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The Peter Principle

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"If I may be so bold... it was a mistake for you to accept promotion. Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny. Anything else is a waste of material."
Spock (to Admiral Kirk), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

When people in a sufficiently large hierarchy are promoted because of their competence, the end result will tend to put everyone into a position for which they are not competent.

In other words, the cream will rise until it sours.

The theory behind the Peter Principle is this: when Alice is competent in her position, she will be promoted to another position because of her competence. Alice may or may not be competent at that new position. If she is incompetent, then she will become ineligible for promotion and stay put; she will be kept in that position indefinitely, even if there are other positions in the hierarchy which may suit her skills. The workers who are competent will keep being promoted for as long as they are competent and there are open slots above; they will be promoted out of the positions they are competent in but kept in the position they fail at. Since the only way to stay in a position below the top of the hierarchy indefinitely is to be incompetent, the hierarchy will eventually stabilize into an organization that is mostly incompetent.

This often results when the skills required to do a job well are very different from those required to manage people doing that job, from the military to education to sales. A classic example is a teacher being promoted into a principal—two jobs that require vastly different skillsets, yet the latter is one of the few obvious career paths for the former. Alternatively, sometimes the very qualities that make a character good at one job are diametrically opposed to the qualities they need in the job they're promoted to, like a charismatic politician whose confidence makes them too headstrong to properly compromise, or a cautious and careful analyst being put in a position of leadership that requires taking decisive action.

The name comes from the book by Dr. Laurence J. Peter, which is about this principle and discusses it in about twelve chapters worth of detail.

The counterpoint is The Dilbert Principle, which states that incompetent workers will always be promoted first (into inconsequential middle management positions), in order to keep them from interfering with the efforts of the competent, and is said to be a reaction to the identification of this trope (but if the competent ones want to be promoted, they'll suffer a Passed-Over Promotion). Scott Adams noted that victims of the Peter Principle at least knew how to do the jobs of their subordinates.

It's a common cause of the Pointy-Haired Boss and Modern Major General. The Career-Building Blunder is one method of defying this trope.

Compare and contrast Brain Drain, Kicked Upstairs (arguably an invocation of the trope), and Unfit for Greatness.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes has way too many examples of this, but a few notable examples are Commodore Falke, Fleet Admiral Lobos, Fleet Admiral Dawson and High Admiral Lennenkampf.
  • In Attack on Titan, only the best students are allowed to join the "prestigious" Military Police Brigade that guards the innermost wall and the King. Therefore, the most skillfully trained soldiers are placed in a position of authority farthest from any actual fighting, while those less capable are more likely to be on the front lines. This situation is actually well known, and most who hone their skills high enough to be able to get the position were doing so just to be placed in a safe life. Eren bitterly notes the disconnect. Adding to this, since hand-to-hand combat skills aren't valued as highly as 3D Maneuver Gear piloting (for obvious reasons), students who want to join the Military Police Brigade prioritize 3D Maneuver Gear training over melee combat training. This means that the soldiers who would be expected to fight human-sized opponents more often are actually the least qualified ones to do so. The real reason the best soldiers are promoted to the decorative Military Police is because the best of those are secretly promoted to the Black Ops division, where they hunt down and kill off dissenting citizens with specialized firearm-compatible 3D Maneuver Gear. It's still backwards because now those most eligible to protect the people are the ones assigned to mercilessly cut them down.
  • Team Dai-Gurren in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Fighting an action filled, explosion riddled resistance? Easily done. Slowing down after the fighting and running the government you're in charge of? No thanks. Most of them are aware of this and the fighters struggle to deal with their new jobs while the support team has it easier. Simon is on top, but Rossieu does most of the work as his second-in-command. After Simon's wedding with Nia and her death seconds after, he leaves Rossieu in charge and Gurren Lagann to the twins.
  • Discussed in Sgt. Frog; Aki Hinata turns down a promotion because A) she likes her current position, and B) she knows that this trope might go into effect. This is demonstrated in the rest of the story; Tamama is mistakenly promoted to squad captain, and proceeds to go full Tyrant Takes the Helm on everyone else.
  • One-Punch Man
    • Invoked, after a fashion. The Hero Association isn't sure if Saitama is really strong or is just a fraud getting credit for the victories of others. They decide to promote him anyway; either he deserves the promotion, or he doesn't and will soon be killed by more powerful monsters. Of course, he does deserve the promotions, since he's the strongest. Of anything.
    • This also applies to King. Often times, Saitama's victories are attributed to him, and King has such social anxiety that he never corrected the record, accidentally becoming the 7th ranked S-class Hero of the Association. However, his excellent poker face and the panicked sound of his heart beating loud enough to make most foes think they're the ones frightened means often times he doesn't need to fight the Monster of the Week.
  • Overlord (2012): Even Remedios' character profile admits this is the case for her. She's Dumb Muscle incarnate, but was so good as a Paladin she couldn't be overlooked and thus ended up as head of the Holy Kingdom's army. When the Holy Kingdom faces a crisis and the Queen (her Foil and the only person that could overrule her legally or emotionally) takes a dirt nap, her rigid adherence to a code that should probably be taken as guidelines, refusal to assess her position pragmatically, and rampant, undisguised elitism are handing Ainz her army's respect and loyalty on a silver platter.
  • Endeavor runs afoul of this in My Hero Academia following All Might's retirement; Endeavor is a great hero, with a powerful Quirk and excellent detective skills that allow him to resolve far more cases than most other heroes. But while he certainly has the power, he lacks the charisma and compassion that made All Might the beloved Symbol of Peace. As such, Endeavor's tenure as #1 Hero is rocky, as few civilians look to him for inspiration and more villains start coming out of the woodwork to prey on this unease, something Endeavor is painfully aware of but has no idea how to counter.
  • One Piece: Admiral Akainu is an Implacable Man whose magma-based powers makes him a walking volcano capable of winning wars all by himself. After his promotion to Fleet Admiral and going by his real name (Sakazuki), he's now stuck behind a desk, unable to control the admirals under him because he can't simply melt them like he did with the rank-and-file, dealing with incompetent and/or corrupt superiors that only care about saving face from their own screw-ups even if that means ignoring serious global threats and and the former fleet admiral showing in just to troll him over his new job.

    Comic Books 
  • The Transformers (IDW) comics:
    • They have Bumblebee struggle with this. As a scout he's very competent and popular with the Autobots. This leads to him getting voted into a command position — despite his own protests — during a time when Optimus Prime was separated from the troops. Turns out he was right to protest; Bumblebee can't handle command at all. His desire to make everyone happy often clashes with his duties, he has trouble understanding high-level tactics and strategy, most of the senior Autobots don't respect his authority and still see him as The Baby of the Bunch, and the stress of the job causes him to develop a nasty temper, robbing him of the friendliness and moral wisdom that made him popular to begin with. When he's effectively kicked out of command, he's relieved and almost immediately goes back to his usual cheerful self. The wiki even calls him out on this.
    • This trope is a major recurring theme in IDW's materials. For instance, Optimus was a brilliant cop and commander, and Megatron an insightful writer and political theorist, and both were powerful fighters. However, when they found themselves in the positions of having to effectively run a star-spanning civil war, their internal weaknesses came to the fore. Optimus' self-questioning nature and strident morality keeps giving way to periods of ennui followed by rash decisions and causes him to become increasingly corrupt, while Megatron's lack of experience in warcraft and deep-seated traumas leads to him creating overcomplicated or needlessly brutal plans and neglecting the actual peaceful endgame that was his motivation to begin with. It's even implied at one point that Optimus isn't truly worthy of the Matrix, and Starscream (though obviously a biased source) outright says that Megatron had no idea what the implications of his own war were. Basically, they were charismatic and talented people who wound up in the best possible place at the worst possible time, and by the time their weaknesses had become evident, the war had been grinding on for centuries with thousands dead and no clear frontrunner.
  • Ultimate Marvel: Carol Danvers, as the head of security for NASA, is competent at her job (alien killbots and infiltration notwithstanding). As head of SHIELD... she's got a long string of disasters and screw-ups to her name, which eventually gets her fired.
  • In the Paperinik New Adventures story "Chronicle of a Return" the Evronian sergeant Bonton and spore technician Manootensyon find themselves as the highest-ranked soldier and scientist on their worldship after everyone above them is killed. They're extremely competent at their jobs (Bonton even saves everyone else), but the situation sees them in command of far more than they can deal, with Manootensyon being able to grow low-caste Evronians with ease but unable to make the high-caste they need (his one attempt at growing a high-caste scientist that could grow even an emperor from a spore resulted in someone far stupider of him or rather the first good Evronian in history who is just as smart as he should be but pretends otherwise so he won't be killed while he works out how to contain everyone else on the ship), and Bonton's search for a superior resulting in Paperinik pretending to be the representative of an Evronian emperor and talking him into handing over command.
  • In Irredeemable, Cary acted as a competent superhero for a long time as part of a team. Then he's given a massive powerboost and changes his name to Survivor, becoming the strongest of Earth's heroes outside of perhaps The Plutonian. As a big fish, he turns out to be completely ill-equipped. Not only does he end up Drunk with Power in short order, but he has no charisma to speak of and he's not all that bright—which is only worsened by the fact that he insists on trying to act as a leader even when he's manifestly talentless at doing so. One of his more boneheaded moves was attempting to rally together various surviving supervillains into a new team to benefit humanity with an offer of clemency... ignoring that most of these supervillains are supervillains for a reason.
  • In Diabolik this is what ruins many of the cops, private detectives, and even inventors and criminals who try and take on Diabolik without being Ginko: they're often very good at their jobs, but Diabolik is far smarter and ends up seeing a weakness in their plan or device to either thwart one of his heists or catch him. Indeed, the one time Ginko had been temporarily replaced and Diabolik was successfully foiled and even almost arrested was because the replacement knew he was out of his depths and called Ginko for instructions on the off chance Diabolik would try and steal the money he was to escort.

    Fan Works 
  • A Boy, a Girl and a Dog: The Leithian Script: After being ousted by conniving relatives, Finrod appoints his youngest brother Orodreth as regent. Previously Orodreth had only governed little provinces and strongholds and all of sudden he had to rule a kingdom spanned two thirds of the subcontinent where the story happens. He was completely overwhelmed, trying to desperately keep everything together as feeling inadequate and incompetent.
  • Consequences of Revelation takes this stance on Commander Palmer's seeming incompetence in canon - she worked well commanding small teams, but was promoted beyond her level of skill. This causes her to make mistakes... but when you're as highly placed as "Leader of all SPARTAN forces on the most advanced UNSC ship in existence," any mistakes you make are magnified nearly exponentially.
  • At least suggested in Did I Make the Most of Loving You? when Saul Tigh is promoted to Commander of a Battlestar after the previous commander is executed for assisting in a mutiny, as Tigh has trouble adapting his command style to be the benevolent commander rather than the ‘hardass’ XO. He eventually requests a transfer back to Galactica while his own XO is promoted to Commander, allowing Tigh to basically command Galactica in a crisis while Adama works as the fleet admiral, the two men returning to their more traditional dynamic.
  • The Gospel Of Malachel: Maya Ibuki is promoted from bridge bunny to head of Project E after Ritsuko's fall from grace. However, her new job is utterly overwhelming her, and she ends up calling Ritsuko and asking her help.
  • In the Infinity Crisis spin-off Counterpart Conferences, this is partially the reason why the Batman of Earth-1992 didn't bother to recruit the aid of the Batman of Earth-2005 on his quest to find the displaced Joker of his Earth. While he doesn't doubt that his other self is competent, not only has Earth-2005-Bruce decided to "retire" as Batman, but this version of Bruce Wayne has no experience dealing with magic, metahumans or alternate dimensions. Regardless of his skills, he would be out of his depth if introduced to the multiverse, no matter how good he was against normal criminals.
  • In Kimberly T's Gargoyles series, Matt muses at one point that Elisa isn't likely to rise higher in the department because while she's a skilled detective, she's not very good at dealing with the press in a diplomatic manner, with publicity meetings being a key part of a police captain's duties.
  • A Moon and World Apart: In chapter 15, Luna expresses a desire to avert this, stating that Twilight could easily win election to Director of the Science Department, but also that she'd be wasted in such a bureaucratic position, being far more suited to the hooves-on work that she enjoys.
  • Prehistoric Park Reimagined: Over the course of the first two 'phases' of the story, it becomes increasingly clear that main protagonist Drew Luczynski, while incredibly talented in his position as the rescue team leader for the titular Extinct Animal Park, is hardly the ideal choice for his additional position as the park's manager. For as is revealed in Phase 2, the same recklessness and preference to act in the moment that make him an ideal leader to have in the unpredictable and incredibly dangerous field of rescuing and rounding up prehistoric animals in the wild and resolve in progress animal escapes at the park also causes him to largely ignore unpleasant issues unfolding at the park and amongst his staff and do nothing to resolve them until after they've become impossible to ignore and have usually already resulted in someone either getting hurt or at the very least inconvenienced. And as if that weren't enough, the similarly rescue team leader worthy passion he has for the animals and successfully achieving the missions over all else causes him to largely consider any duties he has to do at the park that don't directly involve either of these as lower priority, which results in him engaging in massive amounts of procrastination in completing and filing paperwork and often trying to pass his other administrative duties on to other people even when they've already got enough to do in the tasks they're already supposed to be doing in positions that don't involve such duties. Tellingly, these details, plus several other serious character flaws he displays, cause his superiors at local Mega-Corp Novum to hire an additional pair of managers for the park that can cover his weaknesses as a manager while also allowing him to have all the more time to focus entirely on the rescue missions that he's proven so skilled at handling and willing to devote his full time and energy towards.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Lion King (1994): A Glory Hound, Scar's strongest desire is to become the king of the Pride Lands. But while he proved deadly and conniving about setting that goal in motion by killing Mufasa, he only cared about the title rather than its important duties. He has no idea what he's doing, the Pride Lands turn into a hellhole because of his laziness, and he earns a 0% Approval Rating for this reason. His own arrogance stops him from admitting his rule was chaotic, and doesn't like it when others compare him to Mufasa. Scar is essentially The Caligula, letting his subjects starve to death just to maintain power, and he behaves like a Psychopathic Manchild by abusing and blaming others for the problems he himself caused. If that wasn't enough, the Pride Lands actually do burn as a violent storm sets fire to the long-dead savanna surrounding his domain, and he isn't the least bit fazed by it as he prepares to murder Simba. When he fails, he is left to answer to his hungry hyena minions, who he previously attempted to throw under the bus for his crimes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Trek:
    • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk is now an Admiral, his job is mostly clerical and he's depressed over getting old. Spock reminds Kirk that he has more to offer as a captain than as an admiral. "Being a starship captain is your first, best destiny," he explains. "Anything else is a waste of material." It's an opinion that Bones also shares, offering that the reason Kirk feels so old is probably because he's not out there "hopping galaxies" and suggests commanding a starship again. Again, Spock and Bones both agree that Kirk is wasting his talents as an Admiral. When was the last time those two agreed on anything? A fact not lost on the rest of Starfleet and Federation government, after Kirk's "punishment" by being demoted to captain in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
    • Kirk then makes sure to tell Picard in Star Trek: Generations never to accept a promotion out of the Enterprise's captain's chair. Advice Picard apparently takes to heart, as we see in Star Trek: Nemesis, he's still a captain, while Janeway has been promoted to Admiral. Although in Star Trek: Picard, it's shown that he eventually accepted a promotion to Admiral. In this case though Picard didn't do this to become a mostly inactive paper pusher but to head a massive humanitarian project to evacuate a doomed star system that only an Admiral could run which he decided was a worthy cause to accept promotion on. Tragically it fails, leading Picard to become disillusioned with Starfleet and retire, which potentially leaves him in an even more broken state than Kirk was at the start of this series.
  • Casino gives us Nicky Santoro (who was, in fact, based on a real person). Nicky is a highly competent thief, drug dealer, extortionist, and hit man, so competent that he is promoted to be The Mafia's representative in Las Vegas. Sadly, running the mob's operations in Vegas requires tact, subtlety, and more than a little bit of stealth, none of which are skills Nicky actually possesses.
  • Played with in Get Smart where the Chief doesn't want to promote Max to a field agent because he's so good at his current job. He's later forced to when most of the agents' covers are compromised. And from there, while Max does manage to prove a fairly competent field agent in his own right, to say that he ends up suffering from some growing pains in certain areas would be an understatement.
  • This looks to be the case for Lieutenant Gorman from Aliens, who is competent and brave when in personal danger like an ordinary soldier, yet can't handle the responsibility of being in a command position. Given he's a lieutenant in a command position that should be going to a captain or even a major, it's entirely possible he just recently replaced the previous leader and thus is just in an impossible situation. Which makes a twisted kind of sense, given the marines are being set up to fail by their corporate sponsors.
  • Noelle gives us the titular character's cousin Gabriel. A real wizard at handling computers, he very much feels right at home as the head of Santa's tech support department. However, when he's forced to sub as Santa for Noelle's older brother Nick (himself ironically not fully suited for the role), he finds himself in way over his head since he only thinks in terms of technology, efficiency, and data analysis and only makes things temporarily worse when he decides to try to turn the enterprise into an online delivery service and reduce the present quota to far shorter than the number of children on the nice list for the sake of efficiency. In the end, he is quite happy indeed to return to his old job without a fuss and allow his initially suggested changes to the business to be revoked once Nick decides to appoint Noelle herself as Santa instead.

