The Illusion of Availability as a Skill: Unraveling the Impact on Self-Esteem in the Face of Incompetence
By Angela Cox, last updated February 12, 2024

Have you ever been promoted into a role you weren’t quite ready for and despite feeling excited about it on one hand, you felt like a swimming swan within minutes?

If you haven’t experienced it, you’ll have clients that have.

I remember being promoted to branch manager of a bank when I was 19. I’d worked for the bank for 3 weeks. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and every day was tough.

In our pursuit of success and productivity, availability often takes center stage as a perceived valuable skill. My husband loves the phrase ‘availability is not a skill’ and it’s so true. Availability alone does not constitute a genuine skill, and promoting individuals solely based on their accessibility can have profound consequences.

One such consequence is the erosion of self-esteem when individuals find themselves promoted to levels of incompetence. I hear people describe this as imposter syndrome, but really it’s about readiness, or not-readiness.

In this article I will explore the fallacy surrounding availability as a skill, discuss real-life implications on self-esteem, delve deeper into the Peter Principle, and emphasise the role of coaching in mitigating its effects.

The Availability Illusion: Challenging the Perception
Availability is often mistaken for a skill due to its immediate perceived benefits. Being constantly accessible may lead others to perceive an individual as reliable and capable. The Paseda360 Pretender model identifies a ‘people pleaser’ position and those who favour this position can easily make themselves accessible. No surprises my pretender was a BIG people pleaser.

However, true skills are rooted in competence and expertise, enabling individuals to perform tasks effectively. Availability merely indicates a person’s willingness and ability to be physically or digitally present, lacking a direct correlation with proficiency.

The Devastating Impact of Promoting Based on Availability
Organisations that prioritise availability over competence risk promoting individuals to levels of incompetence, with long-lasting effects on their self-esteem not to mention challenges with delivery.

This phenomenon, known as the Peter Principle, occurs when individuals are promoted based on their performance in their current roles until they reach a point where they lack the necessary skills for success. We can see this is organisations who promote specialists into leadership roles without showing them how to lead.

The Peter Principle: A Deeper Understanding
Coined by Laurence J. Peter, the Peter Principle suggests that individuals rise within an organisational hierarchy until they reach a level of incompetence.

I am just about old enough to remember the Jim Broadbent show in the 1980s which demonstrated the Peter Principle through the character Peter the Bank Manager (not dissimilar to Angela the branch manager who had no idea).

The Peter Principle highlights the flawed practice of promoting employees based solely on their current performance without considering their future potential or specific skill sets required for higher-level positions. The Peter Principle exposes the inherent dangers of prioritising availability as a criterion for promotion.

The Lingering Impact on Self-Esteem
Being promoted to a level of incompetence can have profound and long-term effects on an individual’s self-esteem. As they grapple with their inability to meet the expectations of their new position, feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, and imposter syndrome may emerge. The stark contrast between their perceived availability-based success and their current struggles can lead to a deep sense of disillusionment and a loss of confidence in their own abilities.

Over time, the erosion of self-esteem can have a cascading effect on various aspects of an individual’s professional and personal life. In the workplace, they may experience heightened anxiety, fear of failure, and reluctance to take on new challenges. Their productivity and motivation may decline, leading to a negative impact on overall performance. Outside of work, the effects may spill over into personal relationships, as the individual’s diminished self-worth affects their interactions and ability to assert themselves.
The organisation may lose good people as they hop from job to job.

The Role of Coaching in Mitigating the Effects
In the face of the Peter Principle and its impact on self-esteem, coaching plays a crucial role in supporting individuals who have been promoted based on availability. Coaches provide a supportive and non-judgmental space for clients to explore their challenges, gain self-awareness, and develop strategies for growth and success.

Key Areas for Coaches to Address:

1. Self-Reflection and Self-Awareness: Coaches assist clients in reflecting on their strengths, weaknesses, and areas for development. By fostering self-awareness, clients can identify the specific skills and competencies needed to excel in their new roles.

2. Goal Setting and Action Planning: Coaches help clients set clear, achievable goals and develop action plans to acquire the necessary skills and bridge competency gaps. This process encourages self-directed learning and empowers clients to take ownership of their professional development.

3. Building Confidence and Resilience: Coaches work with clients to rebuild their confidence and resilience after experiencing the impact of the Peter Principle on their self-esteem. Through targeted coaching techniques such as positive reinforcement, reframing limiting beliefs, and exploring past successes, coaches help clients recognize their potential and regain their self-assurance.

4. Skill Development: Coaches support clients in acquiring the skills needed to excel in their new roles. This may involve identifying relevant training programs, recommending resources for self-study, or facilitating opportunities for on-the-job learning and mentorship.

5. Emotional Intelligence and Self-Management: Coaches help clients develop emotional intelligence and self-management skills, enabling them to navigate challenging situations, handle stress, and build positive relationships in their professional environment. These skills contribute to their overall effectiveness and help mitigate the negative impact on self-esteem.

By focusing on these areas, coaches can empower clients to navigate the challenges associated with being promoted based on availability. They provide guidance, support, and accountability, helping individuals develop the skills and confidence necessary to succeed in their new roles.

Breaking the Cycle: Promoting Based on True Capabilities
To prevent the erosion of self-esteem and promote a healthier work environment, organisations must reassess their promotion practices and prioritise individuals’ true capabilities. This requires a shift from solely considering availability to evaluating a comprehensive range of skills, including expertise, leadership, adaptability, critical thinking, collaboration, and coaching.

Organizations can implement the following strategies:
1. Competency-Based Assessments: Adopt competency-based assessment frameworks that evaluate individuals’ skills and potential in relation to the requirements of higher-level positions. This ensures that promotions are based on a holistic assessment of capabilities rather than availability alone.

2. Leadership Development Programs: Invest in leadership development programs that provide aspiring leaders with the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in higher-level roles. These programs can focus on areas such as decision-making, strategic thinking, communication, and team management plus introspective reflection and growth mindset focus.

3. Coaching and Mentoring Initiatives: Establish coaching and mentoring initiatives within the organisation to support employees’ growth and development. By pairing individuals with experienced transformational coaches or mentors, organisations provide valuable guidance and help individuals build the skills required for their current and future roles and the mindset to challenge limiting beliefs.

4. Transparent Career Paths: Clearly communicate career progression paths within the organisation, outlining the skills and competencies required at each level. This transparency allows employees to align their development efforts with organisational expectations and make informed decisions about their career advancement.

By promoting individuals based on their true capabilities, organisations can foster a positive work environment, enhance employee satisfaction and performance, and achieve long-term success.

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