The Definition of Insanity

Albert Einstein reportedly defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” As a leadership coach, I’m finding truth to this statement as I observe a recurring issue with my clients. Picture this: you have an employee who’s really good at what he/she does. This employee is a top individual contributor for your company (be it in sales, production, accounting, etc.). This is employee is so good at his/her job, in fact, that you logically decide to reward him/her with a promotion…to manager.

Fast forward several months down the line. Your formerly stellar employee is struggling as a manager. He/she is dissatisfied and uncomfortable in the new role. Or even worse, your new manager thinks things are going great, but the numbers and feedback from the new manager’s direct reports tell you otherwise. You’re befuddled. How could this happen? You rewarded a good employee with the next logical move. What on earth could be the problem?

In his book The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company, author Ram Charan discusses this exact phenomenon that I see repeatedly. The book outlines, in detail, new skills, time application and work values that must be learned at each transition of leadership (i.e. from managing self to managing others to managing managers, etc.). One of these majors shifts for individual contributors who are promoted to managers of other people is the idea that you are no longer directly responsible for getting things done personally, but instead must develop others to get work accomplished through other people. This is a shift in values and it’s often difficult for people to make. “In fact, to be successful as a first-time manager requires a major transition for which many people are not adequately prepared. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this transition is that first-time managers are responsible for getting work done through others rather than on their own” (Charan).

As someone who is intensely outcome-oriented, high in Achiever and Significance, I get it. When it comes to letting go of getting things done myself, the struggle is real. Not to mention that our culture seemingly glorifies the “I can do it myself” mentality resulting is an often-disconnected collection of individuals who are burnt out, stressed out and tapped out. It is a rare thing, in my experience, to observe managers who are truly invested in developing the people they manage and empowering the people around them to get meaningful work accomplished. Is it out of fear that managers choose not to get work done through others? Or are most organizations failing to equip managers with the skills and training they need to make the transition to management successfully?

If it is the latter, which I believe it most often is, then too many organizations are failing their people by setting them up for failure. Good management is not something that’s an inherent skill, it must be learned and developed. Managers must be trained how to effectively delegate (not abdicate!), how to make successful hiring decisions, how to monitor, coach and provide constructive feedback to others, and how to prioritize building trust and open communication with direct reports. Intentional measures must be taken to ensure first-time managers find success. Let’s break the chain of “insanity” and do something different to see different results!

Interested in exploring strengths-based development and coaching for first-time managers? Contact us at