Paul Butler | What’s Your One Word

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

Recently a client of ours shared with me the final question they ask during interviews: “What’s one word you’d use to describe yourself?” 

The client asked me this question and after a few seconds, I responded rather flippantly with the word “dude.” I wish I could wind the clock back as I realize this isn’t the word that best describes myself in service to our clients. I tried digging myself out of the hole I’d dug by explaining that the word “dude,” to me, summarizes my love of California, but I felt my efforts were futile. “Dude” wasn’t the word that would have got me the job offer if I was being interviewed as a potential employee. 

As I’ve ruminated on that insightful question, I wish I’d have answered with the word, “love.” I love the work we get to do for our clients. I can honestly say, if there weren’t bills to pay, I’d do what we do as a staff training and leadership development company without seeking payment. I’d like to believe that our clients can see and feel the love we put into all we do. What I like about the word “love” is that it’s both a noun and a verb. At best, our work can be love made visible. 

How about you? What’s your word? What’s the word that best describes yourself and that you’d offer to an interviewer if asked? 

Although I do like this question, a still small voice inside me wonders why some employees fall away from such great aspirations within a few short weeks or months of actually starting a job. What is it that can cause Caring to become Cynical? What changed in Selfless to become Selfish? How all of a sudden did Bubbly become Bitter? 

No one, when asked to describe themself in an interview, is going to use a negative word. An interviewee would always use an attractive adjective. So, what causes some of those attractive adjectives to morph into nasty nouns or vicious verbs?  

During my workplace travels I’ve met both positive and negative employees — those whom I’d categorize as assets or liabilities depending on which side of the balance sheet their attitudes drove them. But, I’m always left wondering why do some remain as positive as they were during the interview and, therefore, are truly an asset to the organization? Sadly, why do some become so negative that the organization becomes concerned about the liabilities they may face from negative, unproductive or unprofessional behavior? 

Is it as simple that one person told the truth in the interview and now demonstrates this to be true each and every working day? What they said they were, they are. Conversely, is it simply that another person told a lie in the interview? They used a word they wanted the interviewer to hear but in time, their true colors came out. What they said they were, they weren’t. 

I’m not sure it’s as linear and logical as this.  

Caring can become Cynical; Selfless can become Selfish and Bubbly can become Bitter due to a number of life’s twists and turns if not kept in check. I’ve noticed that when someone has a strong internal compass (by knowing whose they are and who they are), they’re able to stay on the right side of the balance sheet. As Helen Keller, the late author, disability rights advocate, political activist and lecturer who was blind and deaf, once said, “I keep my face to the sunshine and then I don’t see the shadows.” 

I wholeheartedly believe that great leaders also have a noble, honorable responsibility to create a workplace culture that brings out the best in people. Sometimes such a leader may even need to lovingly encourage Cynical, Selfish and Bitter to remember who they once were and can become again. Peter Drucker, the late management theorist, once said, “A leader has the responsibility of bringing out the better angels within people.” 

So, what’s your one word? 

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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