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  • Joe

The sun was so bright, and the sky so blue, when I woke up today. But I knew today was going to be “one of those days” that are sprinkled throughout our lives. Kind of reminded me of a couple of other sunny, blue-sky days.


Like that Tuesday in September 2001. It was such a beautiful, sunny, blue-sky day. Coming off of a three-day weekend, I was scheduled to deliver a presentation to the Partners of my firm on future consulting opportunities. I was ready and loaded extra copies into my briefcase for the 9:00 am show.


My client was across the street from our corporate offices so that’s where I decided to start my day in my 46th-floor office. At 8:30 am, I got on the elevator downstairs to trek across the West Side Highway. The never-ending construction necessitated many large, steel plates that would do a good job of covering the holes but made unbearable banging noises every time a car, truck or bus would go over them.


I made it to our offices in the World Financial Center where my project team member met me with a nervous look. “Did you see the plane hit?” What the hell was he talking about?


We walked to the window and looked up at the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Smoke rising and debris falling contrasted with that sunny, blue sky. Our thoughts of a small private plane that lost control were quickly dashed with the explosion of another passenger plane hitting the South Tower.


We evacuated and started the long walk uptown. Stopping and staring in disbelief two separate times to watch those two beautiful towers fall. Never again would they grace that sunny, blue sky.


Over the next several weeks, the world felt like it stopped, and the end might be coming. And even though new priorities took the place of my presentation, the planes eventually took off again. And the Stock Market opened for trading again. And Baseball and Football were played again.


And that horrible time passed.


Or like that Sunday in March 2008. It was chilly, but it was also a beautiful, sunny, blue-sky day. It was a few days until my birthday, and I was in the midst of the best career project of my life. While incredibly challenging, it was the most rewarding effort I had been tasked with.


While reviewing organization charts of the new department in my living room, the TV was focused on problems at Bear Stearns. They were talking bankruptcy. By now in my career, I knew it was sometimes a fact of life that a company would go out of business, but this was different. Sure, there seemed to be bigger industry issues at play but, more importantly, my father worked at Bear Stearns.


Words like take-over, rescue and job-loss echoed through my head. My father was just as concerned but didn’t have any other information come his way than what we all saw on the news.


Then the news flash came that Sunday night. JP Morgan agreed to buy Bear Stearns for $2 a share. A sobering fact considering that the price of Bear Stearns stock was almost $140 a share, not even a year prior. A demoralizing fact considering my father’s retirement portfolio had a hell of a lot of Bear Stearns stock in it.


For the next several months, the world felt like it stopped, and the end might be coming as more firms, anchors of our financial system, either went out of business or were taken over as the only option they had left. And even though priorities meant my dad had to work for a few more years (at JP Morgan I might add), he was rewarded for his great work with an amazing retirement deal. And that, on top of the amazing returns he enjoyed as the financial system and stock market recovered.


And that horrible time passed.


Yeah, this morning was a beautiful, sunny, blue-sky day. The picture at the top is the view from my apartment. I had another great weekend with my kids but it’s not like we did very much.


You see, many of the places we would normally go to were either already closed or were making their preparations for closure. There wasn’t much food on the shelves at the store so we would have to make do with what we had. (I did have a box of brownie mix so that was a win)


So, we watched a lot of TV and were flooded with the news of more closures across all industries. I have resisted the urge to look at my own retirement account. I don’t need to view the results of a 30% drop in a week. The guidance from all of the experts is to basically stay indoors for two months, limit contact with others, and only venture outside for essential reasons (work, food, health). It feels like the world has stopped and the end could be coming.


This really seems like a horrible time.


But if I learned one thing from those other sunny, blue-sky days…….


It will pass.

June 27, 2002


One of the greatest amateur wrestlers of all time stands in the middle of a professional wrestling ring. An NCAA champion, a World Champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist, this wrestler is clearly on the shortlist of the best amateur wrestlers ever.


But he is no longer just one of the greatest amateur wrestlers. Now standing in the middle of a professional wrestling ring is one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. A WWE Champion, A WCW Champion, A World Heavyweight Champion, an Intercontinental Champion, a European Champion, a King of The Ring, a future WWE Hall of Famer, this wrestler is clearly on the shortlist of the best professional wrestlers ever.


A young, confident wrestler, bursting with skills and potential but untested and unproven, storms to the ring to challenge this accomplished, decorated and admired wrestler to a match. There are high hopes for this young wrestler but, not only will he will need to be able to prove his skills, he also needs to be accepted by the fans. In professional wrestling, if the fans don’t accept you, your future is bleak.


The young wrestler’s name is John Cena. And unless you have been living under a rock, you know he has not only been the face of his industry for the past couple of decades, but he has evolved into a major mainstream star of movies and TV.


