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Paul Butler: Talking workplace politics

Paul Butler

This week, I thought I’d keep it light and talk politics!

People are paying a lot of interest to what the politicians are saying or not saying and, even more importantly, what they do or don’t do.

Our decision on who to vote for is based on trust. Trust is easy to say but hard to do. Just those five letters make all the difference in which box we choose to check at the polling booth. We trust people based on two aspects — character and competence. Character is who they are and competence is what they do.

An article I read recently caught my attention about politicians that made me think of the workplace. The writer said: “Let us cease calling our politicians, ‘our leaders’ as they are not ‘our leaders.’ Those we select to govern are simply ‘our representatives’ — they are meant to honorably represent us domestically and abroad. If we’re unhappy with the job they’re doing, we switch them out.”

From my experience, I’d suggest there is a great union between what this author said and the most effective workplaces I’ve worked in or consulted with. In highly effective workplaces the leaders don’t see themselves as “leaders” — they see themselves as representatives of the organization. They don’t “govern” the people — they focus on bringing out the best of people to achieve organizational results.

Likewise, outstanding politicians in history bought the best out of people to produce results for the country. These “results” may have been, for example, navigating through a time of economic darkness into a more prosperous period of light. These “results” may have been to represent the country well during a time of terrorism and war.

Just like a country elects its politicians, the workplace chooses its own representatives. At the highest levels, the board of directors of a corporation chooses the executive-level representatives. If the board is not pleased with the results they receive, they address the issue and ultimately “vote” to make a change of representative. The same structure is found in private corporations, nonprofit entities and educational institutions — people make the decision on who represents them and who doesn’t.

At the lower levels of any organization, the employees choose whether to follow or not. If an employee is unsatisfied with their “superior,” most organizations have a mechanism (often called “the human resources department”) to speak up about the way the leader is leading. If the employee is not satisfied they will vote with their feet and therefore the organization loses the economic contribution from that worker.

The saddest situation I’ve observed is when an employee quits but stays. The person may stay but really they’ve quit. They could care less about their work and such individuals can be an albatross in the workplace. The root of the problem is the disgruntled employee is unwilling to follow the leader. See, if a leader doesn’t have followers they’re not a leader — they haven’t represented their people well.

Another aspect about politics and the workplace that fascinates me is the visceral response people seem to have toward politicians and workplace leaders. I have found that people either love or loathe certain politicians. Likewise, I have found people love or loathe their workplace representative. I rarely hear people say they think a politician is “OK.” I rarely hear employees say their supervisor is “OK.”

I’m no philosopher — I’m a recovering accountant but I think there’s no middle ground when it comes to whom we put our trust in. The concept is so close to our heart that it causes an innate response within us to love or to loathe.

There’s something deep down within our very DNA that doesn’t want to be judged, controlled or told what to do and when to do it. That’s why we squirm at the idea of tyrannical rule in this Great Experiment called the “United States of America,” which is also why we don’t respond well to bossy bosses.

May we always choose our representatives carefully and may we remain grateful we have the freedom to speak up about the way in which we’re led as a nation or within our workplace. If we’re a leader ourselves may we always represent our people well.

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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