Paul Butler: Whistle while you work

Paul Butler, Newleaf Training and Development. Submitted photo
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I love singing, but for some reason, I don’t like whistling — there’s something about whistling for me that sounds like chalk scratching on a blackboard.

My brother-in-law whistles a lot, and I have to bite my tongue when he visits. The problem is, my wife frequently now whistles — I guess it must be in their DNA. Whereas her family must have been whistlers, mine were more singers.

I love singing so much I joined the choir at my church. There’s about 100 or so of us in the choir and to my surprise, there are other parts than tenors in the choir!

Who knew a choir comprised of different voices? I have come to love hearing all the different parts of the choir — sopranos, altos, baritones and the real men they call “bass.”  

A few months ago, we were lining up to head into choir and the male tenors were standing opposite the bass section. Always one for a little light humor, I cast a line out to one of my bass friends, Randy: “Do you ever get the urge to come and join the cool kids and sing with the tenors?”

Without missing a beat, he replied, “Not really — I prefer singing with the men.”


The baritones can be a little subtler in their banter. My baritone friend Richard said I could join their section when my voice broke. Oh, the burden us tenors must carry for the higher good.

During a recent rehearsal with the full orchestra, it dawned on me the workplace is a lot like a choir and an orchestra. It’s a beautiful creation to hear a choir and orchestra working so well together. They’re independent forces working together interdependently to provide a wonderful service. In my mind, this equates to how organizations and their vendors can work together to provide a service or product to their customers.

Whether as an employee or now as an entrepreneur, I can fully appreciate how vendors can become true partners, to ultimately be of service to the customer.

Looking at the choir, we essentially see four parts — tenors, the sopranos, the altos and the basses, which include the baritones, although many of them can sing the tenor parts. Likewise, an orchestra is also essentially divided into four parts — woodwinds, brass, percussion and strings. Each of these elements is good to hear on their own but they become truly great when they’re all working together to create an outstanding musical opus.

This is very similar to the eight essential functions we see within any organization.   We need sales and marketing, research and development, information technology, finance, operations, maintenance, human resources and legal.

These independent departments do good work on their own but when they “sing and play” well together interdependently they can sound great.   

During the last twelve years of consulting with organizations around the world, we have heard some wonderful “choirs and orchestras” at some clients and others, err not so much to be blunt.

What I’ve found can make all the difference is the quality of leadership. The musical director of our choir and orchestra is a man of high character and high competence. His name is Peter. He loves what he does and it shows. He deeply cares about each of us — even the bass section.  He has an amazing attention to detail. He starts and ends rehearsals on time. Peter ensures we take time to celebrate being together whether it’s our birthdays to cheer or our seasonal gatherings — he keeps the glue tight between us.

Because of Peter’s leadership and our focus on being of service to each other and our higher purpose, I believe we do some wonderful work.

Therein lies the problem with most workplaces — they often have leaders who lack character and/or lack competence. Some leaders only care about their own rewards and don’t really care about other people. Few leaders want to celebrate the success of others. Most leaders lose sight of what their customer is hiring them to do.  The vast majority of leaders cannot identify their own mission statement from a host of others — meaning they lack clarity on the purpose of the organization they’re meant to be directing.

Maybe there’s something in the old adage of “whistling while you work.” I’ve come to realize the workplace can create a wonderful opus for their customers by partnering well with vendors.  By placing outstanding leaders on the podium at the top of the organizational chart it can help orchestrate greatness across all departments. Interestingly, when I think about it — within truly great organizations we’ve served, I do seem to hear more people whistling and singing in the hallways and office areas. They must be tenors.

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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