With Martin G. Moore

Episode #286

The Accidental Leader: It’s the most common variety

Many people in leadership positions were promoted because they were good at their jobs — their technical jobs. When ambitious professionals want the status, the power, and the money that come with career advancement, they have to accept that leading other people comes with the territory.

With little leadership training, and even less desire to lead, they become ‘accidental’ leaders. So, I was interested when I came across an article in Fortune magazine: Nearly all bosses are ‘accidental’ with no formal training—and research shows it’s leading 1 in 3 workers to quit.

The fact that the vast majority of leaders and managers don’t receive any formal training isn’t particularly surprising… and the fact that workers are disgruntled with their managers is even less so.

It’s easy to read the headlines and accept them without question. In this episode, I take a peek behind the curtain to get to some better root cause analysis, and come up with some strategies that you can use to improve your leadership capability — with or without the formal training.

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Episode #286 The Accidental Leader: It’s the most common variety


Last week, we released a bumper 30-minute episode of No Bullsh!t Leadership, When Profits Create Problems. It’s rare that we produce such a lengthy episode because we like all our content to be short, sharp, and powerful – concepts that you can consume really easily, and put into practice quickly. But I thought it was worth presenting my mini-case study on Boeing, in light of its current troubles. There are just so many lessons for leaders at every level.

This week, though, we’re back to our traditional format, where I hope to stretch your thinking and perhaps shift your perspective slightly on the leaders around you – and, maybe even on your own leadership foundations.

I came up with this topic after reading an article in Fortune Magazine with the long and interesting title, Nearly all bosses are ‘accidental’ with no formal training — and research shows it’s leading 1 in 3 workers to quit.

Okay, I’ll bite! The fact that the vast majority of leaders and managers don’t receive any formal training isn’t particularly surprising (and the fact that workers are disgruntled with their managers is even less so!)

But, it’s easy to read the headlines and accept them without question. In this LinkedIn Newsletter, I’m going to take a peek behind the curtain to get some better root cause analysis, and come up with some strategies that you can use to improve – practical things!

I’ll begin with a summary of the Fortune article. I’ll then look at the role that formal training plays in our overall acquisition of capability and competence. And I’ll finish with a simple, three-step process to ensure you don’t become an accidental manager, whether you have formal training or not.


Let’s start with a look at the Fortune article I mentioned in the introduction. This article reports on a survey of 4,500 workers by the Chartered Management Institute in the UK.

Whilst the outcomes of the survey are interesting, they’re not really surprising. I’m sure that, as I briefly run through them, you won’t raise an eyebrow. But it’s important just to get us all on the same page for the discussion to come.

Remember, too, that I’m the guy who uses the terms leadership and management virtually interchangeably. For all the carry-on we see on social media about the differences between leadership and management, my experience is that the two disciplines are virtually inseparable. They don’t exist on either side of a black and white line. They exist on a continuum.

When you’re responsible for other people in your organization’s hierarchy, some activities will have a heavier emphasis on one or the other. If you didn’t catch my fairly recent episode on this, you might want to check it out. It was Ep.267: Management vs Leadership.

Okay, back to the research. The research found that one in four people in the workforce have managerial responsibilities, but very few have actually been trained. 82% of leaders are accidental, a term which I believe is a proxy for those who’ve received no formal leadership training. And this is up from 68% in 2019. Apparently, the problem is getting worse. And, of that 82%, a quarter of those are in senior leadership roles.

The research says that the impact on their workers is significant. Those who describe their boss as “ineffective” were way less likely to be content in their work lives than people with “effective” managers.

So, according to the survey:

  • 24% of workers with ineffective managers were satisfied with their jobs, compared to 74% who worked for effective managers

  • Only 15% of workers with ineffective managers said they felt valued, compared to 72% who worked for effective managers, and

  • 34% of workers with ineffective managers said they were motivated, compared to 77% who worked for effective managers.

So what? Well, half of those who reported working for ineffective managers intend to quit in the next year. That’s more than double the exit rate of employees who said they work for effective managers.

And then, there’s the managers themselves. 20% report having no confidence in their own ability to handle the demands of their managerial position. And those with formal management training are significantly more likely to trust their team, feel comfortable leading change initiatives, and to be comfortable calling out bad behavior compared to those who don’t.

Here’s the kicker though: the habit of promoting people without spending time and energy on training them creates a self-perpetuating loop. It’s a vicious circle of incompetence, if you like. As the article suggests, that’s because when ineffective managers rise through the ranks, they’re afraid to vocalize their fears of being inadequate to their superiors.

Staffers are equally afraid of confronting bad managers. The cycle, which sees staff quitting instead of speaking out, enables ineffective and even toxic management to fester.

This is perhaps one of the reasons why The Peter Principle is alive and well, more than 50 years after the theory was first proposed. Apparently, we all eventually get promoted to our natural level of incompetence.


As I said, none of this is hugely surprising, but maybe not for the reasons you think. Here at Your CEO Mentor, our whole business model is built around educating leaders to be better. We’re on a mission, to improve the quality of leaders globally.

So, at this point, you might be expecting me to say, “See? You need to have formal leadership training, so sign up for our flagship program, Leadership Beyond the Theory.” No, that’s not the case at all.

Apart from the fact that we’re in the business of training leaders, Emma and I are incredibly proud of our commitment to stripping away the bullsh!t and giving it to you straight. So I’m going to point out the bullsh!t in this research. There are two fundamental problems with it:

  1. The first is that credible research over 30 years tells us that learning and development is most effective when the 70/20/10 methodology is applied.