  • Animorphs
    • The Big Bad Visser Three is heavily implied to be a case of this. He's pretty good as a low-level planner or squad leader in the Chronicles books, and he's fantastic as a soldier due to the brute strength of his morphed body and Ax-Crazy nature. As the organizer of a large-scale stealth infiltration of humanity, however, he's so unused to noncombat scenarios and so mentally unstable that he becomes a General Failure who murders his own troops for fun, splurges resources on feats of Cartoonish Supervillainy, and constantly itches to blow cover and start shooting.
    • As the series progressed, it became profoundly clear that this trope more or less forms the entire basis for Yeerk promotion. The two most successful Yeerk military officers in history are the aforementioned Visser Three and Visser One, a hypercompetent Emperor Scientist who rose to power by perfecting the slow-but-steady infiltration style of invasion. So what does the Council of Thirteen decide to do with their two top officers? They keep the brutish warlord Visser Three in charge of the Earth invasion where Visser One's leadership style is needed, and send Visser One off to the Anati system where Visser Three's raw asskicking is needed. This head-scratching tendency to match competent Yeerks to jobs outside of their skill can be seen over and over again in the series.
    • Taylor the Torture Technician becomes Visser Three's second in command. She is a competent scientist, an expert torturer, and a skilled emotional manipulator. However, her sanity is even worse than Visser Three's; the human Taylor was a mentally unstable girl whose psychological issues rubbed off on her Yeerk. When put in charge of important projects, she wastes time on petty sadism, develops confused sympathy for her enemies, and gets a Villainous Breakdown when things don't go her way. Both of the Yeerk projects under her command turn out disastrously because Taylor is just too crazy for a position of responsibility.
    • The Inspector the Council sends to check in on Visser Three is a brutal warrior owing to his effective command of a Garatron body, a creature with Super Speed. He is initially able to best five Animorphs (Jake was on vacation)in combat and heavily embarrass Visser Three. However, his smugness makes him a bad fit for this delicate job, resulting in him being outwitted by the Animorphs and killed by Marco when the latter chooses to make use of a morph that the Inspector had considered not that big of a threat and therefore beneath his notice. And he’s successfully alienated Visser Three with his high-handed attitude and promise of giving a bad report that the Visser lets him die instead of giving him medical attention.
  • Dilbert.
    • Two cartoons in February 1993 featured a character called Peter, who illustrates the original principle.
    • The author of the comic wrote an entire book dedicated to how promotion has changed from this to what he calls the Dilbert Principle, in other words, instead of people getting promoted to their lowest level of competence, any and all incompetent employees are placed in the one place where they can do the least damage: Management. Which in turn leads to the creation of managers like the Pointy-Haired Boss.
      It's plausible enough in the high-skilled area he works in, Engineering and similar fields. If you wanted to avoid promoting your most talented workers out of roles in which they could use their talents (averting the Peter Principle) but you were determined to promote internally, you would end up promoting, not the most incompetent employees perhaps, but individuals who have less of a grasp on what is going on than those they supposedly supervise do.
      This isn't such a bad idea necessarily. Employers would ideally have managers that understood the industry they are in charge of, so they may hire many people at the lower levels first, and promote liberally, as in the case of the military. The manager may not necessarily be good at working at the lower levels of the organization in this case, but if they show enough ability as a manager, it may end up still working out.
  • Discworld has an example that is quickly rectified at the end of the story; Sgt. Colon, a long-time member of the Watch and Knowledge Broker with ample experience on Ankh-Morpork's streets, ends up becoming a paranoid Neidermeyer in The Fifth Elephant, wherein he gets promoted to Acting Captain, driving away most of the Watch in the process. It is to his incredible relief that he is given his old position of Sergeant and been denied promotion from that rank ever since.
  • Borborygmus Gog in Galaxy of Fear is clearly good at Mad Scientist and infiltration things, enough so to be put in charge of Project Starscream, which has various sub-projects that all produce interesting results. But he's frankly awful at keeping them all from being sabotaged by children. Darth Vader notices this and is snide, so Gog decides to try and find out a way to get rid of him, but guess how well that works.
  • Harry Potter
    • Ministers of Magic Cornelius Fudge and Rufus Scrimgeour are promoted past their emotional competence. Fudge proves quite skilled at manipulating most of wizarding Britain into subscribing to his own point of view and following his agenda as well as acting in ways that can allow the ministry to put on the façade of making serious effort at fixing problems without actually making said effort at all, but is ultimately too afraid to make hard decisions and has to see Voldemort in person to face reality, at which point he is swiftly forced to resign and subsequently replaced by Scrimgeour. Scrimgeour, meanwhile, is too proud to ask for advice, and blunders his way through and takes too many cues from Bartemius Crouch, Senior. Scrimgeour was a competent head of the Aurors, though, and he still dies a hero's death.
    • An example of incompetence in a newly-joined hierarchy: Gilderoy Lockhart, for all his ego, is a masterful storyteller. But since flying and memory charms are the only things he can do, teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts is beyond his physical competence.
    • Defied by Albus Dumbledore, who successfully employed Peter's Parry (overtly turning down a position one knows oneself to be ill-suited for) when offered the post of Minister of Magic. He knew his own character defects, particularly his susceptibility to the temptations of power, and knew that (with apologies to J. R. R. Tolkien) he would have been far worse than Voldemort. He would have remained "righteous", but self-righteous. Thus while Voldemort multiplied evil, he left good clearly distinguishable from it. Dumbledore would have made good detestable and seem evil.
  • The Heroes: Bremer dan Gorst notes that Jalenhorm would have been an excellent lieutenant, a good captain, a mediocre major and a bad colonel. But due strictly to being old friends with the King, he's been made a general, a position he isn't just unqualified for, but is actually an active liability to the army.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • Played with: the Ace Pilot Scotty Tremaine, despite his preference and obvious knack, gets promoted to command a squadron of cruisers, but his superiors know of it and give him this post so he could gather some experience beyond the small-craft operations. One may presume he'll return to light attack craft and carriers, once he finishes this tour of duty.
    • The short story A Ship Named Francis is about a cruiser in the Grayson Navy, which, due to extremely rapid expansion, ended up promoting people into roles they weren't suited for. These people all got transferred to the obsolete cruiser Francis S. Mueller, thus making a ship whose entire crew has been promoted to their level of incompetence.
  • Tiberius of I, Claudius is an ultimately tragic example. He's capable of taking on just about any military or governmental task as long as he is answerable to somebody, and eventually his dependability makes him the heir to the throne. His morose and paranoid personality was arguably an asset in being one of the best right-hand-men that Rome had ever seen, but it made him terrible at ruling and leading when there was no one left for him to be accountable to.
  • In the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, it's said that this was the fate of Eárnur, the last King of Gondor (before Aragorn, that is). He was an excellent military commander and one of the strongest warriors alive when he was out on campaign, but when he became King, his recklessness and obsession with battle became his undoing. Despite the massive importance of the line of succession, he refused to take a wife, and his attitude of Honor Before Reason resulted in him ultimately sallying out to duel the Witch-King of Angmar after receiving a challenge that couldn't have been more obviously a ploy, from which he never returned.
  • In Renegades, this is what happened at the end of Age of Anarchy, as the eponymous Renegades, being the ones to end it, took control of the city. Unfortunately, while a group of friends who formed a Super Team in their basement might be excellent at fighting villains, they're not very good at ruling a state, and so, almost ten years after the Day of Triumph, the city is still partially collapsed, the administration is next to nonexistent, and many people must scavenge to survive.
  • Averted in E. E. "Doc" Smith's Skylark Series, when the Osnomian King is much relieved by his son's adequate performance in a critical test. Had the younger man failed, the king would have had him executed for it and then would commit suicide for failure himself " only an incompetent would delegate an important task to another incompetent."
  • The Big Bad of Michael Stackpole's contributions to the X-Wing Series, Ysanne Isard, is a fantastic Director of Intelligence for The Empire. She's ruthless, hideously smart, can convert people into Manchurian Agents, and in general is a Manipulative Bastard. However, the Council which rules the Empire some time after the Emperor is dead does not respect her advice or recognize her skills, so she has them killed. As the leader of the Empire, without checks on her authority and people vetoing her plans, Isard is terrible. She's such a Bad Boss that some of her employees defect to the New Republic, and she keeps coming up with plans like infecting Coruscant with a really, really awful Synthetic Plague and then letting them take it.
    • While Isard didn't get an actual promotion, the trope applied as soon as the Emperor died - she was already incompetent to be the one in charge of Imperial Intelligence, due to the exact tendencies (ignore the big picture to create and focus on vendettas against individuals and small groups, expend all operational assets in each operation without profit/loss reasoning, and so on) which she displayed at the start of her career. Due to the Emperor's Sith precognition allowing him to keep track of everything he fully dominated, simultaneously and in detail, Isard didn't need to be much more than an effective agent under his direction and a competent administrator.
    • Wedge vigorously attempts to avert this trope in the series, mostly by seeking to avoid promotion at all - he loves flying and isn't sure he's up to managing anything bigger than a squadron. Aaron Allston's Wraith Squadron part of the series opens with Wedge only getting Admiral Ackbar's permission to form the Wraiths with the promise that if they don't succeed, Wedge will finally accept a promotion. Either the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits expected to fail, fails, and Ackbar gets the staff officer he wants; or they succeed and Wedge gets experience that makes him even better suited for the promotion Ackbar wants him to take, including cultivating Wedge's own ability to avert this trope for the Republic military going forward.
    • Wedge also averts it by not taking Aril Nunb as his Executive Officer, citing that he needs someone who's good at training pilots during the rebuilding phase of the squadron, and that Aril's piloting skill is inherent, not something that can be taught - if she tried, the end result would be both she and the other pilots just getting frustrated with one another. He does later explain this when he accepts her into the squadron as a pilot, and she understands his reasoning.
  • Ailnoth in The Raven in the Foregate is a competent clerk, but when made a village confessor his Holier Than Thou attitude imperils the flock and drives a parishioner to suicide after he publicly bars her on the (doctrinally unsound) grounds that if the flesh was weak then the spirit was unwilling. After Ailnoth ignores his last epiphany, God Himself smites him.
  • In By the Sword, the Skybolts mercenary company falls under the command of a woman named Ardana when the Captain and most of the leaders are killed, leaving her the top-ranked person standing. She's incompetent to run the company but too proud to step down, nearly getting everyone killed.
  • Averted in The Dragonet Prophecy; as the firstborn among his siblings, Clay would've been their "bigwings" and grown up as the leader of the group if his egg hadn't been separated from his siblings' eggs. When he reunites with them years later, he's offered the position on the principle that it should've been his in the first place, but turns it down because he knows next to nothing about his siblings or about being a Mudwing and fears what his ignorance might do to them.
  • When Charles meets the Ferryman Council in The Ferryman Institute, it is revealed that the reason why Charles' countless requests for retirement were denied was specifically because of his stupendous record as a Ferryman, his success-rate ensuring that the Institute looks good in the long-run.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Office (US)'s Michael Scott, Regional Manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin. It's shown that he used to be a great salesman and can still pull in some great negotiations when called upon but his management abilities are lacking because he is too focused on being the cool best friend to the office instead of being an authority figure, which makes few people respect him. At best he knows not to interfere with the sales team, which is why the branch pulls better numbers in the region.
  • Columbo: An example in "Make Me a Perfect Murder". Kay Freestone, a network assistant executive with high goals, dictates and practically directs a film that the network wants and guarantees it will be a success. When she is told she can't have her boyfriend Mark McAndrews's job after his promotion to New York (as he doesn't feel she's qualified note ), she shoots and kills McAndrews in his office to get the job. Afterwards, her plans to bring Valerie Kirk, an old friend and former star who also happens to be a pill junkie, out of retirement for a TV special fall apart, and the film the network ordered is a massive bomb when it airs (mostly because she desperately put the film up to replace the cancelled special, thus running it suddenly with no advertising beforehand).
    • When her boss meets her, he points out several of her flaws: in addition to airing the aforementioned film suddenly (he specifically states she "threw away" said film), he's aware that the director of the cancelled special repeatedly warned her of issues with Kirk that Kay ignored, and he's displeased that Kay planned to move to the deceased McAndrews' office, not long after his murder. When she tries to protest that she did well considering the circumstances, he cuts her off by pointing out she was responsible for said circumstances.
  • This happens on ER on occasion. The most obvious case is Dr. Kerry Weaver, who angles for any promotion she can get, generally letting the power go to her head immediately. This was also the case for Doug Ross, who was put in charge of a pediatric mini-ER, but let that spiral out of control while helping a woman with a terminally ill child. Mark Greene was an Attending, but continually was reminded that he was lacking in the discipline department, while Carter, while a very caring doctor, screwed up surprisingly often for a guy who seemed to be one of the senior residents. In fairness, Weaver didn't seem all that interested in hiring him as an Attending (she did so due to a shortage, mainly), and he was only made Chief Resident after Chen was fired.
  • 30 Rock
    • Jack Donaghy, who was promoted from the microwave oven division of GE, was written this way early on. Liz Lemon, too, is a comedy writer by experience and inclination but her job is as much management as anything else, she's received no management training other than what Jack has given her on the job, and much of the show's comedy is derived from how in-over-her-head she is. As of the 100th episode this is really starting to haunt Jack, who never expected to be stalled on one corporate rung for five years.
    • In the episode "Double Edged Sword", Pete references this by name: "The reason people are unhappy in their careers is that they keep getting promoted until they're in over their heads. The Peter Principle says you rise to the level of your incompetence." He says this to Tracy, who was happy as a fallen immature B-list comedian and is currently miserable as a socially-responsible A-list Oscar winner.
  • M*A*S*H
    • Hawkeye and Charles are amazing surgeons, but both have no management skills whatsoever. When Colonel Potter left each of them in charge, Charles turned the 4077th into his personal fiefdom (but did take care of his duties) and Hawkeye quickly degenerated to The Neidermeyer.
    • Henry Blake is a pretty good doctor, but he really isn't suited for a command position. Fortunately for him, Radar was able to take care of the day-to-day stuff, and the staff of the M*A*S*H (barring Majors Houlihan and Burns) preferred his Mildly Military style.
  • Archie "Snake" Simpson in Degrassi: competent, well-liked and respected, Reasonable Authority Figure tech teacher who has the school spiral out of control as principal, cracks down hard, and has already begun capitulating less than five episodes later, in one case to a student who covered his car in Post-It notes!
  • The title character of The Brittas Empire is so far above his competence level at this point that people will write him glowing recommendation letters in order to get rid of him.
  • Explored in Game of Thrones, where one of the main ideas explored (as in the books A Song of Ice and Fire) is to question whether a good man would be a good ruler.
    • Robert Baratheon was mentioned to be a good warrior and general, which was how he got his throne in the first place. However, as Renly and Barristan point out, good warriors don't make good kings by default, since warring and ruling are two completely different beasts. Unfortunately it turned out that he was a poor administrator who attended three Small Council meetings in seventeen years and rarely paid attention to his advisors whenever they tried to rein in his spending and he was less than a stellar husband in a position that required a decent marriage to ensure stability when it was time to transfer power. The moment he died everything fell to pieces. It's often said in-universe that Robert was "the right man to win the throne, the wrong man to keep it."
    • Ned Stark was a brilliant Lord Paramount of the North, steeped in tradition, Code of Honor, local laws and understanding of justice. However when he moved to the capital of King's Landing, those same codes that helped him in the North prevent from being an effective Hand of the King despite the fact that he is actually quite astute about the Crown's problems and political situations as a result of his personal understanding of justice and inability to separate his sentiments from his professional requirements preventing him from properly using his office as Hand to its fullest capabilities.
    • Theon Greyjoy has this best demonstrated when he manages the daring feat of capturing the fortress of Winterfell with only a handful of men, showing off his skills as a raider and low-level tactician. Once he's in command of Winterfell and and in a position to make major strategic decisions, he proceeds to immediately start bungling due to how, at the end of the day, he's spent the majority of his life as a glorified hostage to the Stark family who ultimately never got remotely any real training and experience in serving as a lord. The smart thing to do would be to kill some prisoners, grab everything his men can carry, set fire to the place, and make a run for it, but Theon has the wild idea to try and hold this entire massive fortress. Predictably, it ends poorly for him.
  • In The Ranch, Rooster is repeatedly shown to be a quite competent rancher when working on his father's privately-owned cattle ranch, but when he's offered a job running a ranch owned by a large cattle firm, he quickly finds himself in over his head. He thinks he can behave like he did when his "boss" was also his father, and thus ignores emails, lets paperwork pile up and deliberately ignores a timeline the company puts in place for tagging the cows because it would interfere with his planned ice-fishing trip that weekend. Unlike a lot of other examples here, he ultimately does lose the job.
  • In Star Trek, Starfleet seems to have systems in place to avert this trope wherever possible (with exceptions):
    • Commander Riker of Star Trek: The Next Generation is offered a promotion to captain of his own vessel more than once and refuses on the grounds that he has more to learn from Captain Picard before he steps up to his own command. It's stated at least once that if he refuses again he is unlikely to get another offer, implying that Starfleet views a repeated refusal as a sign that this trope is in place and the officer is unsuited for further promotion. Indeed, on those (relatively rare) occasions where Riker is seen performing the duties unique to first officer such as organizing duty rosters and dealing with disciplinary issues among the crew, he seems very competent in his current position. On the other hand, every time he winds up commanding in his own right, he seems perfectly competent at that too. He argues that being First Officer of the flagship of the fleet is far more prestigious than being the Captain of any "lesser" ship, and he has a point: Star Trek: Nemesis shows that even despite his repeated refusals before, he still basically has the pick of any ship in the fleet when he finally does accept a promotion. Of course, the Doylist explanation is that he will never be permanently promoted during the show's run because Status Quo Is God. In addition, had Stewart not renewed his contract midway through the series, the plan was to promote Riker to Captain.
