Paul Butler | Winning Talent

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

I was driving home recently and realized I’d let my battery die on my cellphone and I didn’t have my charger. I normally listen to podcasts while I’m driving and so I figured I’d just listen to the radio instead and boy, was that a blast from the past. 

I’d forgotten how dreadfully out-of-date radio is. Why, with all the technological advances, does radio always sound so bad? What’s with all the crackling, fuzz and distortion? When I eventually did find a station that was reasonably audible, I had to suffer the opiniated and over-animated DJ spouting an egotistical monologue that only three of his silent audience were interested in — Him, Himself and He.  

It sounds to me that radio is so similar to many of today’s mediocre workplaces. Whereas radio struggles to attract and retain listeners, many out-of-date workplaces are fighting a losing battle in the war for talent. 

Just like radio: If workplace leaders are not crystal-clear, talent will tune out. Just like how crackling, fuzz and distortion can frustrate a radio listener; a mission that means nothing to nobody and a vision that does very little, will not engender the hearts and minds of talented employees.  

In their book, “Built to Last,” authors Jerry Porras and Jim Collins reported that organizations that stood the test of time had humble leaders — men and women of fine character and impeccable competence. Conversely, their extensive research found that organizations that implode, get acquired or simply fail, were most often led by egotistical individuals who were bent on their persona. They were the “Radio DJs of the Workplace” who eventually lost their audience, when investors and employees saw through the facade and realized there was nothing more than a jingle or two behind their mask. 

What I love about podcasts is: I can listen to them when I want, and where I want. I can pause and pick up later. I choose what I want to subscribe to. Conversely, radio still has shows like “drive-time” radio, which are so out of sync with today’s working world. Fewer people are driving to and from work each day and if they do, their “drive times” are different based on their own schedule. 

This all made me think about the challenge leaders are having in their desperate pleas to get their employees to commute; sit in a cube; work solidly for eight hours; commute home and repeat for five days a week. Many talented employees no longer want to tune in to that program. The commute and the cube just aren’t an absolute for so many people today.  

I listened to a very senior leader recently, who was bemoaning this trend of “telework” — a phrase in of itself that seemed dated. She said there was often no-one but her in the office, reporting that she misses the camaraderie and bustle of people being around her. I asked if productivity had dropped. I asked if labor turnover had increased. I asked if team morale had dropped. After some musing, she answered with three reticent “noes.” I respectfully held up the mirror to her and she came to realize her frustration was more to do with her way of seeing the working world for the last 40 years more so, than seeing different ways of doing things right here, right now.  

Talented people have plenty of choices and part of that is choosing how, when and where they want to work — choices that lead them to who they want to work for and who they don’t. 

If my cell phone battery ever dies again and I don’t have my charger, I think I’ll just enjoy the silence rather than tuning in to a distorted DJ rambling on about nonsense no one wants to listen to anymore. Likewise, I believe the vast majority of employees (whose job allows it) will continue to only listen to leaders worth following and will continue to decide their own drive time if they even want to drive again to work at all.  

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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