You’ve Risen To Your Highest Level of Incompetence

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

-Laurence J. Peter – The Peter Principle

You’ve done it!

You’ve made it to the show.

You’ve been recognized for your genius and dedication.

Your performance has been stellar.

You’ve been promoted!

Good for you. 

Now get to work…your life just got infinitely harder.

US companies have, for decades, recognized their hard working, dedicated and high performing employees by promoting them into supervision and management positions.  Unfortunately, for just as many decades, this strategy has backfired.


Because the poor schmuck (YOU) was great at his/her trade but nonetheless, was not prepared to lead and/or didn’t care to lead his/her previous colleagues.

Specifically, you probably experienced, or are currently experiencing one or more of the following:

Incompetence in Supervisory Skills

“Power Plays”


Need for Popularity

The above problems lead to supervisory failure.  

(Please note I didn’t say they MAY lead to failure, I said THEY DO LEAD TO FAILURE.)


Incompetence in Supervisory Skills

As a Supervisor, your job just doubled. You probably still have your “operational” work to do because, let’s not forget, you were fantastic at it. But in addition, below is a list of just a few things you now must do:

interview, select and hire new employees,

communicate your expectations and performance standards,

observe and manage performance,

discipline and terminated when necessary,

identify when best to delegate,

counsel, mentor and coach,

review, identify and/or create reasonable work rules,

review and approve work schedules and timekeeping,

ensure a safe and healthy work environment is had by all,

capitalize on current resources,

forecast what resources you’ll need to ensure goals are met in the future

I’d place a hefty wager that you thought these things were easy, and I’d bet again on the fact you have since realized they aren’t.

The above list communicates just a few of the supervisory processes that need to be done well in order for you to be an effective supervisor, and you need to be trained on them just like you were trained in your operational work. So seek out a mentor or visit your Human Resources Advisor and ask for help. Read your company’s policy and procedure manual or ask your boss. But please, do something about developing your skills and do it quickly.

Power Plays

Adapted from John R. P. French and Bertram Raven research on Power and Influence

As a Supervisor, you just gained a few power sources. We can assume you already had expert, referent, connection and information “sources of power” because you were a rock star employee. But now you’ve got legitimate, coercive and reward power as well.

Don’t let it go to your head. Your team will recognize any semblance of abuse or neglect when it comes to power. Furthermore, your supervisor and your supervisor’s supervisor will notice it too.

Abusing power erodes it, so quit using phrases like, “I said so” or “I can now make this decision” or “Don’t make me use my authority to…” These types of statements are condescending and manipulative and demonstrate an abuse of power, not an effective use of power. Change your vernacular just a bit…it’s ok to be transparent in your communication but don’t use words that suggest you are on a power play.

Exercising power grows it, so start capitalizing on what you have authority to do, who you are now connected with, what resources you now have access to, etc. For example:

You’re invited to a meeting because of your new role? Excellent! Identify what information you can gather during what otherwise could be a tedious two hours and share it with your staff so they can put better put their work into context, better prioritize their tasks, etc.

Have a program that has historically been difficult to deal with? Use your newly acquired position in the organizational chart to directly communicate with your counterpart in the other program and make plans to increase communication and engagement between the two.

Have a rock star on your team who hasn’t been in the limelight lately? Communicate your appreciation of him/her today.

Have an employee who isn’t pulling his/her weight? Communicate your expectations for immediate and sustained performance today.

You don’t have power unless people know you have it, so start utilizing your power sources immediately. But please, for the love of all things good, use all of them.  A balanced ship is a steady ship so don’t go half-cocked on your Position Power and forget that your Personal Power is probably what got you your fancy new title in the first place.


As a newly promoted Supervisor, please realize you just pissed off someone. The majority of promotions are “competitive” meaning there was a winner and a loser. And, even if a previous colleague didn’t throw his/her name in the hat, trust me when I say jealousy will still exist. It’s not fair, but get over it.

Be humble in your new role, but don’t act surprised, apologetic or unworthy of your promotion. While you may believe that the latter behaviors placate jealousy, they really just erode your effectiveness as a supervisor.

Own your promotion and newly acquired status but don’t put too much ego or pride into it; there is still much work to be done in developing your competence. Identify a mentor and don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know and ask for advice.

Acknowledge “jealousy” or “offense” or any other negative emotions from your team or colleagues. Everyone should be invited to “own” their feelings and acknowledge them; discussing how these emotions affect positive productivity, quality or service, etc. is the only way to move beyond them. These are difficult conversations, for sure, but you make the big bucks now, so get to it!

Need for Popularity

If you think Michael Scott from “The Office” is someone to emulate, please quit reading this post and resign from your position…we’ll all be better off.

As a Supervisor, popularity should not be an aspiration. Instead, work towards effectiveness and respect.

The moment you accepted your supervisory position, you gave up the right to vent or complain with your team. Doing such things is not a sign of support and instead, is a clear demonstration that you are not aligned with your organization’s vision, do not care about effective leadership, and do not consider yourself empowered to make positive change.

Being overly “nice” to team members for the purpose of them liking you can quickly be misconstrued. Are you enabling their poor performance or attitude? Are you demonstrating favoritism? Are you abusing your power sources? If nothing else, remember your worst boss and your best did they deal with similar situations?

Helping your team, getting your hands dirty, digging in and banging out some high priority work – all of these are great things but at what cost? Are you doing them because your team doesn’t like the work? Are you doing them because you didn’t communicate clearly what you expect of your team? Are you doing them because you aren’t holding employees accountable? I beg you to analyze why you are doing their work for them and stop doing it if there is not a good reason!

Popularity is a dangerous objective and the moment ill-intentioned employees realize it’s a goal of yours is the moment your supervisory job got tremendously harder. Shoot for respect and effectiveness and your “rating” will go up naturally.

I know you were a fabulous {insert super cool title here} or a budding prodigy at {insert trendy words, maybe even “guru” here} but “were” is the operative word. You have every right to be proud of your previous experience but you’re in a different role now; what worked for you last month, last year or last decade WILL NOT work for you today. You cannot expect to be a stellar supervisor or effective leader if you aren’t willing to learn, grow and, heaven forbid, change.

So there you have it. If you’re struggling with the transition into your supervisory role, it is probably because you are incompetent, there are power plays, there is jealousy, you are caught up in being popular or you are hesitant to do something differently. That sucks for you, for sure, but your team members…they are the true victims.

The good news?

You have the ability TODAY to rise to the occasion.

You have the ability TODAY to improve.

You have the ability TODAY to change.

You have the ability TODAY to lead.

On behalf of your team, thank you for caring enough to do so!

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