Paul Butler | Whistle while you work 

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

I love singing, but for some reason, I don’t like whistling — there’s something about whistling that sounds like chalk scratching on a blackboard to me. 

I enjoy singing so much that I joined the choir at my church a few years back. There are about a hundred of us in the choir, and to my surprise, there are other parts besides tenors! I have come to love hearing all the different parts of the choir — sopranos, altos, baritones, and the real men they call “bass.” 

A few months ago, as we were lining up to head into service, the male tenors were standing opposite the bass section. Always one for a little light humor, I cast a line out to one of my bass friends, Randy: “Do you ever get the urge to come and join the cool kids and sing with the tenors?”  

Without missing a beat, he replied, “Not really — I prefer singing with the men!” 

Charming. The baritones can be a little subtler in their banter. My baritone friend Richard said I could join their section when my voice broke. 

During a recent rehearsal with the full orchestra, it dawned on me that the workplace is a lot like a choir and an orchestra. They are independent forces working together interdependently to provide wonderful service. In my mind, this equates to how organizations and their vendors can work together to provide a service or product to their customers. 

Just as we hear four parts in the choir, similarly, an orchestra is divided into four parts — woodwinds, brass, percussion and strings. Each of these elements is good to hear on its own, but they become truly great when they all work together to create an outstanding opus. So, four choir parts plus four orchestra parts give us eight functions in total. 

This is very similar to the eight essential functions we see within any organization: sales and marketing, research and development, information technology, finance, operations, maintenance, human resources and legal. These independent departments do good work on their own, but when they “sing and play” well together interdependently, they can sound great. 

During the past 18 years of consulting with organizations around the world, we have heard some wonderful “choirs and orchestras” at some clients and others, not so much. 

What I’ve found can make all the difference is the quality of leadership. The musical director of our choir and orchestra is a man of high character and competence. His name is Peter. He loves what he does, and it shows. He deeply cares about each of us. He has an amazing attention to detail. He starts and ends rehearsals on time. Peter ensures we take time to celebrate being together, whether it’s our birthdays, achievements, or seasonal gatherings — he keeps the glue tight between us. 

Therein lies the problem with most workplaces — they often have leaders who lack character and/or competence. Some leaders only care about their own rewards and don’t really care about other people. Few leaders want to celebrate the success of others. Most leaders lose sight of what their customers are hiring them to do. The vast majority of leaders cannot identify their own mission statement from a host of others, meaning they lack clarity on the purpose of the organization they’re meant to be directing. 

Maybe there’s something in the old adage of “whistling while you work.” I’ve come to realize that workplaces can create a wonderful opus for their customers by partnering well with vendors. By placing outstanding leaders at the top of the organizational chart, it can help orchestrate greatness across all departments. 

Interestingly, when I think about it, within truly great organizations we’ve served, I do seem to hear more people whistling and singing in the hallways and office areas. They must be tenors. 

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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