    • The Security Chief/Tactical Officer position Worf had for several years fit him like a glove. As his career advanced and he moved to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Sisko's First Officer, he struggled to keep his "shoot first ask questions never" tendencies in check. However, once he did, he became a solid, conscientious leader.
    • In the TNG episode "Gambit, Part II", Data is in command of the Enterprise, with Worf as his First Officer. Data is forced to take Worf to task for being a Sour Supporter in front of the crew, leading to this discussion in the Ready Room:
      Data: The primary role of the second in command is to carry out the decisions of the Captain in this case, me.
      Worf: But is it not my duty to offer you alternatives?
      Data: Yes. But once I have made a decision, it is your job to carry it out regardless of how you may personally feel. Any further objections should be given to me in private, not in front of the crew. I do not recall Commander Riker ever publicly showing irritation with his Captain as you did a moment ago.
      Worf: No, sir.
    • In an alternate timeline in "Tapestry", a Picard that has remained a competent but relatively low-ranking science officer throughout his career suddenly displays an interest in promotional opportunities, especially in command. He is discouraged from pursuing this on the grounds that, while excellent as a science officer, he has never shown any real spark of ambition or initiative, implying that his superiors are consciously attempting to avert this trope. (They seem to suspect that this sudden interest in command may be due to a midlife crisis.)
    • Counselor Troi is actually a Lt. Commander by rank for most of the show and serves as an advisor to Captain Picard but is not part of the actual command hierarchy. In "Thine Own Self" she takes the bridge officer's exam so that she will be better qualified to command the ship in the event of an emergency. She talks to Doctor Crusher who is bridge certified despite it not being particularly relevant to her position as Chief Medical Officer (an alternate future shows her commanding a medical frigate). She is given a battery of tests specifically designed to ensure that she is not promoted above her ability; she has the most trouble with a Secret Test of Character designed to test if she would be willing to order a subordinate to undertake a Suicide Mission if it's the only way to save the lives of the rest of the crew. She does manage to pass and is promoted to Commander by the end of the episode, remaining a more active character through the shows and movies.
    • In more of a lateral example, Gowron originally came to power during a civil war crisis in Star Trek: The Next Generation. His chief rival was Duras, who had long been proven to be very corrupt but his family house was politically powerful. Gowron ascended to become Chancellor because Worf killed Duras in a combat challenge. Gowron was an outsider to Klingon politics and his autonomy helped expose the Duras family for being backed by the Romulans, which rooted them out and stabilized the empire. However, by the time of the Dominion War in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, his position as Chancellor started to show its problems as he had functionally no experience in military matters while his military adviser General Marok was gaining all the prestige. Fearing being usurped, Gowron tried to wrest command away from Martok and had a detrimental effect on the war effort itself. Worf had to step in and eventually killed Gowron, appointing Martok in his place because that was what the Empire needed now.
  • Both Power Rangers Lost Galaxy and Power Rangers S.P.D. had episodes where the resident engineer (Green Ranger Damon in Lost Galaxy and technical advisor Kat Manx in S.P.D.) was offered a promotion, only to back out when they realized it meant they'd be supervising projects and not doing the fun part any more. Neither one addressed whether the character would be (in)competent in a supervisory role, but the point is made that the promotion would involve an entirely different skillset from what they enjoy and are already established to be good at.
  • Breaking Bad:
    • Walter White is one of the best meth cooks on the planet. He's also a fairly clever schemer who can usually come out on top and is excellent at manipulating people, despite being generally unlikable on a personal level. It was these traits that led him to kill Gustavo Fring, one of the most powerful crime bosses in the United States and become a kingpin himself. In that role, he's utterly inadequate. His reliance on intimidation and emotional manipulation means he struggles to maintain the loyalty of others, his insistence on keeping his secrets means that he cannot leave a successor and safely retire, and his shortsightedness and ego means he keeps the operation going long past the point where he has the money he needs. As Mike put it: "Just because you shot Jesse James, don't make you Jesse James."
    • Hank Schrader has an excellent sense of intuition and is a great shot under pressure, which makes him a brilliant field agent in the DEA. His work on the Heisenberg case eventually contributes to his promotion to Assistant Special Agent in Charge, which is only a step or two from Da Chief of the entire DEA. Unfortunately, Hank is more focused on the Heisenberg/Fring case than more mundane yet larger and more important responsibilities for a management position, to the point that his boss threatens him with a funding cut until he shapes up and stops doing work more fitting for field agents.
  • Parks and Recreation:
    • Ron Swanson:
      • Ron is an excellent handyman and one could imagine him as a top-notch park ranger, but he lacks the interpersonal and political skills and most of all the motivation to be an effective department head, which is why he pawns off all his actual duties on Hypercompetent Sidekick Leslie Knope. When the series ends, Leslie makes him the superintendent in a new national park.
      • Ron actually invokes this trope; he doesn't believe that the government should exist, so he took a job there knowing he would be bad at it, just so he could do it poorly and slow everything down. There are moments when he actually considers trying for a promotion so he could do an even worse job at something even more important. He does get motivated at meetings involving budgets, but only because he gets to cut government spending.
      • In the final season he starts a contracting business and excels at his management role there. This appears to be a mix of actually caring about his job and staffing the company with employees who appreciate his no-nonsense style (many of which are from his own family).
    • For Leslie's part, she excels as the Deputy Director of a relatively small department where she can micromanage her subordinates and do the vast majority of the organizational work herself, but she's far too idealistic, bullheaded, and unwilling to delegate to be an effective City Councilwoman. She persists in forcing through unpopular legislation and pet projects that she hasn't adequately sold to the voters or her fellow council members, resulting in her being recalled in an election. She found more success taking a job at the federal level dealing with national parks, then parlaying that into a renewed political career as she could bring her own staff with her instead of be at the mercy of a committee.
  • In Scrubs a major element of the Character Development involves the various cast members seeking promotions and jumping through bureaucratic hoops in order to get them. In the case of Dr. Cox, he proved to be very talented in the small leadership positions he took on, but found himself completely overwhelmed when he reached Chief of Medicine because it required a lot more paperwork and less time with patients. It took him a couple of episodes to find his own rhythm. With both J.D. and Turk, it's a plot point at several times that they are not the most skilled in their specific field (internal medicine and surgery) but had a natural gift in leadership positions. This is in contrast to Elliot, who is extremely gifted with general practice but far too neurotic to be in charge of others.
  • Barry Garner in Battlestar Galactica (2003). Originally the chief engineer on the Pegasus he was promoted to captain following the deaths of the senior officers. He was stated to have been an excellent engineer but a mediocre captain due to trying to treat people like machinery.
    • Crashdown starts out as Boomer's Guy in Back which he handles just fine. When Boomer is injured he gets promoted to pilot for their next mission but is immediately out of his depth. He has limited experience in the field, struggles to think on his feet and has no idea how handle authority. Two members of the team end up dead due to his poor decision making and he eventually pulls a gun on Cally when she refuses a blatantly suicidal order. This last action leads to Gaius Baltar shooting him In the Back.
  • Kristin Baxter in Last Man Standing did an excellent job as the day-to-day manager of an upscale restaurant so Mike hired her to be in charge of the planning and opening of the new "Outdoor Man Grill" restaurant in Denver. However, while Kristin did an excellent job with the day-to-day planning, she dropped the ball on a number of things she never had to do before such as dealing with suppliers and building inspectors. This led to Mike having to cover for her and him not wanting to hire her as a consultant for the second restaurant opening in Dallas.
  • On Justified Mr. Picker is a rather competent henchman for the Detroit Mob and is often the Only Sane Man when his bosses start to fall apart. He is a firm believer in this trope and prefers to be The Dragon rather then trying to become The Don. He is proven right in the final season when he is pretty much forced to take over as the Detroit Mob has run out of competent leaders. Things quickly go downhill for him and he starts making the same mistakes that his predecessors did.
  • The Wire:
    • Stringer Bell acts as The Consigliere to the Barksdale organization for the first season, and clearly demonstrates his skill as a business manager and strategist. When he's put in charge of the organization when Avon Barksdale is sent to prison, he quickly finds that, while he's far more effective at dealing with the business side of things than Avon ever was, he does not have what it takes to be in charge of a gang. For all his intelligence, he's incapable of managing things like turf wars, street politics, and the loyalty of soldiers who think he's "soft". His attempts at breaking into legitimate business just get him conned by bigger fish, simply because he's not the genius he thinks he is. Avon has him pegged when he describes him as not hard enough to be a gangster, but not smart enough to be a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
    • Barksdale soldier Shamrock is way out of his depth, but by season 3 ranks so high in the Barksdale Organization because of the number of competent members who have been killed or arrested.
    • Michael Santangelo, an incompetent detective, gets busted down to patrol officer in the Western District for political reasons. He finds that he's much happier walking a beat and driving a paddy wagon, since he's better suited to the work than trying to solve crimes.
    • The abrasive Charles Marimow, who is put in charge of the Major Crimes Unit in season 4, voices pride in having worked his way up to the rank of Lieutenant from the bottom. If he ever was competent at any of his prior positions, he certainly isn't at his current rank. His attempts to bust the notorious Stansfield gang can only be described as an Epic Fail, and even Herc, who has thoroughly earned the right to be considered the MCU's Dumb Muscle, shows more competence and insight into how drug gangs work than Marimow does.
  • Silicon Valley:
    • Richard Hendricks is a gifted computer programmer who was able to create a highly innovative data compression program. However, upon starting his own tech company based around the program, he has been shown to be a woefully incompetent CEO: He lacks eloquent speaking ability in even casual conversation, he has virtually zero business savvy, negotiating skills, or backbone. On several occasions, he made critical errors that would have destroyed the company but for the actions of his colleagues and pure, dumb luck. He is fully aware he is out of his depth and never really grows into that position, but he sticks with it because he felt a moral obligation to treat the technology right.
    • Bighead's story arc is a parody of when this happens. He is at best a casual coder, sees it more as a fun hobby to do with his friends than trying to make a career out of it. But his proximity to Richard developing Pied Piper has Gavin Belson from Hooli snag him with a generous salary believing him to have inside information on how Richard's technology works. He really doesn't because he isn't that good of a coder to begin with. He gets "unassigned" from any projects (due to contracts he still gets paid but has no responsibilities, an entire crew at Hooli hang out on the roof all day), but later gets a promotion and major pay bonus in an attempt by Gavin to legitimize a lawsuit, while also giving him some press exposure. The entire time he is falling backwards into lots of money, and then having the reputation of being a major Hooli executive lands him a guest lecturing gig at Stanford. At no point is he competent at any of those jobs, but takes Kicked Upstairs to a new level.
  • On iZombie this happens to Chase Graves. He becomes the head of the Fillmore-Graves Private Military Contractor company when his sister-in-law is assassinated. It quickly becomes clear that while a competent and respected junior officer, he struggles with the job of a CEO. He probably would have grown into the job if it was not for the fact that he he and most of his employees are zombies and he also inherited the position of the head of a conspiracy to preserve The Masquerade. Then events overtake him and he becomes de-facto dictator of a new zombie city-state that the US government would love to nuke off the face of the Earth. As things spin out of control, he makes worse and worse decisions and a lot of people die. A good example of his failure to adapt to his new position is his habit to shoot his zombie subordinates in the chest when they severely disappoint him. To a zombie this is the equivalent of getting punched really hard and might be an effective way to keep discipline in a squad of zombies who might 'rage-out' in a moment of stress. However, it is not how a general is supposed to act and when he does it one too many times, it ends in tragedy and costs him the loyalty of his Only Sane Employee.
  • In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Captain John Walker, the first recipient of three Medals of Honor is chosen by the United States Government to be the new Captain America after Sam retired the Shield. But while Walker's combat credentials are impressive, he lacks all the other qualities that had allowed Steve Rogers to be such a respected leader and beloved figure to those who knew him, which causes him to quickly alienate potential allies. And to make matters worse, the sheer pressure of such a public role causes him to make bad judgment calls. This comes to a head when he takes the Super Soldier Serum, which causes his traits, positive and negative, to exaggerate, making his poor temper worse. And when his best friend is killed in front of him, he snaps to the point that he brutally kills a surrendering opponent in broad daylight in front of civilians and then attempts to kill Sam and Bucky when they come to take him in. It's only when he lets go of the idea of being Captain America, symbolised by him tossing aside his warped homemade replacement shield and take up a new position as a covert operative that he's able to be useful again.
  • The Sopranos is built around the question of who exactly fits in positions of power, and the disasters that come from those positions being filled incorrectly. Silvo Dante, as a character, exemplifies this, ironically by not being an example: he knows exactly how good he is at what he does, and despises being moved out of his position. The one time he's put into a position of higher responsibility, the stress nearly shakes him to pieces.
  • CSI has a unique example of a person who started as a victim of The Peter Principle and then got kicked downstairs into his area of expertise. Captain Brass' initial impression in the first episode made him look like an incompetent and biased boss, most likely because his promotion put him in over his head. After he was demoted to Homicide in the second episode, he becomes every bit the equal to the crime lab folks in professional competence.
  • Marco Inaros form The Expanse successfully ran a (relatively small-scale) piracy/terrorist/guerilla organization for decades, and eventually a combination of putting a new spin on old tactics, some key strategic alliances, and a willingness to go far beyond anyone else led him to becoming the largest scale terrorist/mass murderer in human history when he covered asteroids in Martian stealth technology and then dropped them on both Earth and Mars. When he tries to take the leap from guerilla leader to de facto dictator of the outer planets and the asteroid belt, however, the cracks show almost immediately. Marco has absolutely no interest in the details of being a good administrator, and no respect for the processes that do things like, say, ensure that people have enough to eat instead of just making grandiose speeches about the subject, especially if it requires cooperation with people who do anything besides blindly obey and worship Marco. The opening of the final season shows that Marco is leading the Belt to disaster and will likely cause much of the Belt starve, simply because the Belt is physically unable to produce enough food to be sustainable and Marco refuses to make any compromises with the Inner Planets that might give them leverage over him. Marco is obviously relieved when war with Earth and Mars heats up again, since it lets him get back to fighting, which is the only thing he's truly interested in.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has commanding officer Capt. Cragen temporarily reassigned. Det. Munch, who had secretly taken the sergeant's exam on a bar bet, is promoted to acting commander in the interim. Munch has seniority, is arguably the best detective in the unit, and has a long record of success to back him up. However, he flounders as commander due to having No Social Skills and his general loathing of bureaucracy which is now his primary job to deal with. He performs so badly that the higher-ups practically beg Cragen to take command again, which Munch is all too happy to relinquish. Even afterwards, he never exercises the supervisory responsibilities of his rank, simply because he knows everyone's better off without him in charge.
    Munch: Thank God you're back. I don't know how you do it. This job sucks!
  • Inverted in Ted Lasso. Ted and his Hypercompetent Sidekick Coach Beard "played" American Football in college, but they were second-string players in positions (punter and kicker), where even the starters are rarely used, and never actually played in an actual competitive game throughout their whole college careers. However, despite being mediocre players they were actually quite competent coaches, leading a team to a championship, and once they find their feet prove to be very effective at coaching Association Football too.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • This is so common in the history of the business that there's a term, "hot shotting" for taking someone new who's showing early promise and trying to push them too far too fast, leading to disaster and potentially long-term career damage.
  • Vince Russo as a booker is capable of producing some brilliant, or at least interesting, ideas (e.g The Brood), and can generally be relied upon to provide every wrestler up and down the card with something to do, regardless of the relative quality of that something. Vince Russo as head booker has run companies into the ground. Russo is a great ideas man, but he desperately needs a filter; when he had Vince McMahon overseeing him in the WWF he threw a lot of shit at a wall and the WWF had some great success with what stuck, but when he jumped ship to WCW and was made head booker (after convincing Eric Bischoff that he was the man responsible for WWF's Attitude Era) he was allowed to throw his shit at the floor instead, leading to things like David Arquette, WCW Champion.
  • The Miz is famous for being a perpetual victim of this. A safe and solid but ultimately unremarkable wrestler, the Miz will win over a bunch of new fans with his entertaining promos and clever plots to get one over on his enemies, get a big push to the main event level, get his mediocre wrestling overexposed, and get busted back down into the midcard where the cycle will repeat itself in time.
  • Vince McMahon, creatively at least, has been very credibly accused of this. As an ambitious regional promoter, he managed to go nationwide with a combination of media savvy and ruthless, cutthroat business tactics. But, as a Control Freak and deeply odd human being, Vince kept also wanting to book the shows himself, and became more and more resistant to the word "no" from the various talented people he employed, often running them off or kicking them into other parts of the corporate structure and replacing them with yes-men, and resulting in critically-panned and commercially-underperforming shows (or even commercial failure!). It's telling that during the most successful times in his promotion's history, he was all-but forced to give up power by outside pressure, and when he successfully established a near-complete monopoly on wrestling promotion in the United States, meaning no one could really tell him what to do anymore, it coincided with steady, not-always-slow decline in viewership, to which his inevitable response was to double down and try to control more aspects of his company in a cycle of declining quality that was only really arrested when a series of sex scandals forced him into unwilling retirement.
    • He also frequently tried to expand into other areas of sports, such as bodybuilding promotions and professional football leagues. These were all catastrophic and humiliating failures. Except the second incarnation of the XFL. That one was only a moderate failure, and it might've been catching on, before the COVID-19 pandemic strangled it in the crib.

