Of course not.
And yet here in the UK, there are literally millions of people undertaking the dynamic and complicated task of management who have been given absolutely no guidance as to what they should be doing.
Known as the “accidental managers”, they’ve been promoted to mid-ranking positions on the mistaken assumption that being good at a certain job – engineering, let’s say – makes them capable of running a team of engineers. The unfortunate truth is that too many find themselves out of their depth. And taking pot shots at hapless middle managers is a much-loved pastime, as proven by the enduring cult popularity of programmes like ‘The Office’. David Brent makes us wince and guffaw in equal measure, but the true cost of weak middle management is no laughing matter.

Even before Covid-19 started wreaking turmoil, there were serious question marks over the UK’s economic performance. Much was rightly attributed to uncertainty around Brexit, and knock-on effects from the first december General Election to be held in the UK in nearly 100 years. But there’s a further key economic indicator – productivity – which has been a persistent headache dating back much further than the first inklings of a split between Britain and Europe.

Productivity – the output generated by each hour of work – is important because it determines living standards. The more efficient an economy is, the more that can be produced in a sustainable fashion. And the more productive an employee is, the more he or she is likely to be paid.

Historically, UK productivity has grown by about 2% per year, but this has stagnated since the 2008 financial crisis. Referred to as the “productivity puzzle”, this slowdown in UK growth during the past decade is the worst since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and has left economists casting about to identify its origins.

One group of culprits is the 2.4 million accidental managers currently operating in Britain, whose poor operational skills are costing employers approximately £84 billion a year, according to the OECD – Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Some surveys have suggested that with the right training, these wayward line managers could be up to one-third more productive. Similarly, a study in 2018 by the ONS – Office for National Statistics – found that improving a company’s management prowess score (defined how???) by a mere 0.1% would lead to a near-10% increase in productivity.

Almost anyone can learn to be an effective leader, if they are willing to try. (Really?) Unfortunately, very few organisations in the UK seem prepared to invest in this at middle-management level – one study found 71% of firms don’t provide any sort of training for first-line managers. (Proof indeed)

This failure is to a large extent due to expediency and cost.

Managing people is a complicated skill, and learning it is not a short process. A one- or two-day course is the equivalent of dipping a toe in the water, especially as the focus increasingly shifts towards “soft skills” such as listening, collaboration, and heightened emotional intelligence. (Tad counter-intuitive to the above?)

But here’s where we get to the brutal facts (at last): there are some people who simply aren’t capable of learning how to be an effective manager, and will actively resist any efforts towards improving on that front.

A study from (the well-known?) Binghampton University in the United States identified two types of bad line managers: the “dark” and the “dysfunctional”:

  • Researchers described dark bosses as having narcissistic and psychopathic traits – folk who exhibit destructive behaviours and hurt other people for their own gain. Think of those managers who bluster, badger, reject all new ideas and take credit for other people’s work.
  • They described dysfunctional managers as “relatively harmless”; in other words, just not very good at their job.
  • The Binghampton researchers really should have added a third category: the hybrid dark/dysfunctional model. They are thankfully rare, but those who have been unfortunate enough to work for this kind of boss know the extent and speed of the destruction that a dark dysfunctional can unleash.


The evidence is clear that the leadership qualities of a poor manager exert a heavy toll on employees’ health. Those who work for a bad boss have a greater risk of high blood pressure, chronic stress, clinical depression, anxiety, sleeping disorders, and a host of other health problems. Under such conditions, it is obviously impossible for people to perform at their best.

Dysfunctional bosses may be less intimidating than their dark counterparts, but they too come at significant cost.

Waffling managers (as against business correspondents) fail to provide clarity for their team, which translates into wasted effort as work must be repeatedly revised to meet an unspecified target.

These are the bosses that are quick to say “that’s not what I wanted”, yet struggle to convey what it is they’re actually after.

If a bus driver, chef or salesperson was bad at their job, they would most likely be offered training to up their performance. If there was no improvement, then they’d be out of work.

Yet not only do we put unskilled managers into the role, but we also keep them there, even when we know they’re bad at their job. In any rational context, this would be viewed as corporate suicide.

Put it this way: at £84bn annually, the cost of lost productivity through poor management is £9bn more than the Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated could be lost every year by 2030 if the UK leaves the EU single market.

When the current health crisis abates, the road to recovery in the post-Brexit era will be far easier travelled if we successfully crack the UK’s productivity conundrum.

Kristy’s solution?

It’s time to get training to the many middle managers who need it, and get rid of those who won’t – or can’t – up their game.