The number one reason your frontline leaders fail to perform

I’ve spent my whole career observing people and analysing their behaviour. I started out in Human Resources then moved into Learning and Development before deciding I wanted to share my insights with a wider audience. Along the way I found that there were lots of frustrated leaders who were tired of spending all their time recruiting, handling complaints and seeing people working below their capabilities. 

I realised the root of the problem was that most organisations have managers rather than leaders. Once I finally experienced what it was like to work for a leader, I became determined to do something about it. I realised that to improve the skills of leaders I needed to get them early in their career. And I also realised that I needed to help organisations stop making the number one mistake that causes all that frustration for people responsible for developing frontline leaders. 

So what is that mistake? 

The Peter Principle

Whilst it’s an old concept the Peter Principle still just as relevant today. It’s the idea that people get promoted to one level beyond their competence and then left there to rot.  They’re good at what they do so we make them the team leader but the problem is, to paraphrase the title of a book by Marshall Goldsmith, “what got them here won’t get them there”. There being an effective leader.

If you think about the typical career path for most people, the Peter Principle is surprisingly common. 

Michael Gerber wrote about in his book “The E myth”. He believes that excellent technicians don’t automatically make great leaders. How many people do you have like that? How many people do you have that were once great at what they do and are now struggling after being promoted?

I meet organisations with this problem all the time. Like the major not for profit that won a high profile government project, requiring them to triple their staff numbers in a very short period of time. They promoted a whole bunch of technicians to lead these teams, in this case former social workers. Most of them had little, if any, leadership experience. Those promotions may have solved one problem but it actually created a whole lot of new problems for people who were leading them.

Anyone who works with frontline leaders knows how time consuming it can be dealing with the issues the Peter Principle creates … calming upset team members, talking down team leaders on the edge of resigning, fielding calls from senior leaders who are frustrated with frontline leaders bringing them issues they should be able to handle themselves.

People failing to successfully make the move into their first leadership position is a universal issue. A study by Development Dimensions International in 2012 found 28% of internal leadership promotions fail to perform. That’s nearly a third. And those people have knowledge of the organisation. The number for new hires must be even greater.

Imagine what that’s costing your organisation in terms of lost productivity, customer complaints and staff turnover. Then add to that the opportunity cost of no time to spend innovating to stay ahead of your competitors.

To add to the problem, what you’ll probably find is that a lot of your new leaders don’t want to admit they need help. They’ve always been good at what they do so when they start to struggle they’re embarrassed. When that happens the problem becomes like a disease that spreads through your culture, like weeds strangling your organisation, preventing growth.

Having worked with organisations for the last 20 years I’ve realised that the Peter Principle isn’t going away because most organisations don’t have an effective strategy for developing their frontline leaders.

That’s why I’ve designed the Practical Leadership Development Model. It’s 4 simple steps that can help you to put in place a strategy to kill off the Peter Principle. Think of it as weed killer for the workplace. 

It’s a practical, down to earth way of looking at leadership development ideal for developing the people who lead at the frontline. It fits with my philosophy that being a great leader is like being a great gardener. Just as a gardener follows these 4 simple steps to get better results so can you.

To learn all about it download my free ebook “Practical Leadership Development” by clicking here.

Karen Schmidt from Let’s Grow! is the frontline leadership expert.

She helps organisations grow their frontline leaders so they perform better, which improves team productivity, giving senior leaders peace of mind.

To learn about her services visit To book her to speak at your next event visit


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