Paul Butler: Don’t phone it in

Paul Butler, Newleaf Training and Development. Submitted photo

Even after living here for 14 years, I still hear American English phrases I don’t understand.

Just this weekend, I heard someone say: “Don’t just phone it in.”

I’ve come to understand this translates into English English as: “Don’t be half-soaked.”

See, being “half-soaked” is much clearer than “phoning something in.” The late Sir Winston Churchill once said: “We are two countries divided by a common language.”

I wonder why some people at work “phone it in” and some people “go the extra mile.” Why do some people do the bare minimum at work and others always give maximum effort? I’ve come to believe it’s because there are essentially three types of people at work.

Type 1 people have what I call a “strong personal constitution.” What do I mean by “strong personal constitution”? Well, rather like how organizations have a mission statement, (which is meant to be their “why” or as the French say, “raisen d’etre”); I’ve noticed effective individuals have their own reason to work well. It is as if there’s a compass — a true north you could say, guiding them throughout their day, regardless of what happens around them.  

I remember working with a Type 1, called Gordon. It was almost as if he was serving a higher purpose and wasn’t swayed by the ups and downs around him. Gordon was perhaps the most noble, honorable and hard-working individual I’ve ever worked with. He was a superb direct report to me and an outstanding supervisor of others.  

Type 2 workers are tossed about by the winds of the workplace. Such individuals take their disappointments of yesterday into today and push them into their tomorrows. Type 2’s are reactive rather than proactive. They can be quite militant in the way they see their work — thinking everyone is against them and that management is out to get them.  

Type 2’s are in a constant state of worry and fear. They rarely if ever change their internal soundtrack or look out of a different window, through which to see their world. There’s an old phrase: “Misery likes company” and often Type 2 people will feel most comfortable with other Type 2’s — choosing to align with other negative people around the coffee pots and water coolers of the world. If leadership doesn’t step in, Type 2’s can poison the operating system of an organization.

Type 3’s do choose to “go the extra mile” but only when they’re treated well. They differ from Type 2’s because they will alter their behavior and level of engagement based on how they’re treated. Type 3’s will engage as long as they are constantly pampered, which can take many forms. They respond to leadership that gives them plenty of autonomy and who ask their opinion regularly. Type 3’s like having ping-pong tables in the middle of the open-plan office area and a running buffet of snacks in the break room with beanbags and game stations. They work better when work is like a playground.  

When I think back about Gordon — I don’t think he would have changed his quantity or quality of work based on how nice the environment was around him. He didn’t strike me as a, “ping-pong” kind of guy and he preferred bringing in his own packed lunch as I recall.

Maybe I am looking at the workers of the world too simply but I do think there’s some truth in the paradigm that suggests we see three types of employees — Type 1’s such as Gordon; Type 2’s, which in my opinion need to be replaced as soon as possible, and Type 3’s that need constant stimuli to stay engaged.

As I think more about the compass that called Gordon, I do think that little French phrase “raisen d’etre” concisely summarizes his way of seeing life. See, “raisen d’etre” means: “The most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence.” I came to know Gordon outside of work — funnily enough, a group of us once cycled from London to Paris together.  During those five days of cycling I asked him in my schoolboy French about his “raisen d’etre” and I’m eternally grateful he shared it with me. It changed how I see the world.

The working world needs more Type 1’s to positively influence Type 2’s and to encourage Type 3’s to actually get stuff done.

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].

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