Reaching Incompetence

Genesis: Miketz

Reaching Incompetence

According to Dr. Laurence Peter, author of “The Peter Principle”, employees in large organizations will be promoted as long as they do good or satisfactory work in their current role. The assumption is that they can replicate their success in a bigger role. Dr. Peter claims that invariably these successive promotions will lead the employee to their “level of incompetence” – meaning they are no longer qualified for the new role. Nonetheless, they remain in such promoted roles, with the actual work being done by the underlings who have not yet reached their own level of incompetence.

One can find examples going back to antiquity of organizational incompetence. It does not matter what method of government or business one selects. Incompetence (not to be confused with corruption) can be found in capitalism, socialism, communism or good-old-fashioned tyranny.

It seems though, that in old tyrannical regimes, the price to pay for incompetence was often higher than in today’s world (death, exile and/or other nasty results). The candidate with any sense of self-preservation would not be so quick to accept a promotion beyond his capabilities.

In ancient Egypt, Pharaoh gives Joseph a historic promotion, from lowly slave and convict, to Viceroy of the Egyptian Empire. As part of the transference of power, Pharaoh hands over the royal signet, a very concrete symbol of the power and responsibility of the office. Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) claims that Pharaoh’s offering of the signet ring was to test Joseph.

Pharaoh was impressed with Joseph’s divine dream-reading skills, his initiative, his problem-solving abilities and his original and out-of-the-box thinking. What were still unclear were his leadership and management capabilities. According to Hizkuni, the first test of such capabilities would be if the candidate himself felt he had them and was confident enough to accept the role. Joseph proved his worth in these areas just by his willingness to take on the task. The next step was to actually deliver, and save the Egyptian Empire from starvation and ruin.

Too bad many of both our business and political leaders do not show the same level of self-honesty and responsibility. Perhaps if we brought back the death-penalty for incompetence…

May we be blessed with more competent leaders and employees and know when to keep ourselves and others at the “level of competence”.

Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach,



To incompetent leaders. If it weren’t for them, we would have much less to chit-chat about, especially with cab drivers.

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