JEFFREY TOBIN: Building a phantom regiment
I’ve worked in broadcasting in some form since I was in my teens, and I learned early on that one must always expect the unexpected.
It was the late ’70s at radio station WKST in New Castle, Pa. My best buddy from school and I had continued our close and wonderful relationship through college and into the broadcasting world at area radio stations.
We knew each other well. We were a team and trusted each other implicitly. We still do, even these many miles and decades later.
Dan Wolfe was live and on the air on a sunny Saturday morning. From atop a downtown building, he described for his audience a community parade as it passed by. I was back at the studio in the control room running the show from behind the scenes as Dan listened to the broadcast through his headphones.
“Here comes the high school band!” He described the view as the audience listened to the music. “And there go the WWII veterans all marching in formation.”
He heard the music of the bagpiper regiment grow louder as it approached the grandstand. But he could see no bagpipers. He looked up and down the street, but there were no kilts, no drum major, no drums. Nothing. Still, the music swelled in his headphones. How could this be?
Suddenly I heard an almost imperceptible chuckle in his voice: The little giggle of which I’d become so fond over the years.
Dan realized the music wasn’t coming from the parade at all; it was coming from the studio! I was playing a recording of bagpipers and carefully fed it into the mix.
Dan didn’t miss a beat. He described in great detail the approaching phantom regiment. The bagpipes, the colors, the regalia.
And off they marched into the mind’s eye of our listeners. There never really was a band, and no one was ever the wiser.
My little joke was not a test of Dan’s abilities, but an investment in trust. I was confident that Dan would manage the situation. He was able, and he handled the unforeseen with the panache of the consummate professional he was.
And we grew closer together both personally and professionally.
This week at my office, I similarly slipped a surprise project to one of our current employees.
Like Dan, she rose to the occasion, taking the project on as if it were her own. It was. And she didn’t miss a beat.
If you want to move your organization forward, first develop trust.
When trust is established, you can hand off responsibilities that express that trust.
In this way, a test of skill is no longer a test; it becomes an empowerment — an empowerment for personal and organizational growth.
“Handing off the bagpipers” to an employee is a gift. It’s a gift that makes everything stronger: The employee, your relationship and the organization.