Paul Butler | Idolizing leaders

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile
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Most men in gym locker rooms don’t talk much. I break the mold as I love listening to and chatting with people. My wife says I’d be in better shape if I spent less time socializing. 

Just this morning I was chatting with Steve — he’s probably in his early 60s and a fine swimmer. I was asking him about his love of swimming and in casual conversation he mentioned he once swam in a house pool in Newhall when some friends had the late Brian Epstein over. I’m like, “You swam in a pool as a kid right here in Newhall, with the late, great Brian Epstein — the manager of The Beatles?” 

Steve added some more detail to the story, yet in a very casual way. He was perhaps 8-9 years old and the family of one of his childhood friends had some connection with the music industry. The family figured it would be a nice break for Brian from all the craziness surrounding The Beatles’ first tour in America. 

I thought of all the questions he could have asked Brian. Hey, he may have been able to meet The Beatles in person or see them in concert! I said: “Dude, you missed out!” Steve didn’t see it like this — he was just a kid swimming in the pool and some adults were talking about things he didn’t care for, nor understand — all basking in the California sunshine of the early 1960s.  

This small but big story set me thinking about how we tend to idolize seemingly great men and women, especially in the workplace. 

I like Apple products — let me correct that: I LOVE Apple products. Since I went to Mac, I’ll never go back to a PC. What I can’t get my head around is how some people idolize the late, great Steve Jobs as if he were some kind of technological deity. Yes, he sure was a brilliant visionary but I’ve read many articles about how he was a dreadful boss. He had a hyper-demanding nature and a tendency to micromanage, long before we probably knew what the term meant. 

When I first came to America it was to work as the director of finance at what used to be Hilton’s headquarters in Beverly Hills. Baron Hilton was still working a 40-hour week in an office on the floor above me. Baron is the son of the founder of this corporate giant — Conrad Hilton. I remember how my colleagues used to idolize Baron, as if he was the god of the hospitality industry. 

What is it about our human condition, especially in the workplace, where we have a tendency to idolize others — be it Brian Epstein, The Beatles, Steve Jobs or Baron Hilton? I’ve noticed how employees will often worship a leader — it’s almost as if our humanness is bent toward looking for someone to follow. Only when that leader falls from grace or quits, do we switch our attention to the next person to lead our team or organization. It reminds me of that phrase: “The king is dead — long live the king!” 

Upon reflection, I like the vantage point my new locker friend had — he was just a kid, having fun in the sun while some big, important people talked and talked.  

What a great way of seeing the workplace, too: Enjoy what we do because leaders come and leaders go. Some talk much more than they actually do. Some are good people and some are not. Either way, let’s not idolize them. 

As Steve the swimmer said this morning in five words: “The Beatles were just people.”  

I could only think of three words to respond with: “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”  

See, men in gym locker rooms don’t talk much. 

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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