  • Golden Tee Golf's original prize structure drove this home hard. Players were grouped into Bronze, Silver, and Gold classes, each with correspondingly greater prizes. One official tournament was held every month, after which the top Bronze finishers advanced to Silver and the top Silver finishers advanced to Gold. The kicker was that in Silver, it wasn't too hard for reasonably skilled players to consistently finish in the money, and they'd drop to Bronze if they came up empty for three straight tournaments. Gold, however, paid off only the top 75 finishers... about a quarter of the class at any given time... and demotion to Silver happened only after losing out in SIX straight tournaments. Worse, Gold had, of course, the best Golden Tee Golf players in the world, many of whom were good enough to cash in every tournament, leaving even fewer spots for the new blood. The net result was that for many, many players, promotion to Gold meant having absolutely no chance to win anything for half a year! Which was the original point of the structure — it was specifically made to prevent Gold-level players from exploiting the system by sandbagging just to win extra money at the Silver level.
  • In Sumo, a rikishi getting promoted to a rank where he's completely over his head isn't a big deal; he'll simply have a terrible tournament and be demoted. The exception is ozeki. Reaching the rank requires an exceptional record over three tournaments, generally at least 33 wins (out of 45) and one runner-up at minimum. However, he cannot be demoted unless he has two consecutive losing records. He is merely "kadoban" after one losing record; if he has a positive result the next tournament, even 8-7, the slate is clean. This has allowed quite a few ozeki to remain at the rank long after they've dropped WAY below the level they were when they got it:
    • Chiyotaikai — Promoted to ozeki after his breakout January 1999 basho, he stumbled horribly out of the gate in March and May, but recovered and had a pretty good track record through 2000. And then he suffered two nasty injuries in 2001 and 2002 that completely ruined his form (the pressure of being Kokonoe-beya's next great hope after Chiyonofuji certainly didn't help either). From then on he was largely doomed to a 6 to 9 win treadmill and a humiliating parade of kadobans. He finally was demoted in January 2010, where he blasted off to a 0-4 start and promptly retired.
    • Musoyama — A good-but-not-great oshi specialist and one of the then-formidable Musashigawa stable, he had one impressive stretch of dominance in early 2000 which propelled him to ozeki...and never lived it down. Inconsistency and seemingly endless injuries would plague the remainder of his career; he only ever exceeded 10 wins once more (March 2001) and was kadoban 6 times.
    • Miyabiyama — Another Musashigawa stalwart, he shot up the ranks like a rocket in his early career, needing a mere 12 tournaments...two years! make ozeki. He was the surest lock for yokozuna since Takanohana. So how did his ozeki stint go? He goes 54-51 over his next 7 tournaments (barely adequate for a komusubi), going kadoban 3 times in the process, then in September 2001 suffers a devastating injury which knocks him out of the next TWO tournaments and catapults him back into the rank and file. The Sumo Association was so disgusted by his collapse that they refused to promote him back to ozeki in July 2006, even though he'd gone 34-11 with a runner-up, which should've been more than enough. They had also recently promoted Hakuho to ozeki and there were four other ozeki at the time as well—Chiyotaikai, Kaio, Tochiazuma, and Kotooshu.
    • Kaio — One of many outstanding ozeki who was just not good enough to make the final jump to yokozuna. Despite never contending for a championship after 2004 and having to miss a lot of tournaments to injury, he hung on for tournament after tournament, one losing record never becoming two. He had an amazing knack, however he did it, for getting that all-important 8th win; he was 8-7 for all six tournaments in 2009. He finally succumbed to the inevitable, at the astounding age of 39, in July 2011. He's tied with Chiyotaikai for the most tournaments at ozeki (65) and is the sole holder of most tournaments in makuuchi (107) and most kadobans (14). He was never demoted.
    • Tochiazuma — Formidable multi-talent who made ozeki during his peak from September 2001 to January 2002. Unfortunately, that's when his myriad health problems decided to come crashing down on him en masse, and his ozeki tenure was a horrendous roller coaster where he was as likely to finish with 2 wins as 12. Did manage to pull in one championship and two runners-up before his body completely gave out in March 2007.
    • Goeido — An athletic technician à la Asahifuji who had enormous success at the high school level and reached makuuchi a mere two and a half years after his debut. Unfortunately, despite his ring sense and mastery of technique, he was prone to mental breakdowns and could self-destruct at any moment. He bounced up and down the ranks for a long time before finally correcting his problems and going 12-3 in in March 2012, which propelled him to Sekiwake. He held onto that rank for two years then peaked, going 12-3, 8-7, and 12-3 from March to July 2014, picking up two jun-yushos in the progress. This was good enough to promote him to ozeki, the first in an eternity to make it with fewer than 33 wins. His career since had been marred by breakdowns, inexplicable collapses, and feeble efforts, and despite the occasional flash of brilliance (he actually got the first yusho of his career in September 2016, and 15-0 at that), his record was far below ozeki standard and he'd been kadoban nine times. His confidence seemed to be all but gone by this point, and it looked like he was content to cling to the rank for as long as he can like Kaio. In fact, he ended up passing Kotozakura, Musashimaru, and Kotoshogiku for tenth place on the list of longest-reigning ozeki before he retired after posting a 5-10 record at the first tournament of 2020.
  • Michael Jordan is one the undisputed greats to ever play in the NBA. For a while, it seemed like a couple of mediocre years in Washington would be his career low point. Then came 2010, where MJ became owner of the Charlotte Hornets (formerly the Bobcats). To say his management of the team (who posted a floundering 7-59 record in a strike shortened season, the all-time worst single season NBA team W-L record by percentage) has been unimpressive is putting it mildly.
  • Isiah Thomas is another example: great player who led the Pistons to two championships, horrible coach and general manager.
  • Wayne Gretzky is known among hockey fans as "The Great One". A total legend in his sport. Then he became coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. 4 lousy seasons, only one of them ending with Phoenix finishing above .500 (by one game at that) and zero playoff appearances. "The Great One" moniker clearly didn't follow him into coaching. Unlike many examples, Gretzky realized that he sucked at coaching and resigned from coaching to both his and the Coyotes' benefit. Today, Gretzky views his coaching career as an Old Shame.
  • Graham Taylor was a very good football manager at club level, achieving considerable success with unfashionable clubs like Lincoln City and Watford (forming an unlikely friendship with chairman Elton John at the latter) before becoming manager of the England national team. At this, he was less successful (he would later be the inspiration for Mike Bassett: England Manager) and resigned after failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Following this, he went back to club management and achieved more success during a second spell as manager of Watford.
  • Rene Meulensteen; generally considered to be the Hypercompetent Sidekick to Sir Alex Ferguson during Manchester United's dominance of the new millennium in the English Premier League. Fans were begging for David Moyes to retain him, but Moyes let Meulensteen leave anyway, to go off to Anzhi in Russia. He was sacked after sixteen days. Next, he went to manage Fulham; three months of dismal performances later, Meulensteen was sacked again, and replaced with ex-Bayern manager Felix Magath.
  • Ferguson's previous number two, Steve McLaren, also struggled with management for a time (culminating in the England debacle).
  • There is a very long list of college football players (including Heismann Trophy winners) that were stellar in college but underperformed or outright busted once they reached the NFL.
    • Some of the more notable players include Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell, Brian Bosworth, and Lawrence Phillips.
    • Tim Tebow is an interesting example, as once he had flamed out as QB in the pros, there were still multiple teams that wanted to hire him; but not as a quarterback. His overall skill range made him only a 2nd-3rd string QB at best, but his numbers were high enough he would've been an excellent all-around, versatile player able to fill various positions at need. But Tebow refused anything that wasn't solely quarterback; and there weren't any of those.
  • Frequently happens in football when a stellar offensive or defensive coordinator rises to become a head coach and struggles being in charge of both sides of the ball (Rex Ryan, Chip Kelly, Chan Gailey are just three examples).
  • Nick Foles is one of the most highly-touted backup quarterbacks in the league, with a track record of great success when spelling established starters like Michael Vick and Carson Wentz (led the league in passer rating in 2013, 1-time Pro-bowler, tied the record for touchdown passes in one game, and a Super Bowl ring and MVP award to go with it). However, every time that Foles has been given a ton of money and a green light to start, (e.g. the last year of his first stint in Philadephia, and his ill-fated turns as the starter in St. Louis and Jacksonville) he has struggled.
  • Major League Baseball has what's known as the "Quad-A player," named for those who dominate at AAA (the highest level of MLB's minor league system) but can't replicate that success at the major league level.
  • This can also happen in Cricket when the national selectors of a team usually appoint the best individual player in the team at the time as Captain. This results in a team captain who may be capable of individually winning matches for his team, but may not display the inspirational leadership to motivate others, or tactical leadership in the deployment of bowlers, field positions etc. Examples were Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Michael Atherton, Shaun Pollock, Sanath Jaysuriya, Kim Hughes, Graham Gooch, Ian Botham note  and many others.
  • In Collegiate American Football, there have been a handful of cases of successful high school coaches getting promoted directly to an FBS level head coaching job, and, as you'd expect, they tend to fail spectacularly. Oddly, the most famous case of this, Gerry Faust getting hired at Notre Dame from Archbishop Moeller in Cincinnati in 1981, was also the most successful, with three winning seasons out of five and a 30-26-1 overall record before he was let go. The other notable examples—Bob Commings (Massillon Washington HS in Ohio to Iowa in 1974), Todd Dodge (Southlake Carroll in Texas to North Texas in 2007), Tony Sanchez (Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas to UNLV in 2015)—all endured a few dismal seasons before being let go.
    • North Dakota State has been the single most successful college football program outside the major college level, but its coaches have had a lousy track record moving up to the next level, with Darrell Mudra, Ron Erhardt, Jim Wacker, Don Morton, Earle Solomonson and Rocky Hager all sputtering out in higher-profile jobs. Among the two current former NDSU coaches currently in top level jobs, Chris Klieman has managed some success at Kansas State (including winning a Big 12 Championship), but Craig Bohl has had a mediocre tenure at Wyoming.
  • Mike Keenan was one of the National Hockey League's premier coaches in the 1980s and early 1990s, getting to the Stanley Cup Finals three times before finally winning it as coach of the 1994 New York Rangers. In 1997, he moved to the St. Louis Blues, where he became both the head coach and the General Manager. Blues fans widely consider Keenan's reign to be an Audience-Alienating Era, and many of them still loathe him. His later General Manager stints with the Vancouver Canucks (where he was the de facto GM for a couple of years before Brian Burke was hired, and oversaw an Audience-Alienating Era even worse than the one he caused in St. Louis) and the Florida Panthers were no better. Worse, he lost his coaching touch, as he also coached the Canucks and Panthers teams he ran into the ground. His last coaching run with the Calgary Flames led to swift first-round playoff exits and his even swifter firing. Today, his name is pretty much mud across the League.
  • A curious trait about the New England Patriots' long-time coach Bill Belichick is how his 'coaching tree' (subordinate and assistant coaches who go on to become head coaches in other teams) has seen very little success despite the fame and talent of the Patriots coaching staff. The two most infamous examples of failed attempts at exporting the Patriot Way are Matt Patricia and Bill O'Brien.
    • Matt Patricia's rise mirrors that of Belichick surprisingly closely: Both were defensive coordinators with two Super Bowl wins on their record before getting the head coaching job. Patricia went to the Detroit Lions in 2018, where he implemented a regime that attempted to import the Patriots' famously strict discipline and training programs to a team that was known for being a bit directionless. Whereas that style of coaching worked in the Patriots where everybody understands what they are signing up for, it was a disaster among the rookie and veteran Lions players who resented the sudden crackdown on their freetime with little to show for it. The Lions went from a team that had made the playoffs two times in four years under Jim Caldwell, to a team that was 13-29-1 when Patricia was fired after two and a half years. He ultimately went back to the Patriots as an offensive line coach.
    • Bill O'Brien, who previously held a range of offensive coach jobs with the Patriots, became head coach of the Houston Texans in 2014, where he also became known for having a heavy hand in the team's front office. Belichick is famous for being both the Patriots' head coach and their general manager, leading to a hardball style of contract negotiations and trades that is willing to sacrifice expensive star players in the name of a more equally-matched roster. O'Brien seemingly tried to do the same thing, but was significantly less financially savvy, and his leadership of the Texans became known for a string of disjointed and expensive trades that gradually drained the team of talent.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In BattleTech, Trials of Position used by the Clans to promote their officers unintentionally leads to this: The Clans all emphasize combat prowess, with the best combatants winning their Trials and being promoted to higher command positions. Unfortunately, at no point does the system take into account one's ability to lead the larger number of people required by a higher rank, which means that an individual Clan officer's actual command ability can be anywhere from 'brilliant strategist' (like Ulric Kerensky) to 'raging General Failure' (like Lincoln Osis) with no system in place to actually test this before they're promoted. The only thing that can be said for certain is that a given Clan officer was competent enough at their last job to be allowed to undertake a Trial of Position (incompetent Clan officers usually find their Clan elders are unsympathetic to their promotion requests, and usually find more of their own subordinates being allowed to challenge them for their own position), and better at personal combat that whoever they fought against (which usually includes the former holder of said position).

