Paul Butler | Follow the leader

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

I’ve been reminiscing a lot recently and my mind took me back to the schoolyard and to the games we’d play. One of our childhood games, which I am sure was, and perhaps still is, enjoyed by children around the world is: “Follow the Leader.” Let’s go way, way back into our schoolyards — do you remember this one, too?  

Players would first choose a leader or “head of the line” and the remaining players (the followers) all line up behind the leader. The leader then moves around and all the players have to mimic the leader’s actions. Any players who fail to follow or mimic the leader are out of the game. When only one follower remains, that player then becomes the new leader, and the game begins anew with all players joining the line once again.  

These memories stirred me to think about the workplace and the principle that the best way for a leader to influence others is by example. We hope the leader leads by being a good example as we all know countries, workplaces and even families that have fallen apart when the leader sets a bad example.  

Along this same line, I was contemplating the example the late Queen Elizabeth II set, as the leader of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms between 1952 until her recent passing. Without a shadow of doubt, she has been an incredibly positive influence in the world for seven decades and yet, I am concerned about who will follow. One only has to do a cursory review of those who came before her in the royal line and the present performance of those in her own family line, to be reminded that the follower doesn’t always emulate the leader, even if they’re a good one. Why is that? 

In a similar vein, I worked for the Hilton Hotels Corp. for many years both internationally and domestically here in the United States. When I was based at what was their worldwide headquarters in Beverly Hills as the director of financial and marketing services, Baron Hilton was at the helm — the second son of the company’s founder Conrad Hilton. I greatly admired Baron from a distance and actually had the honor of meeting him and working alongside him on a project. I followed his good lead. He must have learned a lot from his father, just like I learned much from mine. But, Paris Hilton, err, not so much. Why is that? 

Whether we’re discussing a childhood game, a royal lineage or a business dynasty, what prevails is human free will. Just as a child can choose not to follow the leader in the schoolyard, a succeeding monarch may make different choices to his predecessor and likewise, the granddaughter may not lead like her father and grandfather did. 

One of the consistent principles I’ve observed within workplaces around the world is what I call the “Mostly Mini-Me” phenomenon. Allow me to explain. When a leader exhibits attributes such as self-control; is solution-minded; is focused; has a high degree of work-life balance; is of service to others; believes in others; is kind to others; celebrates success in others and has humility — most of their direct reports will replicate what they see and hear from their leader. I say, “most” because some won’t, but the majority will follow the example set. 

I have also found the converse to be true. When a leader is irrational, negative, unfocused, stressed-out, self-centered, doesn’t trust others, micro-manages, has no time to say “thank you” and “well done” and gets their identity from their busy-ness and lords it over others — most of their direct reports will replicate what they see and hear from their leader. I say, “most” because thankfully, some will exhibit free will and will walk a different path in how they work with others. 

Leadership is indeed a privileged position and may each of us who are given the noble, honorable responsibility to have formal, explicit authority over others lead well so that our example will be followed, for the betterment of our customers, colleagues, vendors and investors. 

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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