Book Excerpt: Surrounded by Insanity

Below is the introduction to my new book.

Why You Are Here

“You are trying to understand madness with logic. This is not unlike searching for darkness with a torch.”

—The Mad Hatter

I walked into the conference room not really knowing what to expect. I sat across the table from someone who had been my boss for two months. Yet he was the one responsible for determining my raise. I listened as he read through my accomplishments for the year. This was the first time he had ever actually seen them. Just like normal, I had to fill in and write my own review, because I was not sure anyone actually knew everything I had done. He paused as he noted one blemish. I had missed a project deadline, and that was going to be the reason I didn’t get as large of a raise that year. He then proceeded to inform me about the importance of meeting our goals. 

It was hard to hold in the disgust I felt. I wondered if he noticed the twisted look on my face. I probably looked like I was holding in a sneeze. I was judged lacking due to someone else’s decision. I’d missed that delivery because an executive had set an arbitrary deadline without talking to anyone that actually had to do the work. I had spent eighty-plus hours a week doing everything I could to hit that deadline, but the project date had no basis in fact. Yet I was the one being punished for it. Someone had made a bad decision and I was literally paying the price. Why did no one care to hear the reasons why it was missed? Why was I being judged by someone I had just met? It didn’t make any sense. 

I left that meeting feeling dejected. What more could I possibly do? How could I win? 

These scenarios play themselves out in companies everywhere because, fundamentally, corporate “culture” is broken. My livelihood depended on figuring this out. 

You must learn to function in a broken system of stack ranking, layoffs, promotion quotas—the list goes on and on. Without this functional knowledge, you will have a terrible career or, worse, be laid off. The game is survival. Due to this broken culture, middle management is easily one of the toughest jobs in all of existence. It’s rough. There is very little support to go around, and the challenges come from all directions. You’re often thrown into a job with very little training or explanation of what is expected of you. You must handle difficult employees and difficult bosses. 

The harsh truth is that no one cares about your career but you. Former GE CEO Jack Welch famously said, “Take control of your destiny or someone else will.”It is a powerful reminder of where you really are. You must take control of this situation or be at the mercy of others, just as I was. You will pay the price for others’ blunders. Because of this, you must find a way to navigate the bad decisions you are asked to implement. I am not alone, and neither are you. The fact of the matter is you are right: the company isfull of morons. What’s worse? You are actually at the mercy of those morons to put food on the table. There is nothing more frustrating than being held accountable for another’s wrong decisions. How do you survive? How do you not let a bad boss or a bad company decision affect your career? We have all faced this situation at one point or another, wondering, What do I do?

We are going to face that question head-on in this book. I will walk you through the strategies that you can use to endure the insanity that surrounds you. 

Who am I? I am you: another suffering middle manager who has had to learn the hard way the joys and pitfalls of working for a large corporation. I hit all the checkboxes I thought I needed in order to be successful. Got a computer engineering degree and then an MBA. Spent two more years working and getting Six Sigma certified. I thought I knew exactly the path needed to be successful in the corporate world. 

My first few years as a manager, I worked trying to figure out how to climb the ladder and do a good job. The more I worked, the more the things around me didn’t pass any commonsense standard. I struggled through corporate bureaucracy and policies that made no sense. At one point, I actually considered the possibility I might be going insane. 

Slowly, however, patterns began to emerge. I started to notice how others were being successful, and through the guess-and-test method, I came across certain actions that seemed to work in all situations for all bosses. Executives did behave within a set of rules, but not rules governed by traditional logic or common sense. I had thought millionaire executives made rational decisions based on hard data and intelligence. I was so naive. 

I did well in school, but what I found is that school doesn’t prepare you for the reality of the work world. In school, there is a direct correlation between how hard you work and the grades you receive. If you study for hours and hours, you are probably going to receive an A. This principle does not follow you into the work world. You can put in eighty hours a week and fail. You can put in eighty hours a week and get passed over for a promotion that goes to the person who worked forty hours. There is what feels like an inherent unfairness in the way the system is set up.

The truth is the game isinherently biased, because it is being judged by humans. It is not a long jump to bitterness and depression when these things occur. The only way to be successful in this biased environment is to know the rules. I have succeeded despite the best efforts of those whose judgment would be considered less than competent. 