  • Gilbert and Sullivan light operas liked to parody this trope:
    • HMS Pinafore has Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty, whose entire career is based on The Peter Principle. He was first a chore boy at a law firm, promoted to a clerk because he cleaned up so well, promoted to an articled clerk because was good at writing documents, then to a partner because of his legal knowledge. He hits the ceiling here, making a successful run at Parliament due to his success, but has no mind for politics, and just votes the way his party wants him to. This ingratiates him to the elites, who promote him to the admiralty, despite having no nautical experience whatsoever. He was based on the Real Life Hugh Childers who, while well-regarded as a politician, was a dreadful First Lord of the Admiralty.
    • The famous Major General's Song in The Pirates of Penzance references this, with Major General Stanley rattling off his knowledge of a variety of fields, only to get to his military expertise, of which there is none to speak of. The implication being that he owes his position to excellent performance in officer school, despite having no actual military experience, something that was rather common at the time.

    Video Games 
  • The Sims 3, where an early job promotion can lead to poor performance at the new level, if skills and other requirements are not improved.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
  • Mass Effect:
    • The turian race actively tries to avert this. From the in-game codex: "Throughout their lives, turians ascended to the higher tiers and are occasionally "demoted" to lower ones. The stigma associated with demotion lies not on the individual, but on those who promoted him when he wasn't ready for additional responsibility. This curbs the tendency to promote individuals into positions beyond their capabilities." It does, however, mean that Turian individuals are not actually in control of their career paths, essentially leaving that determination to their superiors whether they like it or not.
    • The entire Citadel Council tend to be portrayed this ways, as a group of over-glorified ambassadors and politicians. If left to die in the first game, the third game reveals that their replacements aren't that much better either. The tendency to simply stick their head in the sand whenever there's trouble, forces Shepard in the third game to go over their heads and organise a summit with the leaders of each of their respective governments, so that they can properly organise a counter-offensive against the Reapers.
  • This is the reason given, via All There in the Manual, for why Dawn of War's Indrick Boreale was such a raging General Failure. He was one of the Blood Ravens Chapter's greatest scout snipers as an initiate and a brilliant squad sergeant when he was first promoted, but his achievements in his first two positions lead to him being promoted far above his level of competence, culminating in him being given the unenviable task of trying to subjugate an entire solar system overrun with over a half dozen different enemy factions, with predictable results. Cyrus in the sequel is a deliberate defiance of the trope both in- and out-of-universe, being a scout sniper revered for his competence who refuses to be promoted past Training Sergent because he feels his skills are best suited to that position. It later turns out that Boreale was deliberately promoted to a position he wasn't ready to take by the Blood Ravens' secretly Chaos-corrupted Chapter Master. This was for two reasons, to make the Blood Ravens look bad and cause a political divide between them and the Imperium, and to kill many of the most Emperor-loving members of the chapter so that his fellow traitors could later take over.
  • Hearts of Iron 2 depicts this process with its military commanders: each successive promotion (which is required to allow them to command larger armies or fleets) reduces their skill level. Therefore, an excellent Major-General (skill level 4), who commands one division, can be promoted three times to become a mediocre Field Marshal (skill level 1), who commands twelve divisions. (Fortunately, skill level cannot fall below 0.)
  • Jackie Ma from Sleeping Dogs is a not-completely-incompetent low-level street hustler at the beginning of the game, but as he begins to move up, it becomes painfully clear that he has neither the skills nor the stomach for higher-level crime.
  • The Elder Powers in the Nexus War series have the ability to promote their followers to higher tiers of power than what's represented by player characters (and the setting contains some examples of this) but generally don't because of this trope. Only the player characters are able to directly influence the outcome of the Cosmic Chess Game that drives the series, and so the Powers need a very good reason to promote someone, lest they render one of their most effective game pieces ineffective in pursuing their main goal.
  • Dragon Age: The Qunari avert this through the use of Frontline General and similar tropes; people are promoted to positions that make use of the skills that got them promoted. If a soldier is promoted to officer, he is expected to lead his men from the front. The Arishok, the highest rank in the Qunari military, is the greatest soldier in the military and is expected to make use of his skills on a regular basis. There are other roles that handle the more strategic, logistical, and paperwork sides of the job, although some Arishoks who show aptitudes in these areas are allowed to utilize them rather than stifled for acting outside of their roles.
  • Fallout: New Vegas:
    • Legate Lanius, The Dragon, is a One-Man Army and a clever tactician. It's suggested, however, that he's beginning to reach his level of incompetence as General of the entire Legion's armed forces, as the Courier can convince him to back down by pointing out that his lack of logistical support in the pivotal battle of the game will make any victory a pyrrhic one. He's even more out of his depth if Caesar dies and he has to take over the nation, at which point the Legion basically gives up its plans of Utopia Justifies the Means and becomes even more violent and disorganized. History repeats, as much the same thing happened to Joshua Graham, a One-Man Army who openly admits to having no tactical ability was promoted to General and then fumbled horribly the moment he went up against an actual tactician.
    • Elijah was another example, within the Mojave Brotherhood of Steel. He was by all accounts, an exemplary scribe and brilliant engineer who could deconstruct and understand the implications of technology far better than any other scribe, and he could jury rig some really innovative powerful weapons. Problem was that he was horrible at inspirational leadership and sucked at organization and tactics too. This resulted in the Brotherhood suffering a humiliating defeat and rout at the hands of the NCR at Helios One with the survivors never knowing why he wanted them to fight for that place. His poor track record also bites him at the Sierra Madre casino, where in spite of having bomb collars installed on them to ensure compliance, the Player Character can inspire other similar victims to eventually work together and defeat Elijah once and for all.
  • Sigurd in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War is unshakeably moral, a cavalier without peer and a One-Man Army, beloved by his soldiers and skilled in battlefield command. Unfortunately, his Chronic Hero Syndrome means that he's really not great at understanding the consequences of his actions or judging the people around him, which leads to disaster when he ends up conquering half the world, leading to him being murdered and leaving the results of his myriad mistakes to be cleaned up by an army led by his orphaned son.
  • Arthur from the first Shining Force fell victim to this in his Backstory. After rising through the ranks as a knight, he became the commander of his squad, and led his troops to a miserable defeat. He left his country in shame and became a humble laundromat in Manarina, before joining the Force and resuming his original position as a knight.
  • Zacchariah Trench in Control felt this way about his appointment to Director of the Federal Bureau of Control. He doesn't think he's particularly well-suited to the job, but there was no better candidate at the time — and no one else he'd trust now.
  • Kratos from God of War. He is an excellent fighter and able to adapt during any battle to defeat his enemies after his Spartan training. But when Kratos is promoted to General of the Spartan Army? In one of his battles he makes a crucial mistake that nearly leads to his death and his entire army's decimation, only getting out of it with a figurative Deal with the Devil (which unsurprisingly bit him in the ass not very long after). And after the end of the first game and being promoted to the titular position? Let's just say there's a reason why he was kicked out of the post not less than 15 minutes into the second game. By the time of God of War Ragnarök, Kratos after Character Development is painfully aware of this weakness, and refuses to lead the battle against Odin and the Aesir fearing he might make a worse mistake than any of the two instances above.
  • One mission in Saints Row (2022) is directly named after the trope. Due to getting things done during their first two jobs for Marshall, Atticus himself gives the Boss a very important task: guarding a very precious artifact in a museum. Unfortunately, you end up in the middle of a Mêlée à Trois with Los Panteros and the Idols, and the artifact gets stolen by the Idols, leading to you getting fired. The Boss started off their career at Marshall by doing impressive things, and as a result they got promoted to a job that was beyond their experience level or skill set.
  • In Suzerain, Lucian Galande (your Chief of Staff and Chief Political Strategist) proves himself to be excellent in those roles, with his advice frequently being helpful to navigating the conflicts and decisions of the Presidency. In a late game event, the opportunity arises to make him your Vice President, a role which he has seemingly been gunning for. If you promote him to that position, it turns out that being good at internal political machinations does not make you good at the more PR-heavy retail politics that being a Vice President requires, and he will ultimately do a poor job at it. Your other options, Gloria Tory and Albin Clavin, are leaders of the conservative and reformist wings in the Assembly respectively, and thanks to their electoral experience turn out to be much more adept at the VP job.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: Darth Malak achieves this via Sith-style Klingon Promotion. Malak is heavily implied to have been a reasonably competent tactician, as well as a brilliant warrior and Master Swordsman, an even better swordsman than his master. However, after firing on and (seemingly) killing his master and assuming the role as the head of the Sith Order, his flaws start to show. While a competent tactician and still extremely dangerous, he lacks any subtlety or nuance with long-term strategies. Mixed with his Stupid Evil tendencies, this gives the Republic a window to regroup, in spite of his brutal methods. Malak's shortcomings in this position stand out even more when compared to his master, Darth Revan, a poster-child for Pragmatic Villainy and widely regarded as one of the most intelligent and powerful Sith Lords who ever lived and one of the greatest military strategists the galaxy had ever seen.

