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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.

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 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's 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-ranked 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.

    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.

    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 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.

    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 literal 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.
  • The protagonist of Major Dundee allegedly only got where he is by siding against a friend, and he makes some very questionable decisions during his quest to destroy an Apache tribe massacring essentially innocent settlers, at one point causing his own men to resent him.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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, from Taylor the Torture Technician inexplicably becoming Visser Three's second in command to the Smug Super Inspector the Council sends to check in on Visser Three.
  • 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 Meddling Kids. 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 is too afraid to make hard decisions, and has to see Riddle in person to face reality. Scrimgeour 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 Riddle. He would have remained "righteous", but self-righteous. Thus while Riddle 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 didn't stop him from being one of the best right-hand-men that Rome had ever seen, but it made him terrible at ruling.
  • 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 largest 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 still is when called upon, but has none of the right skills for management.
  • 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 despite the fact that he is actually quite astute about the Crown's problems and political situations. His personal understanding of justice, and inability to separate his sentiments from is professional requirements, does not allow him to properly use his office to the fullest.
    • 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. 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 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.)
    • In "Thine Own Self", Counselor Troi takes the bridge officer's exam so that she will be better qualified to command the ship in the event of an emergency. (Doctor Crusher has already taken and passed it despite it not being particularly relevant to her position as Chief Medical Officer, and in an alternate future is shown 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.
    • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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:
    • 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.
  • 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. Walker's combat credentials are impressive but he does not have Steve Roger's other qualities which causes him to quickly alienate potential allies and the 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 brutally kills a surrendering opponent in broad daylight in front of civillians and 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 opperative that he's able to be useful.

  • 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 general manager 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) 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.
  • 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}} ironically, the chosen successor of Mike Brearley, one of England's most successful captains who would have been the first to admit that he wasn't good enough as a player on the international stage[[/note]] and many others.

    Tabletop Games 

  • 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 tactical and paperwork sides of the job.
  • 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.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • General John B. Hood of the Confederate States of America during The American Civil War. An excellent brigade and division commander, he was merely competent at the corps level and performed poorly while in command of an army.
  • 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 Luftwaffe was able to provide, and his pomposity and leadership style was simply not suitable for such 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. After he left the White House, he ended up having a successful career as a diplomat, enough that historian Nigel Hamilton, who was critical of his Presidency, said his post-presidential work made Carter "the American Gandhi".
  • Jesse Ventura. He may have been fine as Mayor of Brooklyn Park (and as soldier, and as pro wrestler), 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 an 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, 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 the 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 alot 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 and a Box Office Bomb, and 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.
    • 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, Xiahou was too Hot-Blooded to operate as an effective frontline commander, but 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. It should be noted that Dwight Eisenhower was promoted over Field Marshal Montgomery for a similar reason in WWII. Eisenhower was a logistical genius while Montgomery was a field commander first and foremost. Despite Montgomery's bitterness over the whole ordeal, the people in charge realized that Montgomery probably would have been a clear example of the Peter Principle before the concept had even been put to paper.
  • 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 K-Mart, 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, because the skills necessary to make a good salesperson have very little in common with the skills necessary to make a good sales manager.
  • General George McClellan in the American Civil War was rightly praised as a master of raising and training armies for the Union. 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. 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.
  • William Howard Taft was a decent statesman, having served as Governor General of the Philippines and performed decently. 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 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).
  • 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.


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