How high-pressure jobs turn nice people into lunatics and what to do about it.


You're CRAZY....or is it me?

def. Lunatic - a mentally ill person often deemed as destructive.

The smile on my face was a mask to be sure. As I walked out of the sales meeting, I could feel the blood returning to my head from my legs. My desire to flee the meeting was diminishing now, and I could start to get my brain back to normal. "But why?", I kept asking myself as if some mysterious quiet voice would become my oracle of thought, but all I got was silence. All I felt was confusion. My boss at the time, a very seasoned leader, was under extraordinary pressure. Our company was in financial freefall due to a downturned economy, we had to lay off people, reduce work hours, and this all caused a massive amount of pressure for him. In the meeting, my offense was to speak up about some of the failing practices on our team to which I then offered solutions. But our leader at the time was not having any of it, and as such obliterated me in a tirade of abusive comments as well as harsh commentary as to my experience level at the time. He was wholly deviated from the mounting pressure and to me, at the moment I saw only a lunatic emerge. Honestly, I wanted to flee as I lacked the skill to handle such a situation. This behavior, which went way above and beyond usual leadership sternness on his part, baffled me. 

It would not be until nearly fifteen years later, after countless leadership experiences, speeches, delivering my 1-on-1 coaching, and yes, some therapy, that I would begin to understand the mindset of a leader, or any person for that matter, who becomes a complete lunatic under the influence of extreme pressure. More importantly, I find that now my understanding of how to handle such a person and myself at the moment is far more informed. What at the time I took as a hurtful and hateful attack, I now see what I was most upset about was I could not control the one person who was making the most significant stress occur, me. 

We live in a society of extreme growth and results expectations. What thirty or forty years ago was a more fluid and forgiving work experience, now with the added pressures of rapid technological connection, an overblown demand of "growth at all costs" and a even more competitive workforce landscape, it's no wonder that otherwise reasonable people under high pressure, also become a complete loon to us. 

But is this real? A little perspective, please. 

Let's start with leaders: I recently read an article in HR Magazine which cited a study in 2016 around stress and the leader. In it, a few statistics stood out to me. The study articulated that "Nearly seven in 10 (67%) business leaders are struggling with stress and managing their emotions in the workplace." What a huge number. No wonder there seems to be an increasing level of stress frustration which all lead to lunacy, especially when you add the 24/7 communication stream most leaders find themselves living in to stay on top of the job. The study went on to articulate, "84% of senior managers feel the need to curb their emotions and natural behavior at work which was particularly acute in junior manager roles, with 90% reporting that they hold back their true feelings when dealing with colleagues." So we give leaders massive responsibility, they tell people what to do, where and how so that results improve, but then we don't let them lead in their style for fear of offending people. By the way, there was a recent story in Forbes that talked about people being offended at work, and the number was only 4%-6% of the total workforce became "offended" at work in the LAST YEAR! So leaders are under extreme pressure but at the same time are trying to continually customize and modify behavior to not offend the smallest part of the work population which would be hurt if the wind blew the wrong direction. 

Another study by a leading HR think tank stated that when it came to managing conflict most people in the corporate world were struggling with political correctness with 41% citing it as the most significant issue they face. By contrast, the not so distant second and third winners were jealousy (37%) and toxic emotions (36%). The American Institute of Stress articulated in their data that of all the workplace issues people articulate as being mind breakers, it was the workload that topped the list above people issues. So we are managing a workload that is beyond stressful and people issues when others around us crack under pressure.

What a mess. I feel crazy.

We have essentially not given people the necessary environment to work in a supportive way because we, like a frog in a pot, are slowly boiling ourselves to work death. In the meantime, we are also losing our minds, and this lunacy is starting to create unsafe work environments, hostile leaders, and an overall dissatisfaction about a job. Where people once found a sense of joy and pride in their work, they now find themselves in a "duck and cover" scenario of dodging attitudes, anger issues, and overall lunacy of other people on the team, including leaders.

So what can you do at your job when faced with these high-pressure lunatics? How can you start to Look Up to find a way forward while not becoming a crazy person yourself? Below are my three tips for how to handle office "lunatics" without losing your mind.

1) Recognize the Deviation Point - If you have been to one of my recent keynote presentations or are one of my 1-on-1 leadership coaching clients, you're aware of what I mean when I say Deviation Point. For the rest of you, this is a critical point in your decision making that can either move you toward positive disruptive results or down to what I would call "off course" destructive results. At the point when a person around you has succumbed to their pressure, and they are interacting with you, that moment when you are saying to yourself, "What a lunatic," that's your Deviation Point. It's your point of decision in which you stop yourself from deviating off course. If you have gone past the point and started making decisions or taking actions based on your reaction to the person in question, it's too late. So know the point. It's usually when you say, "I think this person is crazy."

2) Turn the Deviation Point into the Decision Point - Once you have stopped yourself from reacting to the person by recognizing you have reached the Deviation Point, now it's time to take full control of you. Changing the Deviation Point to the Point of Decision is relatively simple, but it's based on two things, your goal at the moment and your complete ownership over your actions. Remember, no one is in control of your thinking except you. That person you are judging as a lunatic, he or she is not in power of your mind. It's not possible. So every decision you make is yours to own fully. Your reaction or lack of reaction is the most important action you can take. Am I saying that you seeking a new action based on a goal and not based on reaction will solve all your problems with this crazy person? NO! But what I am saying is that you will be in control of you so you won't be so focused on their behavior. 

3) LOOK UP! The phrase that changes everything. - In my life, there were so many moments where I could have looked down. Deviations, both from outside influencers and by my own hand, could have destroyed me, but they did not. Why? Because I made a decision. In those moments of apparent deviation and destruction, I decided to Look Up and acted forward toward a goal. When I deviated or got deviated by someone else, I regrouped and got back on course. For you now a decision must be made, you either decide that when you encounter stressed out lunatics, you will react or not. It's a choice. The simple tool I use, and I use it with all my decisions and deviations, is when you deviate, for any reason, say this simple phrase to yank yourself out of it, “LOOK UP!". It's a check-in for your mental stability. When a person is going crazy at work, you say to yourself, "LOOK UP!" then you pause and begin to reassess the situation. 

When you look up, you don't fall down to their level. Looking up in a moment of struggle with a problematic person causes you to take a breath, refocus on your goal and go forward toward it. It's not that you change the other person, you simply change the only person you can, yourself. To think you have control over others is the really crazy belief that some of us have which makes us the lunatic, as much as them.


When he’s not engaged in 1-on1 leadership coaching with his clients, Todd Mitchem delivers programs on the power of transformative and disruptive change.

Todd Mitchem is on a mission to share his successes and journey in a way that guides people through any adversity. He teaches individuals, leaders and organizations how to challenge the norm to overcome roadblocks on the way to success. 

Mitchem’s presentations have been called a “powerhouse” combination of humor, energy, learning, and thoughtful commentary. Your group will leave engaged, inspired and ready to take on the world looking up with a new perspective to overcome life's many deviations, distractions, and difficult events.

When he’s not speaking, or leadership coaching, Todd loves to write. Besides his many articles in publications like Entrepreneur, he has also mapped all the pieces that it takes to succeed in life and business by looking up to make your own opportunities, in his new book: YOU, DISRUPTED: Seizing the life you want by shaking, breaking and challenging everything. Todd is also very active in the media who labeled him, “a soundbite machine.”

Todd offers consulting, 1-on1 leadership coaching, award winning keynote presentations and more.

Visit now to learn more and watch his TEDx talk.

TED Speaker, Author, Entertaining Thought Provoking Keynote Presenter When he's not engaged in 1-on1 leadership coaching with his clients, Todd Mitchem delivers programs on the power of transformative and disruptive change. Todd Mitchem is on a mission to share his successes and journey in a way that guides people through any adversity.

Todd Mitchem