Accidental Managers – the Management Paradox

Do you know any colleagues who were unprepared for the management roles they are now in? They were formerly superstars who excelled in their expertise as a sole contributor, but now they’re looking stressed and worn down.  You might even be hearing some grumbling from their team.

There’s a name for this colleague: the Accidental Manager.

Most accidental managers in the workforce are promoted because they’re really good at what they did in their former role.  The paradox comes from the assumption that if they were good there, they’ll be good here. Close to 60% of frontline managers never received training for their new role. That faulty thinking sets new managers up for the very real risk of failure: a study by CareerBuilder found that 50% of managers are ineffective.

I’m not suggesting all new managers will be ineffective. But it’s a rare individual with the natural aptitude and personality to hit the ground running, guiding and leading others successfully from day one. Most employees with exemplary technical and functional skills and knowledge may not have the soft skills to motivate, inspire and develop others.

The Center for Creative Leadership suggests moving from a sole contributor to people manager may be the most difficult transition an employee can make: “Their individual successes and function-specific knowledge don’t automatically translate to being a successful leader of others.”

So how can companies ensure the accidental leader becomes successful as a manager? And who’s responsible for their success in leading others?

That’s no surprise given that a  2016 Training Benchmarking Study, found 58% of organizations spent more than $1,000 per learner on training for senior leadership—compared to just 39 percent for high-potentials and 32 percent for mid-level management. This means the majority of professional development funding is not spent on the majority of managers – new and mid-level.

That makes me wonder if senior leadership simply don’t understand the need to spend money upfront on preparing and developing great habits and people-leading skills in newer managers? That organizations incur significant financial and culture costs as a result of ineffective leaders? That they’ll likely spend far more downstream when those same managers are let go or the turnover in their teams increases?

New managers themselves are accountable to learn what it is to lead others effectively. It’s incumbent the manager be open to learning and realize that what got them into their last job, likely won’t guarantee success as a manager. 

Being a people leader requires continuous development of one’s own self- awareness. This includes the ability to understand how others experience them. It means being flexible and adapting to the needs of others – shifting from “me” to “us”.  This includes the ability to inspire and really develop the potential of their direct reports and teams.

The question we should ask is: If you were (or are) a senior leader, why would you risk placing your high-potential, high producing sole contributor into a manager’s role without appropriate professional development and training?

And if you were (or are) that high-potential sole contributor, would you really want to be an accidental manager? Or would you advocate for support and training to ensure your success?

Being an accidental manager can be lonely and overwhelming. It can breed low self-confidence. It can tarnish a reputation. And, ultimately the blame for failing to succeed will publicly fall to the manager him or herself. 

Before your company promotes that superstar from the Marketing Department, consider investing in their success. If you are that superstar, I recommend checking out, Signs you’re ready to be a leader… and a few signs you’re not from Padraig Coaching and Consulting, before you sign on the dotted line.

How Inspirational Leadership Improves Your Bottom Line

I recently came across “Inspirational Leadership” as a core leadership competency on the Government of Canada’s website. Although it’s written for public servants, one part of the definition caught my eye: to provide motivational support employees need to grow and the empowerment and accountability to take responsibility for their own success. 

Imagine having managers in your company who make it their responsibility to do exactly this with their direct reports? How might this kind of inspiration affect your company’s bottom line? 

Inspiration’s a key motivator for employees.  A good manager inspires their employees and teams a number of ways. They listen, ask questions and make it a priority to help others make the connection between the organization’s vision and goals with that employee’s or team’s specific accountabilities.

Great managers create a culture of curiosity and creativity.  They know the strengths of their employees and make way for them to express their talents. 

The result is employees who feel heard, valued and and connected to the bigger picture. This translates to being engaged and motivated.

According to Gallup, highly engaged business units realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism, 24% lower turnover and a 17% increase in productivity. Those are pretty substantial statistics. 

Unfortunately many of us have experienced low motivation and inspiration in our work. 

According to O.C. Tanner, an employee recognition and reward solutions company, more than 1 in 4 employees don’t trust their direct manager. It’s no surprise then that only half say their manager motivates them to do their best work. 

If we don’t trust our manager, it’s highly unlikely they will inspire us. This can result in lessened enthusiasm for doing one’s best or a growing culture of negative behaviors by team members. Whatever the outcome, lack of inspiration can spread throughout the organization like wildfire.

What does inspiration really look like? How does a great manager inspire?

Inspiration begins with the manager who makes it their purpose to hold others up rather than hold him or herself up.  They recognize great work in others and use feedback as a respectful tool for learning.  Abundance is the perspective of a great senior leader; they’re willing to share what they know and get out of the way when they should.

The problem in many organizations is that senior leaders assume when they promote or hire a new manager that they’ll come with all the skills and traits necessary to be an effective manager.  And that’s a mistake because there are very few “naturally great” managers.

So what’s the solution? Support and development. 

Managers, especially new ones, need an array of tools and experiences that expose them to new perspectives and the soft people skills.  And they need this before they develop habits that won’t serve them or their teams well. 

From an ROI perspective, investing in managers early in their career can result in huge savings later on: the loss of productivity and revenue plus the cost of high turnover will be far greater than money spent at the beginning of a manager’s career.

If we want motivated employees, we need to develop managers who inspire. This means investing in managers to develop strong skills for leading people effectively – early in their career.