    That is to say, 70% of your learning and development comes from on-the-job assignments – actually doing things that help you to execute and embed new skills.

    20% of your learning and development comes from developmental relationships, like mentoring and coaching from your boss. Just a little sidebar: with an ineffective boss who doesn’t coach and develop you, this is going to stunt your growth as a leader, and it should be a key consideration in your choice of who you actually work for.

    And then, bringing up the rear, only 10% of your learning and development comes from formal education and training.

    In my humble opinion, saying that formal leadership education will make you an effective leader when it only accounts for 10% of your learning, development, and applied competence is drawing a really long bow.

  2. The second problem with the research is that they’ve sneakily switched the terms they use with absolutely no evidence of correlation.

    They start with statistics about leaders who have formal leadership training, as opposed to those who don’t have formal leadership training. Then they move on, almost seamlessly, to give the survey results about people’s responses to effective and ineffective leaders.

    This implies that the two things are the same, equating the assessment of effectiveness or ineffectiveness with being either trained or untrained. There’s certainly no causal link between the two, and there may not even be a strong correlation.

    We don’t know, and it’s impossible to tell from this research. But what I do know is that there are leaders with no formal training whatsoever who are incredibly effective – I’ve worked with them. And there are also leaders out there with loads of formal training who are completely ineffective. I’ve worked with them too (but not for long)!

For example, you might think that a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is the pinnacle of leadership education. In my experience, that’s bullsh!t… and it’s dangerous bullsh!t.

I have a high quality MBA from a top business school, and I’ve also completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. So I want you to pay attention to this:

Neither of those made me a better leader!

What they did do was to massively improve my business acumen and executive competence. And, I dare say, that I couldn’t have had anywhere near the success I enjoyed in my corporate career without that formal education. But there’s a big difference between business acumen and great leadership.

I even know some people who’ve come out of an MBA as worse leaders than they went in. How’s that possible? Not only didn’t they improve their fundamental leadership capability, but they picked up an extra dose of arrogance along the way. I’d say that would make them fairly ineffective.


Let’s just take stock of where we are. Regardless of how you learn, your ultimate objective should be to become a better leader. Every day, you need to do something that makes you better than you were the day before.

There is no doubt that formal education plays a role in your leadership development, but that’s not to say it will make you a more effective leader. More than formal education, I think you need to have a mindset of continuous improvement. I like to make it really simple, so think of it in three distinct steps:

  1. The first step is to work out the areas in which you can improve most. There are, of course, some foundational leadership capabilities that every leader needs to acquire.

    But working out what will most help you to improve takes introspection, a willingness to accept feedback, and a little bit of self-awareness. And here’s the kicker: for many leaders, as they go through the ranks, they have more to protect – their image, their position, their power base, their salary package – and it makes them less open to feedback, less self-aware, and less introspective. This is sometimes a counterbalance that acts as a barrier to growth, development, and improvement for those leaders.

    I would venture to say that these leaders are ineffective, by definition, and there’s a sh!t-ton of them out there. You’ve met them.

    So, your first commitment is to not be that leader. You have to make a commitment to yourself, and you have to be serious about it. Promise yourself that you won’t believe your own bullsh!t.

  2. The second step is to acquire knowledge about how to do things better. There’s no shortage of content out there telling you how to become a better leader, but you have to be discerning about what you consume or you could waste a lot of time and energy.

    I’m sure you’ve already realized, a lot of leadership content is superficial and oversimplified. There’s a massive gap between the theory and its practical application. Beware of platitudes, fluff, and empty motivational epithets.

    If you’re listening to something and it makes you feel good about yourself, that’s a sure sign that it’s appealing to your ego, to your aspirational intent and self-image. It’s unlikely to help you become a better leader. So, pay attention to the things that make you feel uncomfortable because they challenge your current views, beliefs, and behaviors.

    The path to improvement lies here, not in the reinforcement of where you already are.

  3. Finally, the third step is to commit to doing something different. Knowing what to do, but not actually doing it is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. If you learn every day, you need to apply it in the heat of battle. Remember the 70/20/10 learning methodology. 70% of your development is going to come from on-the-job experience. This is why you have to make sure it’s the right experience.

    To make sure you’re not spinning your wheels, concentrate on doing the things that genuinely make a difference. And there’s no shortage of practical things that make a difference in our 286 episodes of No Bullsh!t Leadership.

    But how do you know if something you decide to do is actually the right thing to make you a better leader? Because when you do it, it feels hard.


We have to be careful of the things we read – the stuff that makes sense and sounds like it should be true. It’s very easy to rationalize, easy to misinterpret, and really easy to oversimplify. So, learn what you can from your boss, learn from your own mistakes, and learn from the plethora of leadership content that’s out there.

But at some point, that needs to be converted into deliberate, consistent action… practical steps that you take every single day to improve, to become more comfortable with the hard work of leadership. If you don’t focus on implementation, you’ll become like many other senior leaders. You’ll have all the knowledge and terminology, but you’ll lack the practical foundation.

It’s like picking up medical terminology by watching reruns of ER and Grey’s Anatomy, and then thinking you’re actually qualified to perform surgery. Many leaders think they’re great surgeons, just because they’ve watched enough episodes to get comfortable with the language – despite the fact that they’ve never held a scalpel.

As an enthusiastic, but mediocre golfer, I like to think of it like this:

There’s only so many golf lessons you can take before you need to go and hit a thousand balls. So, go and hit the balls. Your people will thank you for it: and, they’re much more likely to stay.



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