  • Erfworld:
    • Stanley the Plaid is an excellent fighter and tactician who wields a weapon forged by the gods. Once he earns a promotion to Overlord, however, his absolutely abysmal strategic chops come into play. Worse, since he's the keystone of his Keystone Army, he can't go out and use his real skills lest he die in battle and doom his entire kingdom, since he steadfastly refuses to name an heir.
    • Jillian, on the other hand, refuses to stand back and much prefer being a Warrior Queen, much to the dismay of her own commanders. She is, by a fair margin, the most powerful fighter of her side — and that's without an artifact weapon.
  • In Exterminatus Now, Word of God claims the protagonists' Mean Boss Commander Antonius Schaefer was formerly a brilliant field agent (as evidenced by his fight with Edward Bay) but was promoted into becoming an incompetent bureaucrat.
  • Discussed in Kevin & Kell. Looking at the numbers of her company, notices Rhonda is her best hunter. But then one of her subordinates points out eventually she will need to make a hard choice... And decide when to promote her outside of hunting.
  • In The Order of the Stick, Andi, the chief engineer of the airship Mechane, is invaluable in that role. She routinely fixes equipment and keeps the ship in the air when it should be out of commission. When she pulls a short lived mutiny on the acting captain Bandana, however, she proves to be a terrible ship's captain. She tries to apply some of the same techniques and points of view used as a chief engineer only to find that they don't apply to running the ship, she refuses to pay attention to expertise of other crew members, (despite Andi having previously criticized Bandana for the same thing) and during a critical moment she gets so distracted by the need to fix something that she runs off to do it... temporarily leaving the ship without a captain while she's occupied. During that time all it takes is a short talk from Bandana to several nearby crew members to get them to decide to free Bandana and end Andi's brief reign as captain.

    Western Animation 
  • Transformers: Prime:
    • Airachnid is a lethal hunter, and masterful solo operative. Her skills however do not translate well into command, and she has proven to be rather incompetent when placed in charge.
    • Starscream, on the few rare occasions when he does manage to achieve leadership of the Decepticons. While not completely incompetent (he actually does a pretty good job), he's nowhere near as diabolical or cruel as Megatron. Prime's Starscream is only interested in the glory of command, not the responsibility. He's only out for command to stroke his own ego, whereas Prime's Megatron does his damnedest to keep the Decepticons a unified force.
    • Smokescreen was a newcomer to the team in late season two. His character arc was believing himself to destined for great things but always being denied that opportunity. He later found himself in a position to take the Matrix of Leadership from Optimus Prime as he lies near death and become the next Prime. He chose instead to use the remaining power of the Forge of Solus Prime to bring Optimus back. In season three he expresses disappointment that he gave up that opportunity, but came to recognize that random chance and initiative didn't mean he was the right person for the job.
  • Family Guy plays with this trope.
    • In the episode "Trading Places", Chris and Meg switch places with Peter and Lois. While the latter two struggle with the pains of high school life, Chris excels at the job, being better than Peter ever was. However, after downsizing, Chris ends up having to pick up the work and it begins crushing him, making him more aggressive, taking up drinking and even getting a stress-induced heart attack. Status Quo Is God and everyone goes to their place, but it's interesting to think about since Peter likely wouldn't have been given the extra work because he wouldn't be seen as capable (and Peter hasn't been fired yet.)
    • This was parodied in a Cutaway Gag in "Meg Stinks" with a (non-sentient) gumball machine traffic warden, when this has predictable results one cop said to another that he was a great gumball machine, they just shouldn't have promoted him.
  • A memorable Rocko's Modern Life episode featured Ed Bighead being asked to make a corporate decision, which he does...with help from a Magic Meatball. (Kind of like a Magic 8 Ball...only it's a meatball.) He does this more and more, quite literally rising through the ranks until he gets an office in space and his old supervisor becomes his Yes-Man. He then has a nervous breakdown once his Meatball accidentally breaks, and is demoted back to his old position.
  • The Simpsons: Lisa Simpson is definitely smarter than the average 8-year-old, yet any episode that deals with her rising above her peers (such as being promoted to the 3rd grade or going to a private school) also exposes her intellectual flaws. Namely, she prefers being a Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond.
  • In Star Trek: Lower Decks, Brad Boimler is the hardest working, most efficient Ensign on the USS Ceritos, a ship specialising in following up first contacts after other ships have Boldly Gone. When the captain briefly forces the entire crew on strict schedules, he's the only crewmember whose able to do his work on time and doesn't go crazy from stress in a week. However, when he's promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade and transferred to the USS Titan, he's quickly overwhelmed by the greater responsibility and more dangerous missions. Then subverted; being on the Titan just has a harsh learning curve, but after a few weeks he eventually manages to adjust to his new role and win the respect of his crewmates and captain. When circumstances force him to re-join the Ceritos, it's clear that he's now overqualified for his old job and doesn't appreciate everyone still treating him like an inexperienced new recruit.
    • Inverted by Mariner. She has been a higher rank but was demoted and transferred off a number of other ships, family connections were the only thing that kept her from being kicked out. This is not because she was incompetent, she could easily handle the kind of stuff a senior officer would do in a typical episode of Star Trek, but can't stand the bureaucracy and paperwork they also have to do. That said, being overqualified and settling for a position way beneath her abilities carries its own issues, namely she is too obsessed with keeping up the Military Maverick image that people treat her like her rank suggests and ignore her expertise or see her as wanting the power of command but none of the responsibility. They're forced to crack the whip and make her shape up otherwise she'll get drummed out of Starfleet.
  • In G.I. Joe, one of Cobra's plots to break their military stalemate with the Joes is to hack into their database and send through promotion orders for the soldiers least suited for command. Their choices are: Lifeline, a highly skilled medic and rescue trooper whose extreme pacifism makes him a completely ineffective commander in a combat situation; Dial-Tone, a fussy telecommunications expert whose perfectionism and constantly tinkering with things that aren't broken sabotages his troops; and Shipwreck, an eminently qualified gunner's mate who has no tactical sense and is too much of a meathead to be suited for any position that doesn't involve shooting things. Obviously as part of a highly selective and elite military organization, they're very good at what they do, but as commanding officers are disastrously ineffective, leading to a Near-Villain Victory until their general shows up to bail them out.
  • Played with somewhat with Catra in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Almost as soon as the series starts she proves herself an excellent fighter and a capable tactician in small scale roles, and at the end of Season 1 she comes tantalizingly close to leading The Horde to victory and capturing Brightmoon, which is the main base of operations for the heroes and the heart of the resistance. Hordak rewards her by promoting her to his Number Two, but once there the flaws in her abilities quickly begin to show, including that she has no interest in or knowledge of the administerial side of the job (so for example she has no clue how to keep Horde troops properly supplied), she lacks the social skills needed to manage people or avoid pushing would-be helpers away, and her psychological issues and fear of being displaced in the Horde's hierarchy make her unable to ask for help due of fear of showing weakness and being replaced. She still does well enough in some areas, like battle tactics, getting Genius Ditz Entrapta to turn out useful inventions for the Horde, and occasionally giving the reclusive Hordak a much needed kick in the butt to make him actually take an active hand in the war that she's not a complete disaster, but it's clear that she's in over her head and it's fairly certain that the Horde would have lost the war at the end of Season 4, if not for some bad choices by Glimmer and the arrival of Greater-Scope Villain Horde Prime. In the end Catra is probably the best fighter the Horde has after Adora's desertion, and as a field officer operating below a capable second-in-command she is a force to be reckoned with, but when she takes over as second-in-command she is a mixed bag at best, ranging from very capable in some areas to shaky or outright incompetent in others.

