Paul Butler: Travel lessons for the workplace

Paul Butler, Newleaf Training and Development. Submitted photo

Last week, I traveled to the other side of the country to facilitate a leadership retreat for a client.  

During the long journey, I had three experiences that turned into valuable workplace lessons, which I thought would be beneficial to share.

I had to leave home at 2:45 a.m. (Yes, I said 2:45 a.m.) on Wednesday morning to get down to LAX. I checked in, got my boarding pass and managed to get through security pretty smoothly. I took a seat in plenty of time waiting for my flight to be called and then heard the words none of us like to hear – “Your flight is delayed.”

What compounded my concern was the fact that I had a rather tight connecting flight to make — sure enough, I ended up missing that one. The rescheduled connecting flight (out of Dallas) actually took me to Chicago; and so I eventually got to my destination, Alabama, about seven hours later than planned. All in all, it was a very long and rather challenging 20 hours of travel.

Lesson learned: go with the flow and look on the bright side. Other passengers around me were getting uptight and very angry with the ground crew. I knew that none of this was within my control and so the best I could do was be as polite and as calm as possible. On the bright side, I got a whole load of work done in the airport lounges and on the plane.

It would be inappropriate to name the client, but I must give a context for you to understand lesson two from this trip. Our client, Company A, had taken over a major contract from Company B. My client had kept on some of the leaders from Company B.

During the retreat, I noticed two types of leader from Company B. The first type of leader I observed was very open-minded to the ideas of Company A — they wanted to make a positive contribution and acclimatize into the new leadership team. Yes, they voiced an opinion if they didn’t agree with the leaders from Company A, but it was easy to see how they wanted to be part of Company A. I have no doubt when I follow up in about six months, these types of leaders will be making a superb contribution into the new merged company.

Conversely, I also saw a different type of leader who used to be a leader at Company B — they were very critical of Company A’s ideas. I could almost sense an underlying resentment that they’d lost the contract. I’m not sure I’ll see these individuals at the implementation review in six months’ time.

Lesson learned: Change is the only constant. We have to be flexible, supportive and open-minded to survive in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. Yes, employers want you to have a backbone and voice an opinion, but they also want you to not get so stuck in the past that your new employer finds you frustrating to work with in the present and, therefore, doesn’t see you in their future.

My third lesson learned on this trip was how a simple act of selfishness may give someone a marginal level of satisfaction, but it can cause great discomfort and inconvenience for someone else. Yes, I’m talking about the recline button on the airplane seat.

Thankfully, this didn’t happen to me but rather the businessman next to me. He was working on his laptop making a positive contribution to the economy, and then the passenger in front of him did the deed — he used the recline button!

The marginal benefit this gave to the deed-doer was miniscule but the negative impact on the guy next to me was massive. He just couldn’t work on his laptop — those 1-2 inches cranked his machine so far down, he couldn’t see the screen. He gave up and watched reruns of “Seinfeld” on the plane’s entertainment system.

Lesson learned: We need to be very careful to ensure that something that gives us marginal benefit doesn’t cause distress to others around us — such as a colleague, a vendor or worst of all, a customer. The workplace is an interdependent construct — we’re individuals working together to create a common good. When we think and act independently in interdependent situations it can cause issues. Simply put, it can be very damaging to think “me” rather than “we,” when we are working with (or traveling with others).

So, there you have it — those were the three lessons I was reminded of while traveling to Alabama and back. I hope they’re useful.

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].


Related To This Story

Latest NEWS