Paul Butler: Influencing others

Paul Butler

I was getting dressed in the locker room after a workout this morning and I noticed the guy next to me putting his dress pants on before putting on his socks and shoes. I thought to myself, “how odd” as it dawned on me that I always put my socks and shoes on before putting on my dress pants or as I would call them, “trousers.” Why do I do that?

Well, way back in my memory as an English schoolboy I can recall our sports coach barking out to us as young children: “Remember boys, S comes before T — socks and shoes before trousers boys. S before T boys. S before T.” And, so it stuck with me. My school sports coach some decades ago influenced me by his formal, explicit authority, as we obediently always did what our teachers told us.

Wind the clock forward a decade or so and I’m in the workplace and my boss would whack me on the back of the hand if he saw me holding a pen or a pencil while punching numbers into a calculator. He said I was more likely to make a mistake. Even to this day, I never hold a pen or pencil in my hand while punching numbers into a calculator. So, one of my first bosses influenced my behavior through fear — fear of having the back of my hand rasped. I’m not sure he’d get away with this in today’s hyper-sensitive and litigious workplace.

Nicholas was perhaps the best boss I ever worked for. He worked hard. He was diligent. He listened and he was always open to learning. Nicholas was good with people and seemed to genuinely care about those who worked for him and those he worked for. I never heard Nicholas bad-mouth a colleague or be negative about the organization kind enough to put money into our bank accounts on every payroll run.

What I most admired about Nicholas was the prioritization he placed on his marriage; his role as a husband and as a father to his three children. I asked him about this once and he said to me: “My wife and children will be with me long after all this has gone and faded away (referring to his work).” I can still recall his continuation: “I go to work to make money to do what I really want to do and that’s to celebrate my marriage as often as possible and have time and energy for my children.” So, Nicholas influenced me by his example.

Therein lies the paradox of influencing others — we may be able to get people to change behavior through explicit, formal authority. I put my socks and shoes on before my trousers even this morning, because someone barked orders at me and gave me a little rhyme to remember him by. We may be able to get someone to do or not do something out of fear. I don’t hold anything in my hand when using a calculator because I can still feel the pain of the punishment when I did so.

But here’s the thing — I don’t remember anything about the lives either of those two leaders. I just remember the orders given. I did what they said — nothing more and nothing less. Yet with Nicholas he made a sustainable difference in the way I work even to this day. His example as a husband and father at home became a directional compass for me. I followed his lead because he was someone worth following. He didn’t need to raise his voice to get things done or punish people for doing something they shouldn’t. I wanted my work to be pleasing to him because I admired him.

If you’re a leader of any sorts, choose your style of influencing others very carefully. The way I see it, you can bark orders; punish people or be an example. I’d suggest being an example is not only the best way to lead but also the only way to lead.

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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