    Real Life 
  • In general, this happens often when politicians who have made their names in regional politics try their hand at national office. The problem becomes worse the more centralized a government is: less overall responsibility being delegated to regional officials and more to national ones means the gap between, say, a governorship and the all-encompassing fields a head of state or government has to handle is starker. Governors and mayors aren't likely to have to deal with issues of macroeconomics, to say nothing of human rights; if the central government is actually functioning, foreign policy is never on the table.
    • Parliamentary governments based on the British Political System can have this happen to Cabinet ministers who reach the top job. Cabinet ministers' skills may focus on going in-depth into their areas of responsibility (finance, justice, the environment, etc.) and any abilities related to it. Those skills are very different from the broader strategic and political skills Prime Ministers need to get their Cabinets to work as a team, not to mention lead the party in a general election. Cabinet members who become Prime Ministers in their own right often end up failing badly, especially if their predecessor was a Tough Act to Follow.
  • Hermann Göring. A 22-victory Ace Pilot and winner of Pour le Merite (the coveted Blue Max), he commanded Jasta 11 after Manfred von Richthofen's death in 1918 and Jagdgeschwader I (of which Jasta 11 was a part) until the end of WWI. He was recognized as a dashing pilot and an able wing commander: he found his level of incompetence in WWII as Generalfeldmarschall and commander of the Luftwaffe. He promised more than the Luftwaffe was able to provide, and his pomposity and leadership style was simply not suitable for such a position. The prescription painkiller addiction that eventually forced him to de facto retire in 1943 surely didn't help.
  • General Sir Redvers Buller, VC. Buller made his reputation with some really fearless battlefield behaviour that deservedly won him Britain's highest honour. Unfortunately it also won him promotion in line with this trope. When he was immediately subordinate to a better field commander, he did as well as any other general. Left to his own devices, not so much. The fact that the 'd' in his forename is silent meant that he got called "Reverse" Buller after his disasters in the Boer War. Again, deservedly.
  • John Romero's admittedly high skill as a programmer and designer did not translate to any skill whatsoever as a project leader, manager or administrator. This was painfully evident throughout the Daikatana debacle. The same could be said of Ultima's Richard Garriott during Ultima VIII and IX (though Executive Meddling by Electronic Arts was also part of the problem there).
  • Captain Ernest Medina, who was indirectly responsible for the My Lai massacre. He had been a mustang (an officer risen from enlisted ranks) and he had been an excellent sergeant. Unfortunately, he was completely unsuitable as an officer. He did not support his men, and he used one of his platoon leaders, Lt. William Calley, as a Chew Toy and bullied him relentlessly. It didn't help Calley himself was somewhat The Neidermeyer and incompetent as an officer (e.g. he didn't know how to read maps). In the aftermath of My Lai, both officers were drummed out of service, and Medina barely avoided prison.
  • Former President Jimmy Carter is often held as an example of this. He did well in the Navy and as Governor of Georgia, but as President his approach faltered. He had a management strategy known as "spokes of the wheel", where he was the central hub and everyone else in the White House answered to him. However, this meant he would be handling all their responsibilities, rather than appointing capable leaders in those departments to do that work for him. This governance style also alienated his fellow congressional Democrats who complained that Carter brushed aside their progressive and pragmatic proposals in favor of more centrist ideas that weren't more effective policy-wise or politically viable. After he left the White House, he ended up having a successful career as a diplomat and liberal activist, enough that historian Nigel Hamilton, who was critical of his Presidency, said his post-presidential work made Carter "the American Gandhi".
  • Before Carter, President Herbert Hoover was another good example of a good man who shouldn't have been president. He was a very competent mining magnate and philanthropist and was quite possibly the most successful ever Secretary of Commerce under Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. His humanitarian aid to Europe during World War I likely saved millions of lives and made him an international hero, allowing him to win a landslide victory in the 1928 presidential election. As president, though, he had to deal with the Great Depression and made a series of terrible decisions with agricultural policy and the globally unpopular Smoot-Hawley Tariff. He had a horrible relationship with Congress and tended to not think about the optics of his decisions. His ideology of limited government intervention in the economy, commitment to the Gold Standard, and desire to avoiding deficit spending were not at all suited for solving Depression, despite his competence in lower offices. He then lost a landslide to FDR and went back to doing what he was good at, successfully organizing efforts to alleviate the humanitarian disaster caused by World War II. But ultimately, he is generally remembered more for his failures as a president then he is for any of his other life accomplishments.
  • Before both Carter and Hoover, there was William Howard Taft. Prior to becoming President, Taft was a decent statesman, having served as Governor General of the Philippines and performed decently. Theodore Roosevelt groomed Taft to be his successor to the Progressive Republican platform, but this proved to be a bad fit: Taft had a reputation as a bit of a ditherer, weighing all sides of an issue and fussing over minute details, all of which caused the Republican platform to stall under his presidency and would give Taft the dubious honor of being the first (and so far only) major-party candidate in history to place third in an election (a challenge by the Progressive Party led by Theodore Roosevelt, who became one of the only people to try to run for a third term because he thought Taft was doing such a bad job, stole away enough votes for both men to lose to Woodrow Wilson). Taft did get a happy end, though, as he was placed in a position where caution and weighing all sides of an issue was far more fitting: Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (ironically, the position of Chief Justice is what Taft had wanted from the beginning and he only ran for President because Teddy Roosevelt wanted him to).
  • Jesse Ventura. He may have been fine as Mayor of Brooklyn Park (and as a soldier and pro wrestler for that matter), but being elected Governor of Minnesota put him a good deal above his level of competence. His grandstanding and lack of a filter ended up alienating him from the legislature, and his dislike of the media and general lack of a sense of humor about himself didn't earn him many friends in the press, either. Add to this an economy-damaging tax rebate and it's of no real surprise that there was little disappointment when he chose not to run for re-election.
  • Luigi Cadorna is a shining example of this in Italian history. While a magnificent staff officer and manager, his preference for offensives at all costs (something frequent among European generals at the time) and love for the harshest discipline made him a bad battlefield commander, getting him passed over for operative commands multiple times (most humiliatingly when command of the invasion of Libya was given to Carlo Caneva. Justified due the Curb-Stomp Battle Caneva inflicted on him during a wargame, but still an officer of dubious abilities at best), until the sudden death of the commander in chief Alberto Pollio (an equally capable manager and a superior tactician and strategist) and his own seniority saw him promoted to commander in chief. As commander in chief he was fast to learn the value of superior firepower and intelligent enough to create specifically trained shock troopers to defeat trench lines (one of the first) and orchestrate an effective (if callous) strategy based on his larger reserves of manpower, but his ruthlessness and lack of creativity ruined any chance for a quick victory and gave him a horrendous reputation (especially because superior generals did exist: the Duke of Aosta is rightly known as the best Italian general of the war and Undefeated Duke, and didn't get Cadorna's job only because the king feared he'd use it to take over the throne; and Armando Diaz, Cadorna's successor and a pupil of the Duke of Aosta, was so formidable that, when ennobled, his title was that of Duke of Victory). Cadorna is mostly infamous among history enthusiasts for having attacked the Isonzo River twelve times, losing every time and culminating in the greatest defeat in Italy's modern history at Caporetto.
  • Carlo Caneva, while a capable general in the peculiar terrain of Italy, just couldn't understand that Libya's flat desert plains were the perfect terrain for cavalry, preventing him from achieving an easy victory at the start of the invasion and dooming the Italian occupation to a long guerrilla war.
  • General John C. "J.C." Meyer was a top-scoring fighter ace and a superb squadron leader in WWII and Korea, credited with 26 air-to-air victories and heroism for his actions over "Y-29" airfield. As the Commander-in-Chief of Strategic Air Command during the Vietnam War however, he gained a reputation as a micromanager who failed to understand the severity of North Vietnam's SAM missile threat against B-52 bombers, costing the Air Force valuable planes and pilots during Operation Linebacker II.
  • Marvel:
    • Joe Quesada is a pretty good artist, but his skills as a writer or editor have been criticized. When he got promoted to Editor in Chief, there was a lot of backlash. In the position, he's proven to be great at marketing and promotion, but his contributions to the high-level creative process have not been greeted with much acclaim.
    • Brian Michael Bendis, another major figure at Marvel, made his name on books like Alias, Daredevil, and Ultimate Spider-Man, which featured slow-burn pacing, street-level stories, personal stakes, small casts, and a relative blank slate to work with. His success there led to him being given the responsibility of writing books on a greater scale, with lots of pre-established characters and continuity (big team books or Crisis Crossovers). There, his writing is at best controversial - blank-slate approaches leading to Out of Character moments and forgetting crucial details, an expanded cast showing a lack of variety in personalities he could write, bigger stakes and powerscales were something he just didn't have the creativity to support, and slow-burn pacing leading to issues in action stories where nothing really happens and there's no action. This has led to a lot of people becoming wary when it was announced that Bendis would be writing for Superman in Spring 2018.
  • DC Comics: Geoff Johns. He's had an impressive track records for comics, elevating Green Lantern to Batman and Superman levels most notably. He was appointed head of the DC Films studio branch, in charge of the DC Extended Universe. The film into which he had the most input, Justice League, was critically panned but he left DC Films in December 2017.
  • Rick Remender. Put him in charge of smaller comic books and he is brilliant. Put him in charge of major titles and he is a disaster.
  • Many of Napoleon's marshals suffered from this: they were very competent as divisional or corps commanders, which was why they were promoted in the first place, but they proved unable to command larger units efficiently. Grouchy is a well-known example. He was one of the finest cavalry generals of the Grand Army and also had occasions to demonstrate his skill with infantry, but as Waterloo proved, he did not function well as an independent commander. This was used against him by the Sixth Coalition in the 1813 German Campaign: after some initial French success, the Allies, following the Trachenberg Plan put together by Clausewitz, Radetzky and the Swedish Crown Prince Charles John (formerly one of Napoleon's marshals as Jean Bernadotte), started avoiding battle with Napoleon whenever they could and confronting his marshals, causing heavy losses to the French and preventing Napoleon from fully taking advantage of his previous victories until they achieved an overwhelming numerical superiority, resulting in Napoleon's utter defeat.
  • From the Three Kingdoms period of China (made famous by Romance of the Three Kingdoms):
    • Zhuge Liang's protege Ma Su. While the Romance portrays him as being young, cocky and overconfident, historically he was a competent officer who managed to contain a large rebellion within Shu's borders long enough for Zhuge Liang to lead reinforcements put the rebellion down. Unfortunately for Ma, Zhuge liked him a lot and put him in charge of a vital position (over more veteran generals). It didn't end well for him.
    • The historical Guan Yu was a valiant frontline general, but when he was placed in command of Liu Bei's territory in Jing Province his character flaws (mostly his great arrogance) proved detrimental to Liu's cause. He aggravated Liu's neighbour and nominal ally Sun Quan through shows of disrespect note , and also alienated many officials and notables of the region with his attitude. When Sun's general Lu Meng launched an invasion of Liu's territory while Guan was waging a campaign against Cao Cao's forces, he managed to sieze almost all the territory without a fight.
    • Xiahou Dun, The Dragon to Cao Cao. As a general under Cao Cao's command, he performed well. As an independent commander, he once fell into an ambush despite being specifically warned the terrain was perfect for it, and on another occasion actually got so lost he accidentally led his men right into the enemy's main camp (though the enemy, thinking it was a night raid, fled in panic). However, once he was promoted to supreme commander over 28 armies, he was absolutely brilliant. Part of this is because while physically powerful and thus a great frontline general when fighting alongside his men, Xiahou was too Hot-Blooded to operate as an effective frontline commander. On the other hand he was an absolute genius at logistics, making him far more suited for high command. This is one of rare examples of a man being the inverse of the Peter Principle and the Dilbert Principle at the same time. He was promoted to a position of incompetence and then promoted to a position of competence instead of rotting in his old position or being kicked upstairs to get him out of the way. note 
  • Chairman Mao Zedong was a calligrapher, poet, and military leader who literally wrote the book on guerrilla warfare. Under his leadership, Mao saved the Communist Party of China (CPC) from certain annihilation by Chiang Kai-shek's purges, rebuilt the tattered Communist forces to outwit both the Japanese and Nationalists, and ultimately contributed to the CPC winning the Chinese Civil War in 1949. He obviously earned his position as the leader of a new country, but soon it was revealed that he was absolutely incompetent in running a country and understanding the basics of the economy, and promoted harebrained ideas such as plowing fields to a great depth in order to increase crop yields (which increased soil erosion), melting down household steel in crude backyard furnaces to increase steel production (which only produced worthless iron, and didn't address how to make more "steel" once everyone complied with the order), as well as exterminating sparrows under the belief that they steal grain (which led to devastating plagues of insects, that the sparrows ate). These, together with unrealistic production goals, suppression of criticism, and overall lack of impartial reporting, contributed to one of the worst famines in world history which led to the deaths of around 35 million people.
  • Arguably, Bill Gates promoted himself out of doing work to avert this trope. A talented inventor, a decent businessman, and an okay administrator, Gates really greased the wheels and got his company going. His style of management consisted of the philosophy that you should hire a lazy person to do a tough job because they will find a quicker and more efficient way to do it so they can slack off later on. He took this to heart and eventually put himself in a position where he basically did nothing but oversee the money flowing in while he simultaneously hired much better administrators to work in his place. Nowadays, Gates is mostly known to sit comfy in his mansion and use his vast fortune to fuel his charities.
  • The effect has actually been studied by economists; it can be seen as a result of "reversion to the mean", where performance at one job isn't correlated with performance at a higher-up position, and so by luck of the draw everyone gets a job they're bad at eventually. A combination of physicists and sociologists even ran some simulations and found a strategy to overcome it: promote people at random. Or, promote at random either the worst or best employee at the old rank.
  • Academia is prone to this. An excellent researcher may be eventually given a job as a lecturer, professor, or other faculty; with students of their own. But while they may be brilliant in their field or a otherwise great thinker or experimentalist... in (unfortunately many) cases they tend to be absolutely woeful at teaching or supervising doctoral students or managing a research group. In any other industry, someone like that would never have been promoted into such a management position. This unfortunately ends up being detrimental to all concerned.
  • Gene Roddenberry created what is probably the most enduring, popular and influential science fiction franchise in television history with Star Trek, and if you listen to long term fans of the franchise, his brilliance is unmatched, and he alone could produce quality Trek. There's no question that his active involvement being in creative control of just the one TV series throughout the majority of its first two seasons made for a superlative program that deservedly made history, and most would agree there was a significant drop in quality when he left that position due to arguments with the network. However, that ignores that he had a great crew like Gene Coon as head writer. Furthermore, by the late 1970's, Roddenberry's expansion of his TV series into a film and literature franchise while also wresting away creative control from anyone else was a firm example of this trope. His working with Paramount on Star Trek: The Motion Picture caused them to kick him upstairs to "consultant" while Harve Bennett handled the remainder of the films (aside from the final TOS-era film). When he came up with the first sequel series, Star Trek: The Next Generation and attempted to be its show-runner for the first season, the result was easily the worst season in that series' run, nearly leading to cancellation. He was Kicked Upstairs again, with the writers and directors mainly only worried about pleasing him when he would sit in on meetings, but otherwise writing around his demands whenever he wasn't there. He was great at running one show during his youth, but as an older man trying to keep an entire franchise running, he nearly destroyed it.
  • The military is not immune from this trope.
    • In Band of Brothers, Herbert Sobel is the first leader of Easy Company, and excels in the position, training a company that is tougher and more effective in a training environment than any other airborne company. However, when actually out in the field, he suffers from the fact that he has poor leadership skills, all his subordinates basically hate him, and he is completely useless in combat. Fortunately for Easy, he is reassigned to head up a training camp for airborne (his actual strength) before the invasion of Normandy. He's later found still at Captain rank (the same rank he was when he was reassigned) working a menial logistics postion.
    • In Generation Kill, it's pointed out that many of 1st Force Recon's officers were mostly logistical staff, as Recon was usually commanded in the field as an elite unit of 1st and 2nd Lieutenants, and skilled, experienced non-commissioned officers (Sergeants and lower). The decision to deploy all of 1st Force Recon to the Iraq War resulted in officers highly skilled in administrative positions suddenly forced into combat positions, in which they were not very competent. Evan Wright, the author, makes a point to not name these officers by their real names, as he feels that it is unfair to them.
  • Eddie Lampert was an excellent investor, compared favorably to Warren Buffett in his glory days. This led to him gaining control of the merged Sears and Kmart, where he proved so hopelessly incompetent that it was commonly theorized he was pulling a Springtime for Hitler scheme. He had the bright idea to try to convert to a more online model, but did so by pouring tons of money into trying to sell that model to a mostly older clientele, while closing all the unprofitable stores and letting the rest fall into disrepair, and selling off all of the company's exclusive brands for a quick buck. He also tried to apply his objectivist ideals by reorganizing the company into decentralized competing groups - ideals that worked fine for a lone cutthroat investor, but on that scale, turned the company into a bunch of infighting cells that occasionally had to get contract work from their own fellows. He basically focused so much on turning a profit that he ignored how his company actually made money, and when Sears filed for bankruptcy, pretty much everyone involved blamed Lampert.
  • Michael Scott is Truth in Television for a lot of sales departments. Many companies insist on promoting their best salespeople to management, partially based on the theory that as a manager they will teach everyone else their skills and make other employees now working under them better salespeople. This ignores the fact that nothing about being a good salesperson says that they will be good at teaching those skills to others, let alone everything else that goes into being a good manager. In the end, the skills necessary to make a good salesperson have very little in common with the skills necessary to make a good sales manager.
  • Several notable examples from the American Civil War, where the high attrition rate among commanders and officers often led to soldiers being promoted quickly up the ranks to replace them.
    • In the early days of the war, General George McClellan won a number of small victories, and because he was about the only Union general winning any victories at the time (at least in the Eastern theater of the war, which tends to get much more attention), this immediately catapulted him to being a national hero. He was promoted and made a number of absolutely critical reforms, including improving the defenses of Washington D.C., the logistics of the Union Army (half the country suddenly leaving and declaring themselves an enemy had wreaked havoc on the ability of the army to get and transport supplies), and he was rightly praised as a master of raising and training armies for the Union. However, upon being made overall commander of the Union army (including the key Army of the Potomac) he wanted to be a fighting commander and proved a hopeless incompetent so cowardly, arrogant, and insubordinate to President Abraham Lincoln that he has been blamed for prolonging the war. He also infamously squandered every advantage he was ever given, including times when the written plans of the enemy army literally fell into his hands. Ironically, if he stayed in Washington doing what he did best, McClellan likely could have been given a superior rank to Ulysses S. Grant, as perhaps Chief of Staff.
    • This trope also applies to McClellan's replacement as commander of the Army of the Potomac, Ambrose E Burnside. Burnside was a gifted corps commander, but he himself knew he wasn't suited to command the entire army. He only reluctantly agreed when told that his hated rival Joe Hooker would be put in command if he refused. So Burnside accepted and led the Union to arguably their most humiliating defeat in the entire war at Fredericksburg where he sent in his troops repeatedly at an elevated, fortified enemy. He soon got demoted again, where he had more success, capturing Knoxville and defeating James Longstreet in Tennessee.
    • General John B. Hood of the Confederate States of America was an example on the other side. An excellent brigade and division commander, he was merely competent at the corps level and performed poorly while in command of an army. When he was put in command of the Army of the Tennessee opposing Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's Atlanta Campaign, he did so much damage to his own forces due to his preference for offensive maneuvers that by the time he was compelled to abandon Atlanta and retreat about 30,000 men were left in his army, down from a height of about 65,000. In comparison, Sherman's forces at their peak numbered 112,000 and retained 81,000 by the end of the campaign. Crucially, the Union forces could be quickly replenished, while the Confederacy was facing a dire manpower shortage. His army was ultimately utterly annihilated by the Union General George Henry Thomas, his old teacher, knocking an entire region out of the Confederacy and the war.
    • The aforementioned James Longstreet was considered by General Robert E Lee to be one of his most capable subordinates, even referring to him as "my old War Horse". Following the unfortunate death of Stonewall Jackson, Longstreet was called upon to take up a larger share of the responsibilities in the army. However Jackson and Longstreet were very different commanders (Jackson had developed a reputation for pulling off audacious attacks against superior forces and still winning, something which meshed well with Lee's own bold and aggressive tendencies, while Longstreet was more methodical, cautious, and had a marked preference for setting up strong defensive positions and using them to break an attacking enemy), and as a result Longstreet, while capable, did not duplicate Jackson's gift for stunning success. Some historians (mostly the ones who refuse to find any fault with Lee or admit that Pickett's Charge was a foolish idea from the start), give Longstreet partial blame for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg, where he disagreed with General Lee's plans for the battle and those historians argue that he wasn't as quick to action as he otherwise would've been.
  • Dilma Rousseff was a great politician behind the scenes, and once in the federal government, was a Minister of Energy who helped a country that right was on the brink of an energy crisis, and a Chief of Staff who kept a faultering government afloat while starting a high-spending program for infrastructure. This made her be assigned by her party as the one who would keep them in the presidency, and so she became President of Brazil. There her flaws were made clear, as a public person with an infamous tendency to derail her speech into Meaningless Meaningful Words, and a stateswoman who saw many of her ministries be hit by corruption scandals and a more hands-on developmentalist plan leading to an economic crisis. Rousseff barely managed to get a second mandate, which started with pulling unpopular economic decisions that were held off until after the re-election was guaranteed, followed by the then president of the Chamber of Deputies reacted to a process that was threatening to remove him by opening an impeachment trial on Rousseff, ensuring that by the following year, both were out of the office.
  • Keiji Inafune was a decent character designer who swiftly rose through the ranks to become something of a steward for the Mega Man franchise, managing to keep it going steadily for two decades. In 2006, Capcom promoted him to Senior Corporate Officer, where he spearheaded an initiative to appeal to Western audiences by creating and commissioning many games with Western design philosophies—barring the Dead Rising series, many of these games proved to be failures, and Inafune quickly became infamous for butting heads a lot with Capcom management and insisting they were stuck in the past. He found his level of total incompetence when he went solo and founded Comcept, whose most notable project, Mighty No. 9, proved to be a Stillborn Franchise due to abysmal management and overpromising.
  • The Costa Concordia disaster happened in part because the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, was promoted to that rank almost directly from a career path with Costa that had been otherwise almost entirely focused on security work (he had been a chief security officer before the horizontal promotion to captain, with only a little bit of experience as a navigational officer before then), which left him with almost none of the skills or competence needed to adequately command a ship. Indeed, according to some reports, the Concordia was simply the last and most extreme of three cruise ships under his command to be damaged during a regular cruise because he had little idea what he was doing, to say nothing of the several other poor decisions that made the trip a disaster waiting to happen (chief among them his choice, among a crew of people who were expected to speak English and/or Italian, to pick an untrained Indonesian helmsman who barely spoke either and misinterpreted steering orders, thus actually causing the crash, on two separate occasions). Much of his conduct during the disaster also proved that he didn't have the disposition of a captain either - he spent much of it in denial that anything had gone wrong, immediately headed for a lifeboat (complete with changing out of his uniform so no one would recognize him) as soon as the rest of the crew decided to tell people to abandon ship, actively tried to avoid doing anything more helpful once his superiors caught wind of what was going on, but then told the news that he was the last off the ship - which ultimately resulted in the rest of the bridge crew taking reduced sentencesnote  in return for testifying against Schettino to increase his sentence.
  • Several people associated with Doctor Who:
    • Having Douglas Adams write for the show was well-received, as his writing style was perfectly suited to the lighter and more comedic tone of the late seventies. Making him script editor for Season 17 made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. Adams was infamous for procrastination and irreverent attitude towards work. Season 17 is widely seen as one of the weakest years of the show, with the only positively-received stories in it being the two that he had a hand in writing, "City of Death" and the belatedly-completed "Shada".
    • John Nathan-Turner worked on the show in various different capacities over the years, as floor assistant, production unit manager and production manager. In 1980, he took over as producer and oversaw the show throughout The '80s, making him the show's longest serving producer. While early reception was positive, with Season 18 being considered a high point of the series, his tenure was marked by increasingly controversial and at times questionable creative decisions which displeased his cast, colleagues, and fans. It got to the point where a poll in 1986 revealed that over 80% of fans wanted a new producer. It didn't help that he planned to leave the show along with Peter Davison and was "compelled to stay" literally because nobody else wanted the job, and by the time that poll was conducted, the BBC threatened to cancel the show (which they did anyways in 1989) and blacklist him if he left (he resigned anyways in 1990). In a 2013 interview, former writer Terrance Dicks directly attributed Nathan-Turner's failures to this trope:
      "There was a decline, without a doubt. I think the people working on it, particularly John Nathan-Turner, were not fit for purpose, as it were. Colin Baker, for example, never got a chance with that silly costume, which I thought was a great shame. I was sorry, but I wasn't surprised when they took it off."
    • Steven Moffat is better-liked as a guest writer than as the showrunner. His contributions to the show included two brilliant romances for the Doctor and the iconic Weeping Angels. He received particular acclaim for complicated plots that made fuller and more thoughtful use of time travel than most other writers and for having unusually abstract and creative monsters that scared many people. However, once he became showrunner, his popularity decreased. His "timey-wimey" plots were fairly restrained in a single episode or a two-parter, but across a series or several, they tended to become too complicated, and there was often a sense that Moffat didn't really know how he was going to resolve them. His abstract monsters, despite being original concepts, also struggled to achieve the same long-term intimidation factor as old favorites like the Daleks or The Master. In interviews, Moffat himself often sounded miserable and overworked in his new role.
    • This criticism has also been of Chris Chibnall's run; he's better equipped to be a head writer for the series than a showrunner and producer. As a writer for the show, Chibnall was a 3-time nominee for a Writers' Guild of Great Britain award for best series despite only winning once in 2007. His work on Broadchurch also won him a writer's award from the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards in 2014. As the producer for the 11th series of Doctor Who though, the public had mixed opinions on season 11, and season 12 received the lowest ratings out of any seasons from the revival franchise.
  • Canadian environmentalist Steven Guilbeault faced this problem when he was elected as a Liberal in the 2019 federal election. He was appointed as Minister of Canadian Heritage, a cultural ministry far out of his expertise. This led him to infamy in English-speaking Canada as he was in charge of Bill C-10, which granted extra powers to the controversial CRTC (a federal telecommunications agency) to further regulate internet content. Guilbeault spent the rest of his first term struggling to satisfactorily communicate his portfolio to the public, with his responses evoking confusion at best and national outrage at worst. He was finally moved out of the role after the 2021 federal election and instead appointed as Minister of Environment and Climate Change, better fitting his previous expertise.
  • John Kricfalusi, according to Sick Little Monkeys. While the book credits his talents as a director and artist, it makes no secret that he was an absolutely terrible leader due to his refusal to compromise on anything. He easily gets drunk on any power given to him and uses it as an alibi to abuse his staff when he doesn't get exactly what he wants or even take out his personal anger on them if he sees fit, and generally acts like a Know-Nothing Know-It-All in order to keep up an appearance of total autocracy, refusing to take responsibility or even blaming other for his own actions.
  • When Lorne Michaels left Saturday Night Live after five seasons, his replacement as producer was Jean Doumanian, who had been responsible for booking the celebrity guests on the show. While she may have excelled in that role, putting her in charge was widely seen as a disastrous move, as she had practically no understanding of comedy whatsoever. One writer recalled that he had barely settled into his office before getting a petition demanding that she be fired. She oversaw the 1980-1 season, which is widely considered one of the biggest disasters in the show's history and she was ousted before it finished. She will forever be known as the woman who almost ran SNL into the ground.
  • Fellow Saturday Night Live alum Dana Carvey struggled with this his entire professional career. An extremely talented impressionist and physical comedian and a creative fountain of ideas, he produced all kinds of great sketches that killed on stage in front of live audiences, or when he collaborated with other great comedic minds like Mike Myers on comedies like Wayne's World. Unfortunately, when given full creative freedom and allowed to chase his imagination's id, Carvey quickly proved too esoteric and weird to find success without a moderating influence to tell him "no" or a filter to help make his ideas more digestible to general audiences, resulting in the failure of solo projects he helmed himself like The Dana Carvey Show.
  • This trope is often cited as to why Boris Johnson was able to find success in a variety of guises but faltered as Prime Minister. His eccentric personality and ability to be ideologically flexible helped him as a newspaper writer who shot to fame on Have I Got News for You, as the liberal-leaning Mayor of London, and his turn as a Eurosceptic figurehead. His victory in the 2019 General Election is generally credited to his ability to appease a sizeable chunk of Remain-preferring Conservatives within a voter coalition mainly consisting of a wide variety of different types of Leavers. In the big job however, that eccentricity turned into a liability as it made him prone to scandal and being seen as out-of-touch during the pandemic-era. His erratic behavior, while rather charming in the UK, didn't resonate abroad with many in the European Union and Biden Administration finding Johnson to be insensitive and unreasonable. His ideological flexibility meanwhile meant that the coalition he assembled during a single-issue election was no longer reliable, and left the Conservative Party vulnerable not only in the northern "Red Wall" areas that were crucial to their previous win, but also in the traditionally Conservative south west whose more socially liberal outlook became alienated by his attempts to court voters elsewhere on culture war topics.
  • For people who remember Anthony Eden as the Prime Minister who completely botched the Suez Crisis, it's a surprise to learn that he was previously Foreign Secretary for much of the 1930's, and was viewed as a successful and skilled diplomat. More sympathetic histories of him tend to say that the role of Prime Minister wasn't suited for him rather than the other way round.
  • Saddam Hussein was one of the most powerful leaders of the Ba'ath party that took control of Iraq in the early 1970s, and spent the massive sums of oil money Iraq received from rising prices on everything from infrastructure to education, health care and economic diversification. Then he became the formal President of Iraq... and proceeded to squander almost everything he achieved by waging the Iran–Iraq War. The war ended with Iraq deep in debt, most of its infrastructure in shambles and hundreds of thousands of its people dead. It went From Bad to Worse when Hussein saw a get-rich-quick scheme in accusing Kuwait of slant-drilling into its own oil fields and demanding $10 billion for lost revenue, then invaded Kuwait and triggered The Gulf War when Kuwait refused to pay that amount, leading to further destruction and crippling economic sanctions until an American-led coalition finally overthrew him in The War on Terror.
  • Semyon Budyonny, while a cavalryman during World War I, was known as a Sergeant Rock and A Father to His Men - Budyonny reportedly punched his commanding officer when he discovered his apathy to his soldiers' unenviable conditions, and in return the men saved him from a court-martial and execution by claiming the CO had merely been kicked by a horse. After defecting to the Bolsheviks, he made his name as a brilliant tactician during the Russian Civil War and is regarded as being critical to the Bolshevik victory at the end of 1919; his actions won him the praise of Leon Trotsky, who not long prior had derided cavalry as the stuff of aristocrats and reactionaries. By the 30s, however, he was an Armchair Officer who was so deeply entrenched in his reputation that he refused to concede in any way that horse cavalry had not, in fact, lost any relevance whatsoever in modern warfare. Budyonny was so disdainful of tanks that he claimed their use amounted to ''sabotage''. This might not have been particularly problematic if he hadn't been made one of the first five Marshals of the Soviet Union in 1935; his importance in the Soviet military hierarchy combined with his sheer stubbornness led to the loss of 1.5 million men and the biggest encirclement in the history of warfare when World War II broke out. Geoffrey Regan writes, "So elevated was he in the military profession in relation to his ability that oxygen starvation must be suspected."
  • This is a common situation that arises with talented home chefs that decide to give opening a restaurant a try. The skills and instincts that make a great home cook (being able to cook to your own tastes, the ability to simply buy the exact ingredients you need for each meal, the ability to allow for hours of preparation and cooking time, the fact that you don't need to manage the finances/admin of a business) does not translate well into a commercial setting.