the Band Came to Town
by Carol Ross, Carol Ross and Associates, LLC
This summer, the circus did not come to town. The band did. I
live near a local park with a large baseball field. My bedroom
faces in the direction of the park. So when I heard a disciplined
but funky rhythm outside my bedroom window early one Saturday morning,
it brought back memories. Memories of being in a marching band,
of being something larger and greater than I could be by myself.
It turned out to be a drum and bugle corps
from Alabama, practicing before a competition that night in Denver.
Over one hundred college-age
musicians and performers, their fit, tan bodies attesting to the
many hours of practice in the sun. Water jugs scattered everywhere.
And gleaming silver horns of all shapes and sizes. I looked on
with joggers, mothers with toddlers, and bicyclists who had formed
an impromptu audience. The director of the band, megaphone in hand,
was sitting high on two-story scaffolding, temporarily erected
for the rehearsal. His conductors were on the field, keeping time
for the rest of the band, including the “Pit”—percussionists
of all sorts who remain stationary for the entire program.
And as I watched the rehearsal, I was in
awe of the sound that I was immersed in—the solidity of the brass instruments,
the creative rhythms of the Pit, the purity of a soloist piercing
the hot July air. The volume changed with the movements of the
band until I was hit head on with the full power of heartfelt playing
in unison. And as the color guard, with their changing flags, created
a visual shuffling of waving cards, I wanted to dance with them
as well. The director goaded the band on with “It’s
got to be your best” and other sayings. And at one point,
he talked about their “product” being the emotional
experience that they were giving the audience.
raced through my mind. What could motivate these students
to rehearse for eight hours in 95 degree weather, under
the relentless Colorado sun, miles from home? What could
I learn about organizations and leadership from this experience?
Questions raced through my mind. What could motivate these students
to rehearse for eight hours in 95 degree weather, under the relentless
Colorado sun, miles from home? What could I learn about organizations
and leadership from this experience?
And the more I observed and listened, the more I understood.
• Giving immediate, meaningful feedback.
Band directors have a funny way of giving feedback. They are
direct. You either
are or you are not in alignment with the rest of the band. 6 inches
off and you stick out like a sore thumb. Half a second makes a
big difference in a musical entrance. So with bullhorn in hand,
the director gives his feedback, high up in his eagle’s nest
of shiny scaffolding. He clearly sees and hears what’s happening,
both the good and the bad. What would our workplaces look like
if our project managers, department heads, and CEOs could see so
clearly and give such immediate, meaningful feedback?
• Expressing honest appreciation. At one point in the rehearsal,
the band director paused. He thanked the group of college kids,
half his age, for all their hard work. And then he said simply, “This
is a thrill for an old guy like me.” When was the last time
you heard your boss say that? When you are asking employees to
pull out all the stops, it’s not enough to say that the customer
needs it or the company needs it. What people yearn to hear is
that someone they know, someone they care about, is thrilled by
the work they do.
• Creating alignment. Where does a band get their tempo
and beat from? This band had several conductors on the field, all
perfectly in sync. The percussionists followed these conductors
like their life depended on it (or at least their next performance
did) and the rest of the band then took their lead from the percussion
section. Here was a system where everyone was motivated to play “follow
the leader” in the area that was critical to the well-being
of the organization—keeping time perfectly. Does your organization
have a similarly well-thought out system of creating alignment
in the areas that matter?
• Setting a target. At different points in
the rehearsal, the band director would remind each person to
mark their spot with
spray paint. This gave each person a target to shoot for in rehearsing
that section of the program. If everyone made their target, the
resulting configuration was stunning for both the eyes and the
ears. Do your employees have an easy way of targeting where they
need to be to create stunning results for your business?
• Acting as a community. It amazed me how
this group of over 100 students could tumble into and tumble
out of my life so
quickly and completely. Not as individuals, but as one entity.
They came and went as one. Even on their lunch break. Each person
was a part of something larger and somehow, they were connected
together because of it. Does your work environment give employees
a sense of being a part of something larger?
• Exhibiting pride. Clearly, these college
students were experiencing the pride in following a shared vision
a common goal. Everyone did their best because it mattered. Mattered
to themselves, to their team members, and to the audience. No amount
of cajoling could take the place of the internal motivation that
is created through pride. How proud are you of the work you and
your co-workers produce?
• Providing an emotional experience for the
customer. My neighbors and I were mesmerized as we watched this
I wanted to dance, to shout with glee. The experience was stirring
something inside of me. They had achieved their goal of creating
a lasting emotional experience for the audience. When was the last
time you could say the same about your work for a customer?
As the group packed up, ready for the short drive into Denver to
show their stuff, I knew that I had been a part of something
special. Within thirty minutes, they were gone, without a trace,
their gear stowed away in a large moving van, and their weary
bodies enjoying the air conditioning of the chartered coach buses.
I never heard how they did at the competition. But it didn’t
really matter. What they had to give to the world was enough
on that field that hot Saturday. I would hear their music, see
their pride, and feel their excitement, long after they had left
We learn not just by observing or reading, but by doing. So on
Monday morning, whether you are the director on the scaffolding,
or the field conductor keeping time, or part of the marching faithful,
be a part of something larger. Create the music, discover the pride,
and feel the excitement that comes with great organizational performance.
Carol Ross, founder of Carol Ross and Associates,
LLC, is an organization development consultant and executive coach
with 19 years experience in the telecommunications and energy industries.
By integrating her analytical skills to approach problems and her
intuitive understanding of what is meaningful to workers, she helps
transform low morale, high stress workplaces into creative, energetic
environments. Learn more at www.carolrossandassociates.com.