Did I Just Become Captain of the Titanic?

by Russ Hill on April 8, 2013

I took the job because it provided me a much bigger stage.

Some thought I was crazy.  But I saw opportunity.

I was trading my position of second in command at the number one news station in Salt Lake City for the top job in the newsroom of the formerly dominant, but now hemorrhaging KTAR in Phoenix.

I viewed it as my chance to be the architect of a turnaround.  It would be the ultimate entry on the top of my résumé.

But then reality hit.

After a few months on the job the ratings came out.  I printed them and closed my office door and began to devour the documents.  I studied every number.  And, it hit me.

I had made a terrible decision.

I had traded a lounge chair on the Love Boat for the captain’s seat on the Titanic.

I suddenly felt panic.  Real, and intense fear.

This place was a mess.  And there was no way my bosses were going to give me the time it was going to take to change that.

The numbers on the ratings report started to fade.  Instead I saw the face of my wife who had just delivered child number three.  And the house we just paid an enormous amount of money for.  And my son who had to say goodbye to his friends because of my new job.

On the outside I smiled.  But inside my stomach cramped.  And I was paralyzed by fear.  And doubt.

A few days into my despair my boss asked me to meet him in his office.

I was too new to be fired.  Or so I tried to reassure myself.

I walked past his assistant and into his secluded chamber.  And closed the door.

He told me to sit down and then asked, “what is wrong, Russ?”

“What do you mean?” I shot back.

“You haven’t been yourself these last few days.  Something seems to be bothering you,” he said.

I quickly debated whether honesty was best here.  And decided to go for it.

“I’ve been looking at the ratings.  And I guess it finally hit me how huge a job this turnaround project is going to be.  I’m not sure you and corporate really understand this is going to take years, not months.  And, frankly, I’m very worried about that,” I said.

I stared at my feet.  I knew the best leaders don’t show fear and never admit doubt.

“Can I tell you something, Russ?” he asked.

“Do you know what we’re running on right now?  Do you know what’s keeping this place moving… what’s keeping money coming in right now… and keeping your people working hard even though the ratings are terrible?” he questioned me.

“No,” I said.

“You.  Your enthusiasm is keeping this place going.  Your energy.  Your vision of what we can be, of where we’re going, of what the future holds for us.

I hired you in part because of your swagger.

I don’t care about the ratings right now. What I care about is that you keep that swagger.  So, pull yourself together and get back out there and lead us to where you see we have the potential to go,” he said.

And in a moment my life was changed.

I had just heard a most profound sermon.

We all have those moments of fear.  Of doubt.  When we’re paralyzed by the odds.  When we’re consumed by just how far we are from where we’re trying to go.

In those moments our stomachs tighten.  Our doubts threaten to overpower us.  And we wonder if quitting isn’t really the easier option.

We all have others depending on us. Our employees. Our kids.  Our siblings.  Our friends.  Our parents.  Our spouses.

Sometimes the only thing keeping them going is our swagger.  Our confidence.  Our strength.

And in those moments it’s up to us to keep pushing forward.  For them, we must keep moving even when we feel like giving up.

Thanks, Erik Hellum, for the pep talk I will never forget.

Oh, and by the way, our team reached its goal.  We built two of the highest rated news and sports broadcast properties in the country and the two highest local revenue generating radio stations in all of Arizona.

And, to think I almost gave up.

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