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  • Writer's pictureJoe Colaizzo

A Leadership Lesson.......From Professional Wrestling

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.


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?

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