treat people with DIGNITY.  Work that has become a burden can be RESTORED to God’s design of work as a blessing.

And that leads us to the statement from James Hunter that we have probably quoted more times than any other in these posts:

To manage a business in a way that grows out of a Biblical view of relationships, community and human dignity before God has divine significance, irrespective of what else might be done from this platform.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):  Several months ago I ran into a former work colleague.  He was an associate who worked with me when I was a partner at a large Wall Street law firm.  He was now a partner at another New York law firm.  The next day, he sent me an e-mail that included the following:

Thank you for being a patient mentor for me when I started my career many moons ago.  I had quite a lot to learn, and your patience and thoroughness helped set me on the right path.

I never thought of it as mentoring, but I received his words with gratitude and humility.  Reading Marshall Goldsmith’s book helped me see I could have done a whole lot better.

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