Don’t Blame The Accidental Manager

by | Jul 9, 2024 | Personal Development

“82% of managers who enter management positions have not had any proper management or leadership training – they are “accidental managers”.

This shocking statistic is from a survey completed by The Chartered Management Institute and YouGov in October 2023.

Let that sink in. 8 out of 10 people in management or leadership positions in UK PLC have not had proper training to manage or lead their team effectively.

In an independent survey I completed via LinkedIn, the results of which aligned with the above, additionally uncovered that 60% of those who had become accidental managers, received no management or leadership training thereafter!

Just imagine, someone telling you that you need to drive a car with passengers in it, and you need to do it now without any training on how to drive the car.

Just imagine how you would feel. How would your passengers feel? What the outcome and risks would be if you did try to drive it?

Becoming An Accidental Manager

Unfortunately, the accidental manager is not a new phenomenon.

Like many, I started my career in a technical role and over time excelled, exceeding contract regularly and becoming a subject matter expert. It meant that, after several years and a few promotions, I could go no further in my role, I’d hit the glass ceiling.

That was when my line manager advised me that, as I had passed my project management accreditation,  I was to be given the opportunity to become a project team leader.

My delight at becoming a leader at the age of 30 quickly dissipated though, when I was soon to realise, that I had been handed a poisoned chalice.

I was told that I would have a two-week handover of my role, followed by a two-week handover into my new leadership position. “What about training on how to lead a team?” I asked.

“There won’t be any time for that, so you will need to learn as you go,” came the reply.

The inevitable happened, I failed to achieve the project goals set, missed deadlines and blew budgets, and destroyed my team.

That was 32 years ago. The damage it had on my mental health and wellbeing feels as raw today as it was then, and I am also haunted, and still reflect on the negative impact my ineptitude as an accidental manager had on those in my team.

So why do organisations still continue to create accidental managers?

The Cause

There are various reasons why organisations fall into the trap of creating accidental managers.

Assumptions Based on Performance: Often, organisations assume that high-performing employees in non-leadership roles will naturally excel as leaders. They might believe that success in a technical or individual contributor role directly translates to leadership ability, which isn’t always the case.

Cost and Resource Constraints: Training programmes can be expensive and time-consuming. Smaller companies might not have the resources to provide comprehensive leadership training. Larger companies might prioritise other investments over leadership development.

Urgency and Immediate Needs: In fast-paced environments, companies may need to fill leadership roles quickly to maintain operations and meet business demands. This urgency can lead to promoting individuals without giving them adequate training beforehand.

Overconfidence in On-the-Job Learning: Some organisations believe that leadership skills can be developed organically through on-the-job experiences. They may expect new leaders to learn as they go, relying on mentoring, self-learning, and trial and error.

Cultural and Structural Factors: In some corporate cultures, there might be a tradition of promoting from within based on tenure or loyalty rather than leadership aptitude. This can result in leaders being chosen for their experience with the company rather than their leadership skills.

Lack of Awareness: Sometimes, decision-makers might not fully understand the importance of leadership training. They might underestimate the complexities of leadership and the benefits of formal training programmes.
When any, or a combination of the above occur, invariably the cause has a negative effect and impact.

The Effect

Decreased Employee Morale: Poorly trained managers may struggle with effective communication, conflict resolution, and motivation. This can lead to dissatisfaction, frustration, and disengagement among team members.

Increased Turnover: Employees who are unhappy with their management are more likely to leave the organisation. High turnover can be costly, disrupting operations and requiring additional resources for recruitment and training of new employees.

Reduced Productivity: Ineffective leadership can result in unclear goals, poor delegation, and inadequate support for team members. This often leads to decreased productivity as employees may feel confused, overburdened, or unmotivated.

Poor Decision-Making: Accidental managers may lack the experience and training needed for sound decision-making. This can result in strategic missteps, operational inefficiencies, and missed opportunities.

