Paul Butler | Workplace lessons from the gym 

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

I primarily hit the gym due to my love for food. Skipping the gym results in me becoming an undesirable larger version of myself! But humor aside, I’ve always cherished health and fitness.  

Nearly 32 years ago, my wife and I met at a gym, and now we’re pursuing the long-term goal of running a half-marathon in every state. She enjoys running, while I savor eating, so we’ve concocted a plan to run and eat our way through every state— sounds like a win-win! 

Recently, during an intense cycling class at my gym, I pondered why I admire the instructor so much. It struck me that it’s the simple things she does: starting on time, not indulging in excessive self-talk, possessing a deep knowledge of her subject, radiating enthusiasm for her job, infusing fun into the class, and always wrapping up on schedule. 

Imagine if every employee in every workplace adhered to these straightforward principles: punctuality, efficiency, expertise, enthusiasm, kindness and meeting deadlines. 

As I ruminated on this further during the warm-up, I was reminded of two fundamental workplace principles I’ve found to be undeniably true. 

Firstly, all organizations are essentially volunteer organizations. Why do I say this? Because individuals choose how much of themselves to invest. Human beings consist of four dimensions: body, heart, mind and spirit. In the context of work, the physical dimension (the body) shows up for a paycheck. Most HR departments cease depositing money into your bank account if you don’t show up.  

However, the other three dimensions are volunteered. The heart reveals one’s passion for their work. The mind represents their contribution of innovative ideas to enhance processes and service. The fourth dimension, the spirit or soul, can inspire individuals to “make a difference” or “leave a legacy.” 

Secondly, our motivation to excel stems from within. Organizations invest considerable time and resources in crafting mission statements, visions, values, and external motivators. Many executives believe that a clear mission, vision and values bring out the best in employees. I concur based on our experience at Newleaf Training and Development, where we’ve conducted leadership retreats worldwide.  

An organization functions optimally when it possesses a meaningful mission, an ambitious vision, and a set of honorable values. Conversely, a lack of these components, or having a meaningless mission, no vision and generic values, is detrimental. 

While gasping for breath and wiping sweat from my eyelids during that cycling class, I observed that our instructor’s motivation emanated from within. She voluntarily delivered her best, displaying an unwavering commitment to her work. I’m confident she doesn’t require a corporate mission statement to jumpstart her mornings. It’s as if she has her internal mission statement, her “why.” On rare occasions when she shares about herself, it’s evident that she enjoys a fulfilling marriage and deeply loves her children. 

This brought to mind Dan Baker’s work in his groundbreaking book, “What Happy Companies Know.” Baker’s research indicates that “happy people” lead to “happy employees,” which in turn create “happy companies.” While I appreciate his book, I’m not fond of the word “happy” as it seems somewhat superficial, transient and conditional. Instead, I propose the word “joy” to describe our instructor as my calf muscles threaten to give out. She exudes joy in her work, implying a personal compass unaffected by external factors. Perhaps, just perhaps, this level of inspiration indeed derives from something beyond oneself. 

My philosophical musings came to an end as the class concluded. To think that I voluntarily signed up for this ordeal! I had certainly worked my body over the past 75 minutes, but my mind, heart and spirit also absorbed profound workplace principles. As life returned to my lungs, my final thought was, “Do I have time to grab a bagel on the way to the office? 

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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