Palin and the Peter Principle

In response to last week’s highly anticipated Vice Presidential (VP) debate, many pundits, news outlets and other “media elite” have come out declaring VP candidate Sarah Palin’s performance “exceptional,” “winning” and all around “outstanding.” Having watched the debate myself last Thursday, I can’t help but wonder:

Were we watching the same broadcast?

Governor Palin openly refused to answer direct questions, obviously recited prepared statements (whether they were relevant to the topic of discussion or not) and has a tendency to ramble incoherently. Is this someone I’d hire in a job interview? No. She may “shoot from the hip,” but I’d much rather work with someone (even more so be represented by someone) who can think critically, listen to questions, answer them thoughtfully using concrete examples and facts (much in the way I feel Senator Biden did during the debate).

While I personally disagree with some of Governor Palin’s political views, and find the controversy that surrounds her career in Alaska questionable, I cannot discount the fact that she has been very successful in Alaska political office. Going from city council member to Governor in 10 years is quite a feat, with 80% approval rating to boot. But if she is so successful as governor and as sharp as her proponents claim her to be, why is none of this coming across during her Vice Presidential campaign?

The answer may lie in an obscure social theory known as The Peter Principle.

The Peter Principle, as defined by Wikipedia, states that

…in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain. Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties” and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.”

What Dr. Laurence J. Peter, author of the Peter Principle, claims is that most people will eventually move up the corporate ladder until they hit a performance ceiling and are unable to competently perform the duties of the job they now hold. (This is not to be confused with the Dilbert Principle which states that incompetent people, regardless of how poor their performance is, will keep getting promoted far, far beyond their ability level).

A killer salesman can be great at closing deals and bringing in sales, but once promoted, will flail at managing a cohort of his peers, finding that his no-nonsense approach which worked so well on customers isn’t working on his employees. A middle manager who takes great pains to connect and mentor her employees may find herself feeling disconnected and out-of-depth in a tough-decision, high-stakes arena of upper management.

Watching Governor Palin stumble through interviews and seeing how fiercely guarded she is by her handlers makes me think this woman has reached her “level of incompetence.” This is not to say that she is incompetent as a wife/mother/woman/governor, just not ready for the job of Vice President.

Blogger Penelope Trunk, asks

“Who is so arrogant to think that they could do better with just five weeks’ preparation?”

I think the question should not be, “who thinks they could cram better than Palin?” but “who is Palin to think she can cram for the job of Vice President?” Can one ‘cram’ for the second highest political office in the country? Does this mean a nurse can study like crazy for a month and become a doctor? Of course not. Can a student read the entire textbook in a week and take over as teacher? Well…maybe (no offense to quality teachers). But do we really want one of our highest political leaders to be practicing a “fake-it-till-I-make-it” approach ?

As the national election draws closer, I urge everyone to take a step back and really consider if you want style over substance (this goes for either ticket) for the next four years.

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3 responses »

  1. Pingback: Palin and the Peter Principle

  2. “Can one ‘cram’ for the second highest political office in the country?”

    So Palin will now become chief-of-staff to the President? Or are we talking about the vice presidency?

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