Episode Nine: Road to Wrestlemania

Welcome to season two of the Leadership Suplex.

After a two year hiatus we’re bringing back our musings on the more thoughtful side of professional wrestling. This is a catch-up episode where we reset our philosophy of this podcast and make a significant announcement about our future.

We’re still getting reverified by iTunes. We’ll update the link soon.

Episode Eight: This Is A Work

Most podcasts go over six months without recording, right?

As the Doctors of Doom get back into the swing of things, the pressing topic is the business of WWE. How has the brand split affected the company's bottom line. We're not going to lie: it's a lot of industry talk, but there are some relevant leadership concepts that we observe as the industry changes.

Some links from this episode:

Just a few Chris Jericho quotes to whet your appetite 
That NY Times article about WWE Network from last April
Watch the Miz increase his brand on the mic outside the ring
Did he say retrench?

Episode Seven: Plot Twist

In this episode, we discuss the implications of the Roman Reigns suspension. How should leaders react when faced with a crisis in their organization? We apologize in advance: we had some microphone issues on this podcast. Instead of trashing it, we decided to give it to you as is.

Some links from this episode:
Hulk Hogan Vs. Nick Bockwinkel
Proactive Vs. Reactive Leadership
You must PIVOT sometimes
Start Up podcast
Black Swan book

Episode Six: And You Can't Teach That

In this week's episode, we have a great verbal sparring match over the teachablility of leadership: are great leaders born or taught? Plus, we get to talk about the most refreshing addition to the WWE line-up: the tag-team partnership of Enzo Amore and Big Cass. We're keeping leadership conversations from going SAWFT.

Mentioned in this week's episode:
Enzo and Big Cass entrance ("And you can't teach that")
Anders Ericsson and Deliberate Practice
R. Kelly's I Believe I Can Fly
Malcolm Gladwell Outliers
The Freakonomics Podcast
Richard Hughes' book on Leadership

Episode Three: Five Lessons From Smackdown

In this week's episode, we look back at our experience at WWE's Smackdown Event which aired on March 17, 2016. What leadership lessons can be extracted from this spectacle? We give you five things that are applicable to all sizes of organizations.

Some links from the show:
Enhancement Talent
Seth Godin on Disruptive Leadership
The rated-R popularity of Deadpool
Dean Ambrose's Cincinnati
Donald Trump and the WWE
Terry Funk interview
Hacksaw Jim Duggan monologue

Substance Over Styles

by Steve Carr

We’re neck-deep in the era of self-promotion. Virtually everyone alive has a project in which they want you to invest. Whether it’s a crowdsource opportunity or a podcast (yikes), we’re inundated with people shilling themselves or their creation as the next big thing.

AJ Styles IS WWE’s next big thing—except that he’s already been a thing for awhile now. Even though he was just recently introduced to the WWE audience, Styles is well-known to TNA and Ring of Honor fans. What’s working against him is Father Time; he’s already in his late thirties and will likely see a drop off in skills in the coming years. It’s very apparent, however, that he still has the ability today to draw people in. He’s on a path to getting over.

So if he's so good, why did it take AJ so long to get to the WWE? I'm going to say that it's because his mic work was lacking. You can't underestimate how important the way a wrestler handles the microphone impacts their success. The very best—Flair, Hogan, Savage—were defined by their monologues. So if AJ doesn't self-promote well, how is this guy positioned to get over? A couple of reasons:

1. Substance
Even though modern professional wrestling is known for glitz and glamour, Styles brings a technical acumen to the ring. He’s been doing this for years, which is why he has an underground swell of support from wrestling purists. People will tolerate poor communication skills in exchange for unparalleled competency. In this day of self-promotion, this should give us hope that there’s still space for those who aren’t slick. Look at Bernie Sanders as a political figure: he doesn't come across as prepackaged; he’s your cranky uncle. He’s the antithesis of style but he’s gaining popularity with people who are sick of hollow words. I’m not sure if Bernie is really any different than any other politician, but he has a substantive track record that’s carrying him through right now.

This lesson is applicable beyond wrestling and politics. If you want to make it today without having to endlessly retweet your endeavors, be substantive. Build a robust resume or create projects that are so prolific that they don’t require horn-tooting.

2. Support
One guy who had no issue with working the mic was Chris Jericho. Maybe you’ve been puzzled by the whole Chris Jericho/A.J. Styles plot line; it’s the new Ross/Rachel of the WWE. But I have to give it to Jericho here because he’s positioning himself to put Styles over. At this point in his career, Jericho understands that he no longer has the skills to deliver as he did earlier in his career. So he’s determined to use his work to advance another wrestlers and, in my opinion, it’s working. And, ultimately, this makes me like him even more. If Styles is going to be successful in the WWE, he’s going to owe Jericho a lot.

