The new guy

Dan O’Donnell:

Wisconsin got a bold new leader on Monday; a young, dynamic, charismatic figure who is as innovative as he is likeable and who promises fundamental change through sheer force of will.

To say that the Packers hiring Matt LaFleur to be their new head coach overshadowed Tony Evers’ inauguration would be the understatement of the new year. After news broke late Monday afternoon that the former Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator would be Green Bay’s coach, Evers’ inauguration became an afterthought.

That’s not a dig at a state or a media far too obsessed with football, mind you; it’s an acknowledgement of the reality that LaFleur is likelier to make a more lasting impact than is Evers.

LaFleur, after all, has a mandate to make dramatic change that Evers simply doesn’t and LaFleur, unlike Evers, won’t be rendered politically impotent by a State Legislature and Judiciary unlikely to approve of his more radical instincts.

As different as Wisconsin’s two new leaders may appear—LaFleur is a good-looking 39 year-old with a reputation as a forward thinker while the 67 year-old Evers is a self-described bore—their fates may well be inextricably linked to the same basic theory of management.

The Peter Principle, as defined in Laurence J. Peter’s 1969 book of the same name, is the idea that “every employee tends to rise to the level of his incompetence.” In other words, in a given organization (be it a football team or a state government), an individual who succeeds in—or is merely adequate in—his job, he will be promoted. If he succeeds again, he will be promoted again, and this cycle will continue…until it doesn’t. The Peter Principle dictates that everyone has a level of core competency and, once it is exceeded, failure will result.

Rise one level above your competence, the Peter Principle holds, and the results would be disastrous.

This is why many Packer fans breathed a sigh of relief that Green Bay hired LaFleur instead of Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. A very highly regarded young coordinator in 2009, he was hired as head coach of the Denver Broncos and failed miserably. Almost immediately, he so alienated starting quarterback Jay Cutler that Cutler said he could no longer trust the organization and demanded a trade.

Josh McDaniels thus stands as a grave warning for NFL teams like the Packers who hire first-time head coaches. So too should the people of Wisconsin be leery of a new Governor who seems to have just been sworn in to exactly one level above his abilities.
After a lackluster 8-8 season in 2009, the Broncos cratered in 2010, and McDaniels was fired after they dropped to 3-9 and were fined for illegally taping an opponent’s practice.

The next season, McDaniels returned to his core competency—serving as an offensive coordinator—and he has remained one of the best in football ever since, winning five Super Bowls as the leader of the Patriots’ offense.

According to the Peter Principle, this is where McDaniels should remain since a promotion to head coach exceeded his level of aptitude.

Josh McDaniels thus stands as a grave warning for NFL teams like the Packers who hire first-time head coaches.

So too should the people of Wisconsin be leery of a new Governor who seems to have just been sworn in to exactly one level above his abilities.

If one is a believer in omens, Evers flubbing his Oath of Office—literally the very first thing he did in office—is an ominous one, especially since it seems as though State Superintendent was above Evers’ core competency.

After all, he was wholly unable to perform what is perhaps the primary function of that role—making requests for funding—without resorting to plagiarism. Will he similarly resort to stealing others’ ideas when he presents his State Budget next month? Will he have a staffer swipe an old Obama speech when he delivers his first State of the State Address?

Even before he took office, Evers showed signs that he was not up to the job of Governor. In an embarrassing backtrack last week, he was forced to meekly promise to follow Wisconsin’s laws just a day after defiantly proclaiming that he would have to be sued in order to abide by legislation Republicans passed in extraordinary session last month.

This dithering, combined with Evers’ apparent inability to provide any sort of policy specifics or even articulate a coherent vision for Wisconsin, reveals him to be just as much of a disaster-in-waiting for the state as Josh McDaniels might have been.

There is, after all, a reason Wisconsin rejected him as State Superintendent twice—even relegating him to a third-place finish in the 2001 primary—and there is a reason he has been wholly unremarkable since finally winning the position that the Peter Principle had long denied him.

Even Evers’ most diehard supporters would be hard-pressed to name Evers’ most significant (or, for that matter, any) accomplishments as Superintendent, forcing a serious examination of whether that role, too, eluded his highest level of job skills.

His primary qualification for election, though, was that he is not Scott Walker and thus, despite his rather obvious shortcomings, the people of Wisconsin promoted Evers to Governor.

No wonder the state tuned out his inauguration as soon as the Packers hired a new coach: At least Matt LaFleur offers a glimmer of hope.

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