Conflict and Tension: Without proper training in conflict resolution and team dynamics, accidental managers may struggle to handle interpersonal issues. This can lead to unresolved conflicts, a toxic work environment, and reduced collaboration.

Stifled Innovation: Effective leaders encourage creativity and innovation. Accidental managers may not foster an environment where new ideas are welcomed and developed, potentially stifling innovation and the organisation’s competitive edge.

Inconsistent Performance: Teams led by untrained managers often experience fluctuations in performance. Without consistent leadership, team members might lack direction and support, leading to inconsistent output and quality.

Stress and Burnout: Accidental managers themselves can experience significant stress and burnout due to the pressure of leadership without adequate preparation. This can affect their well-being and further impair their ability to lead effectively.

Damage to Company Reputation: Poor leadership can negatively impact customer satisfaction, project outcomes, and overall service quality, potentially damaging the company’s reputation and client relationships.

Lost Opportunities for Growth: Effective leaders identify and cultivate talent within their teams. Accidental managers may miss opportunities to develop their team members, hindering the overall growth and development of the organisation.

However, when some or all of the above happen, and invariably they do, the organisation often deflects the blame for poor performance, pointing the finger at the accidental manager and their team.

Enough Is Enough. It’s Time To Change

‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Albert Einstein.

To stop the phenomenon of accidental managers, organisations need to implement changes focused on proactive leadership development and more strategic approaches to promotions.

Here are some of the changes that they need to implement, or if not doing so already, address:

Formal Leadership Training Programmes: Establish comprehensive training programmes specifically designed to develop leadership skills. These should cover essential areas such as communication, conflict resolution, team management, and strategic planning.

Leadership Assessment Tools: Utilise assessment tools to identify employees with leadership potential. These tools can help gauge an individual’s suitability for leadership roles based on skills, personality traits, and competencies rather than just past performance.

Structured Succession Planning: Develop a clear succession plan that outlines the pathways to leadership positions. This plan should include criteria for promotions, required training, and development milestones.

Mentorship and Coaching: Implement mentorship and coaching programmes where experienced leaders provide guidance and support to emerging leaders. This can help potential managers gain practical insights and develop their skills in a real-world context.

360-Degree Feedback: Use 360-degree feedback mechanisms to gather input on potential leaders from peers, subordinates, and supervisors. This comprehensive feedback can provide a well-rounded view of an individual’s leadership abilities and areas for improvement.

Trial Leadership Opportunities: Offer temporary or project-based leadership roles to employees to allow them to demonstrate and develop their leadership skills. This can serve as a testing ground before committing to a permanent promotion.

Clear Competency Frameworks: Define and communicate the competencies required for leadership roles. Employees should understand what skills and behaviours are expected of leaders and work towards developing them.

Continuous Professional Development: Encourage a culture of continuous learning and development. Provide ongoing training opportunities and resources for all employees to develop their leadership skills over time.

Performance Metrics Beyond Technical Skills: Evaluate employees for promotions based on a balanced set of criteria that includes leadership potential, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal skills, not just technical proficiency.

Cultural Shift: Foster a culture that values and prioritises leadership development. Senior management should model effective leadership behaviours and actively participate in mentoring and developing future leaders.

Feedback and Improvement Mechanisms: Establish mechanisms for new managers to receive regular feedback and support. Continuous improvement should be encouraged, and resources should be provided to address any gaps or challenges they face.

Employee Engagement in Career Planning: Involve employees in their career planning and development processes. Encourage them to set goals, seek feedback, and take advantage of training opportunities to prepare for leadership roles.

By implementing these changes, organisations can create a more deliberate and effective pathway to leadership roles, reducing the occurrence of accidental managers and ensuring that those promoted are well-prepared to lead their teams successfully.

But please, please, please, do not point the finger of blame at the accidental managers that you have created.

If you have found this article of value and want to watch the YouTube video of my guest webinar for the Chartered Management Institute, “From Accidental Manager To Competent Leader,”  click this link 

Please be aware, due to a technical error, the first minute of the video recording is muted.

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