In the next few chapters, you are going to learn a few things:

  • We are going to start with how to stop wasting your energy persuading people they are wrong. 
  • You’ll see that it is difficult to move forward with a bad plan, but counterintuitively, your career depends on doing just that. 
  • We’ll discuss the need to understand what your boss actuallycares about and how to make sure you are solving the problem that matters.
  • You will learn to control the narrative so that when everything blows up (as it inevitably will), the finger is not pointing back at you. 
  • The most powerful lesson in this book we will discuss is that reality does not matter; only perception does. It does not matter if you work eighty hours and someone else works forty. If the perception is the other person is a “hard worker,” you are fighting a perception battle, and you need to learn how to control it. 

There is truth to the old saying “You can’t fix stupid.” However, you do have control of how that stupidity affects you and your career.

I decided to write this book because of the lack of support I received throughout my career. I watched as friends were promoted to their first management jobs and had to continually call me for advice. In addition to a lack of support in general, there is a war on middle management. Trying to create a flat organization and removing layers is all the rage. Who doesn’t want a utopia where there are no bosses? Google famously tried to do that in 2002. They tried to get rid of all their managers, and what happened? The move ushered in complete chaos. It only lasted a few months before Google realized their mistake and brought the managers back. 

What Google found, which should be abundantly clear to you, is that great managers, and more so middle management, are vitally important. Gallup found that managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units. In a 2014 report called “State of the American Workplace”, Gallup found that only 30 percent of US employees are engaged at work.What does that tell us? Managers are hugely important, and most managers are terrible. I don’t believe middle managers are terrible because they are just bad at their jobs. Their terribleness is a by-product of not being supported and having very little control over the decisions that are made. I remember when I was promoted to my first manager position. Did I get extensive training or coaching? Nope. I had a one-day course on how to be a manager. Everything else is on-the-job learning. You are not going to get support from your organization. The only support is going to be from other middle managers. 

A couple of caveats. This book will notmake the people around you smarter, and sadly, it won’t even make them easier to endure. What it will do is teach you how to turn others’ bad decisions into an opportunity for improvement and potentially even advancement. The concepts in this book, however, will not get you promoted immediately. This is not a “get rich quick” scheme. Climbing the corporate ladder takes time and patience unless you are related to the owner—if that’s the case, then, congratulations! 

I know what you’re thinking: Time and patience? These are the very last two things anyone wants to have or develop. It is difficult to remember that your career is a long game. When you are facing frustrating situations, it’s easy to get lost in the moment and think this moment will destroy everything. You can’t give in to that temptation. As I will explain later, no one will remember those moments but you. 

This is not a leadership book. The world doesn’t lack a set of plans for how to be a great leader. There are numerous individuals who can tell you how to be an incredible leader, whether they be Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, or Jim Collins. They are CEOs and billionaires and great business minds. None of that is of any help to you today, where you are right now. 

I cared deeply about my team and I wanted to be a great leader, so naturally I read all the leadership books I could find. I tried to absorb everything I could about being a leader. Those books are great, and they are completely worthless to you. The challenge is those books are really focused on more of an executive audience and, honestly, a rosy picture of the world. You can be a great leader and a wonderful person, but as a middle manager, you are going to be stuck with someone who is not. It doesn’t matter how great a leader you are if your immediate boss is a clown. You can do everything that Jim Collins tells you to do and still get screwed over. You need to learn to survive in corporate reality. 

One of the tenets you read about in those books over and over is how important it is to communicate the “why” of decisions and set a clear vision. Well, that’s a great theory, but my boss didn’t tell me why we are doing what we are doing. How am I supposed to translate that to my team? “Our executives have decided to lay off our best people so they can create synergy.” Fantastic! I’m looking forward to telling my team all about synergy and our CEO getting a raise. Double my team’s workload with no increase in resources? Sure, don’t mind if I do! 

Sometimes the reasons the decisions were made are wrong and you don’t agree. You are going to think the “why” of a decision is stupid, and yet you have to pick up the pieces and implement them anyway. 

I must have missed that chapter in all those leadership books. We are going to focus on that in this book head-on. 

Okay, breathe, just breathe. It’s all going to be okay. 

What you should get from the pages that follow is one overarching theme: the realization that you are managing people, not projects. How you manage the people around you—from your boss, to your team, to your peers—is ultimately what will determine the course of your career. The results from your projects and initiatives are fleeting and quickly forgotten. Learning to correctly lead and manage the people in your circle of influence is the pathway to successfully executing bad decisions. 

And now…on toThe Insanity!

Hope you enjoyed the introduction…. but there is a lot more where that came from. Check out the full book at