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Updated 29 Feb 2020

What you can learn from The Dilbert Principle

You are probably familiar with the Dilbert cartoon, but do you know about The Dilbert Principle? Despite being quite tongue-in-cheek, it can teach you an important lesson about management.

GG van Rooyen, 05 June 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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The best employees aren’t necessarily the best managers. Because of this, senior positions can’t always simply be filled by those who ‘deserve’ it most.

Dilbert – the put-upon and micro-managed white-collar cartoon employee – has been around since 1989. Featured in around 2000 newspapers in 65 countries, Dilbert has become synonymous with the modern workplace experience.

Scott Adams, the creator behind the cartoon, has also created an accompanying Dilbert Principle, which states: In many cases the least competent, least smart people are promoted simply because they’re the ones you don’t want doing actual work.

Now, Adams’s tongue was obviously firmly planted in his cheek when he wrote this, but it does teach us something very important about management: The best employees aren’t necessarily the best managers.

Related: It’s all about accountability for sales managers

“The day you become a manager, your job changes totally. When you’re an employee, your performance is defined by your own work. The day you become a manager, your performance is defined by the work that others are doing,” says Dr Axel Zein, CEO of WSCAD in Germany.

In other words, your work experience doesn’t adequately prepare you for management. Doing the work yourself and managing people who are doing the work require different skillsets.

What does this mean for founders and CEOs? Well, it means that some careful thought needs to be put into promotions. Just because someone is due a promotion doesn’t mean they are the right choice for the job. Even though it might be tough, filling a position with the right person might mean promoting someone who is fourth in line, or it might mean going outside the company to fill a senior position.


Don’t assume that just because someone is a good worker, he or she will automatically be a great manager. Management requires a different skillset. 

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GG van Rooyen

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