The Rise of The Accidental Leader

Imagine a skilled musician who has been playing for years, and has just been told to lead an orchestra. Whilst incredibly talented at playing the guitar, conducting is an entirely different skill set that they haven’t fully developed yet. Just as a musician might need time to adapt to the conductor’s role, someone promoted to a managerial position may feel uncertain about taking on new leadership responsibilities. The challenge of the accidental leader lies in embracing the change, and finding comfort in the new rhythm of managing a team.

The good news is that talented musicians can undertake training to prepare them for conducting. They study other instruments, learn the nuances of each musical score and learn how to lead rehearsals and performances. Once in a conductor’s role, they would continue to learn new scores, and new techniques for producing the best music.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that anyone who has spent decades learning the guitar would immediately consider themselves proficient enough to conduct without training. Why? It is an entirely different skill.

The question then is why do we promote individuals in the professional working world into leadership and management positions without training them in leadership and people management first?

The Accidental Leader

An accidental leader is an individual who is promoted into a position of leadership without having the appropriate leadership competencies. Typically, this is someone who has excelled in their technical craft and been promoted on the basis of their technical skills. However, in most cases, they have not undertaken leadership development training. In fact, a study by the CMI recently found that 82% of managers entering management positions have never received formal leadership training (CMI, 2023).

The Impact of Accidental Leaders on Teams

Another study by Leeder (2013) found that teams led by managers with a strong technical background sometimes struggle with communication and collaboration. The focus on technical expertise was found to have the potential to overshadow essential leadership and interpersonal skills, hindering the team’s overall effectiveness. Later down the line, this can lead to miscommunication, decreased morale and employee dissatisfaction. In fact, 50% of employees who rated their manager as ineffective said they would be leaving their organisation in the next 12 months, compared to the 20% who said they would be moving on, but rated their manager as effective (CMI, 2023).

Of course, that is not to say that the individuals who excel technically cannot become exceptional leaders. In fact, having a leader that deeply understands the technical role of their team can help communication, and help team members feel more supportive. However, it is essential that this individual has also studied leadership. Otherwise, organisations are simply promoting some of their best technical performers into positions that they are not as qualified for.

Rather, the skills of the leader need to be far more people centric, shifting from technical ability to interpersonal skills. Groysberg and Slind (2012) highlight this in their early work. They describe leadership as more of a conversation than a process of delivering orders. Successful leaders are described as people that are able to have ordinary communications with their team and encourage open communication. Instead of delivering orders, they lead through emotional intelligence, inspiring and supporting their teams.

The Best Time to Start Training

Looking back at our orchestra, it is clear that the best musician does not always make the best conductor. Not everyone will enter management positions, so when do we start looking for our future leaders?

At Fieri, we work with entry level cohorts and identify potential leaders. We work with organisations to develop the fundamental leadership skills within these individuals, preparing them for a leadership role. The training programmes we create are perfectly suited to both recognising and cultivating the potential within your company’s recruits. Learners return to work with the tools and knowledge they need to excel within a leadership and management role.

From graduate, to emerging and front line leaders our programmes build leadership competencies at every level.

How are you building the future leaders in your team?

Contact our team at Fieri to find out more.

References:

Chartered Management Institute. (2023). Good Management Report. Available at: https://www.managers.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/CMI_BMB_GoodManagment_Report.pdf

Groysberg, B., & Slind, M. (2012). Leadership is a conversation. Harvard business review90(6), 76-84.

Leeder, Kim, 2013. “SOMEDAY WHEN I AM INCOMPETENT…”: REFLECTIONS ON THE PETER PRINCIPLE, LEADERSHIP, AND EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE.