Mad World

There’s something mysterious and captivating about Gary Jules (cover of Tears for Fears) hit song “Mad World”.  It has an intriguingly simple and beautiful melody.  A single vocal line with no embellishing riffs or runs.  A light, airy feel to the whole production that pulls you into the song and makes you feel really good about it.

Until you stop and really listen to it.  Then we come to the lyrics which are so dark and disturbing that we wonder how we ever came to like this song at all.

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for the daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere

I’m not even sure how to categorize this song … a lyrical oxymoron … a musical paradox … a harmonic charlatan?

I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you,
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it’s a very, very
Mad world, mad world

I hesitate to say I love this song, but there are so many aspects of it that draw me in:

When people run in circles ...
When people run in circles …
  • The crazy dichotomy of the dark depths of its lyrics underneath a beautiful first impression and how it lightly lands upon our senses.
  • Its ability to say what it (or he who penned it) is actually feeling.  We may not like the feelings but it is a rare gift to be able to express them.
  • It’s true … when people run in circles it is a very mad world!

It makes me think about whether some of that same dichotomy is at work in people. I wonder what contradictions how this is at work in the way I show up?  Is my displayed exterior in alignment with what is going on inside?  What happens when it is not?  Do others notice the misalignment?  Does anyone notice?  Does everyone notice?  Or is there a subset of people who elevate their awareness of me and catch the subtle signals I give off that say I am different than I first appear?

I think that those who practice being present in each moment are adept at spotting such misalignment. Because we are truly present with the other person, we don’t just hear the pretty piano line of our surface interactions.  We truly hear the message of within our connection.  There is a whole body of literature on this subject … from the Harvard Business Review article Primal Leadership which discusses the correlation of leadership effectiveness to moods to Judtih Glaser’s book Conversational Intelligence who discusses the immediate impact of how a person shows up in a conversation based on the electromagnetic field generated by our hearts.

I further wonder what the cost to me of such contradictions is.  When I am not aligned am I less believable? Am I still as influential?  Does it feel safe to others to share their true opinions and be otherwise vulnerable?

My belief is that the answer to these questions is a solid no.  People know when their leaders aren’t in alignment.  I’m not saying people are consciously aware that their leaders façade is out of sync with what is really going on, but they know at that subconscious level that feeds trust and commitment.  Something will alert them that this is a time to hold back.

... it's a very, very mad world
… it’s a very, very mad world

So what can we do as leaders to help ensure alignment? For me, it is again about being present with ourselves.  Are we aware of our mood, our posture, our focus?  Are all of the things aligned with the immediate environment we find ourselves in?  For example, are we distant in the midst of the team celebrating success?  Are we smiling and projecting personal confidence at a time when others are down or feeling at risk? Are the words we are speaking representative of what we believe?

Its true what the song says.  “When people run in circles it’s a very, very mad world.”  What is it that we do that makes sure this isn’t happening in our systems?  Are we sufficiently present such that we are constantly aware of our own alignment and its impact on others?

To get you in the mood to run in a couple of circles … here’s Gary Jules and Mad World!

Published by

Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

12 thoughts on “Mad World

  1. He sings of the land of the Walking Breathing Dead — the land we all at one time or another inhabit, until the day we wake up and are willing to risk stepping outside our comfort zones. Until we risk speaking our truth, even though we believe disagreement equals rejection.

    Thanks for sharing this Ian. There is so much adaptation to be unlearned, so much essential essence to be awoken that until we hear the truth of what he is singing, we close our minds to the beauty and wonder of every moment. Your photo of the sign, I Need a Miracle — is compelling. miracles are everywhere, but when we live as the WBD, we can’t see them or feel them or even know they’re falling all around..

    PS. – As I was listening and reading his lyrics, I scrolled down the right hand bar of tunes, and found this one for you too —

  2. I think people know when their leaders are not aligned as well – I agree. We all have off days though, what would you recommend?

    A song that caught me off guard (I thought it was a love song!) Was In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins.

    1. I KNOW I have days where I don’t show up aligned. My only known antidote is to stop and deliberately centre myself. Even that can be easier said than done and when that is the case then it is necessary to do some introspection to find the root of the misalignment.

  3. Ian, you mentioned to Diana about re-aligning and balancing yourself. For me, one of the most graceful ways to realign is to say, I forgive myself. Breathe. and recommit. In the recommitment is the grace of knowing I can, and must, and shall, always begin again. Hugs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s