It could be argued though, that none of that happens if June 27, 2002, is a bust. Sure, John Cena would display his skills, but would the audience accept him? That was the job of that great amateur and pro wrestler who was waiting for John to storm the ring.


That wrestler was Kurt Angle. On June 27, 2002, he was at the top of the WWE. He was at the top of his industry. He was one of its leaders. He needed to do his part to ensure the future of his organization. He had a job to do.


Kurt Angle’s job was to “put over” John Cena.


They fought hard and had the crowd captivated as the battle went back and forth. Kurt Angle took a brutal beating until finally scoring a pinfall and escaping from the ring, leaving John Cena standing alone. The crowd roared and Kurt’s job was done. The rest is history.


In professional wrestling, to "put over" someone means to make that person look good or otherwise encourage the fans to care about him/her. It is a job requirement of the industry’s stars and it often goes unnoticed as fans focus, as they should, on the person getting put over. Without putting over others, future stars are not built, and the company does not progress into the future. Being able to successfully put someone over is a critical leadership trait.


Today


A new age is upon us and all organizations, in all industries, are challenged with transformation like never before. Transformation of technology. Transformation of products. Transformation of regulation. Transformation of customer expectations and experience. Transformation of talent. New leaders will be necessary to take all organizations into the future.


Developing talent is widely known as an important competency for leaders to be able to demonstrate. Coaching and teaching others. Passing on the knowledge gained from years of experience. But just like in professional wrestling, if the rest of the organization doesn’t accept, then the future is bleak. While it's one thing to pass on knowledge to someone, it’s another thing to get others, especially the senior executives, to accept that someone as a key part of the future.


This is why your ability to effectively put over someone is a skill that makes you an even more effective leader than you already might be. Their skills and potential may be known and now you are helping them shine. You are helping to influence their acceptance as the future talent, and leader, that they may become. You are helping to ensure the future of the organization.


And to do that you are doing something that might not be easy for you. You are taking a back seat. You are putting someone else in the spotlight. You are giving others credit. You are not the focus.


You are a leader.


So, then the question for all you leaders out there is…….


Who are you putting over?

My oldest son came over the other night. He was at a crossroads with life and trying to figure out the best route to take. Not one to be caught up in the machine, like his dad and many others from my generation, he is trying to figure out his own, unique, fulfilling path.


And he’s pissed.


We talked about the things he thinks he wants to do; the things he thinks he wants to be. But we also talked about why all of this seemed to be taking so long. The uncertainty of it all was really taking its toll and he was tired of waiting.


“What are you waiting for?” I asked. My question was met with a blank stare.


“Waiting to get started or waiting for something to start?” Another blank stare. This father-son conversation was about to get deep. So, I poured us both a bourbon for this mental joyride we were about to take.


We went back and forth on all this time he believed he was wasting. I tried hard not to pontificate how I wish I was twenty-four again because, of course, I have all the answers now.


At about the same time the ice cubes started to rattle at the bottom of our empty glasses, we came to the realization that he really wasn’t even sure what the hell he was waiting for. Just that he wanted to be whatever he is supposed to be. Wherever he is supposed to be.


And he wants it all now. Not……Whenever it is supposed to be.


So, we talked about “the waiting”. And why it was so frustrating.


In this world of instant gratification, where we have information at our fingertips and can complete many of our daily tasks with a touch or a swipe, why does it seem like we are always waiting for something?


We wait for the water to boil. We wait for the mail to come. We wait for that project to finish. We wait for the kids to stop crying. We wait for the light to change. We wait for school to end. We wait for the week of vacation to get here. We wait for the flight to take off. We wait for the flight to land. We wait to get a text back. We wait to have that first kiss. We wait for ………you get the picture. We’re waiting for the waiting to end.


In Spanish, the word “Esperar” means to wait. To stay where one is. To pause. To delay. To hold back. To stop. To twiddle one’s thumbs.


No wonder we are all so frustrated. Esperar-ing sucks.


But esperar has another meaning - To Hope. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Longing. Yearning. Craving. Wow! I regret not paying better attention in Spanish class.


I talked with Joe about how I also can find myself frustrated with waiting for Something to Happen in both my personal and professional life. It’s not easy to start over at the midpoint. But there is also a lot of excitement. An excitement that I haven’t had in a very long time. An excitement that lifts me up and gets me going. A longing, yearning, and craving that makes the waiting seem much more palatable.


We talked about enjoying the time he is spending in the pursuit of his promised land. The excitement of knowing that during this time that he is spending, he is learning and discovering more about himself and molding the future self that he will be.


I poured another bourbon for the both of us (he was going to sleep over so it was ok). We wondered if we had just stumbled upon the answer to my question.


While he may not know exactly what he is waiting for, whatever it is, his promised land is most likely going to turn out to be exactly what he is waiting for.


And that waiting doesn’t seem so hard anymore.