A Leadership Lesson from the Wrestling World

I’m not going to name names because it’s not important. You can fill in the blanks on your own, or go read Bluegrass Brawlers. I’d rather you look beyond the names, though to learn something about leadership.

A certain independent promotion was offered the chance to become the training ground for a national wrestling promoter. The opportunity had a huge upside for the tiny promotion: more money, more prestige, better talent, and big names. Soon the tiny wrestling promotion was filled with new students, all of them under contract to the bigger promotion. These new stars became an integral part of the weekly touring, television tapings, and storylines, and the little independent promotion flourished.

But there was a problem in the relationship between the big promotion and the little. Before long, a man at the corporate office began calling the man in charge at the little promotion and saying, “We need Wrestlers A, B, and C on the road this weekend!” The man at the little promotion would tell him, “Wrestler A is our champion, and B and C are in the main event of a show we’ve been promoting this weekend!” The man in the corporate office said, “I don’t care! These are OUR wrestlers, not yours, and we need them!”

You see, the man at the big corporate office hundreds of miles away never kept up with the action at the little promotion. He didn’t watch the show. He didn’t know who was a heel and who was a babyface. And you know what? He didn’t care. The man at the corporate office only cared about his own problems, and he didn’t care if solving his problems made trouble for the little promotion.

I’ve come to see that a lot of organizations end up like these to wrestling companies. Leaders and directors and bosses become so distanced from the action, they forget what it’s like to interact with customers and employees at ground level. They see their spreadsheets and flowcharts. They don’t see how their decisions impact lower managers, or employees. Or customers.

A good leader never forgets where he or she came from. They welcome the opportunity to be reminded of their roots. They take the time to look up from their computer screen, to go back to the beginning, to listen to the people doing the work.

Just a few thoughts for anyone who aspires to be a truly great leader.