Again, there’s a lesson here: instead of focusing on promoting yourself, find a partner you can elevate. This usually ends up being a symbiotic relationship that will further the both of you. So you get to see someone else be successful and you don't come across as egocentric. Supporting someone else is a better option than self-promotion.

Episode Two: Is It Real?

In this week's episode, we dive into the topic of authenticity: what makes certain wrestlers and politicians popular? There's something that Ric Flair and Donald Trump have in common.

Some links from the show:

Bubble Soccer?
Andy Kauffman and Jerry Lawler on Letterman
John Stossel regrets asking if wrestling is fake
The 1975 plane crash (note: some foul language in article)
Triple H is really a softie
Example of kayfabe today: Ambrose & Lesnar
Marco Rubio trying to be authentic

Respect My Authoritah?

by Aaron Burgess

On this week’s RAW, Triple H had a segment where he gave a "speech" on authority. In case you didn’t know, he belongs to a faction in the WWE referred to as THE AUTHORITY.

In his speech, he made a point about the natural instinct we all have to follow authority. Triple H talked about how everyone has an authority figure in their life that they don't challenge because they're afraid. He said that fear of authority is not a bad thing; it's actually what keeps order. He said, "nature provides you with this fear so you will know your place in life." He then decreed that Roman Reigns, the WWE’s number one title contender, should have honored that fear of authority, know his place, and respect the authority of the WWE hierarchy.

What Triple H actually touched on here is an interesting area of research in leadership studies. The research is actually not so much about leadership, but about followership—how we have a natural tendency or instinct to follow authority. Studies in leadership, psychology, and neuroscience have confirmed that compliance with authority is the default setting in our brain. For instance, children as young as three months old follow the eye gaze of their parents. Even dogs naturally follow with their eyes, pointing their head to their owner.  Click here to see an experiment I did with my dog last year. Watch how he naturally follows my pointing. This was the first time I did this with him and sure enough he followed my every point.  

If you don't buy into this theory about compliance, conduct this famous experiment: stand in a busy shopping area and stare silently at the sky. Eventually someone will stop and follow your gaze.

This was an experiment conducted in 1969 by Milgram, Bickman & Berkowitz and sure enough they got people to look into the sky. Dr. Jay Kidwell, a professor and colleague of mine at Cincinnati Christian University, refers to a study known as the Solomon Asche Line Study (1958). It’s a well-known study demonstrating the power of authority figures and our tendency to want to comply with authority.  

What are your views on authority and our tendency to comply with authority? Is Triple H right?

Started From the Bottom

by Steve Carr

Digital technology has transformed the way the world works. For example, when I grew up, wrestling was synonymous with Saturday morning cereal. Today, the WWE network provides unlimited access to the product.

The sheer pace of change makes it difficult to keep up to date, even among the best and brightest.

I’m teaching a graduate course in our seminary on how churches need to adapt to the transitioning culture. One of the textbooks I’m using is To Change The World by James D. Hunter. Published in 2010, it’s well-written and deeply analyzes how culture continues to transform.

In last week’s assigned reading, the author included several propositional statements about culture, such as “Culture is a resource and, as such, is a form of power,” and “Culture is generated within networks.” Yet one of the propositions caught my eye (even though I overlooked it in previous readings). It stated,

“Cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up.”

This textbook was published in 2010. That’s not that long ago. Although that might have been true, then, I can’t see it now.

Right about the same time this book was written, Daniel Bryan began to emerge in the WWE. His recent retirement has shown that he was the definitive outsider; he’s a quirky. Look at the pantheon of wrestling greats and he’s the odd man out. But his ascendency to immortality was not top down. It was the WWE fans who made Bryan into an icon, transforming his “no” chant into a “yes” that, in time, permeated popular culture.

It's this bottom-up, fan-based movement that is causing Vince McMahon and the company today. The preconceived notion of wrestling hero is no longer spoon fed by WWE, but must be affirmed by the fanbase. No matter how talented Roman Reigns is, no matter how much he “looks” the part, he can’t handle the mic and the fans aren’t buying it. Why do you think at this week's Raw, Triple H, the ultimate heel, was pushed by fans to continue his bloody assault of Reigns? For the WWE to escape it’s current funk, they’re going to have to listen to the chatter on Twitter and Reddit to determine plot lines.

But this is what makes professional wrestling interesting: how do you keep a more nuanced fanbase coming back for more? Although I'm definitely interested, bringing Shane McMahon back into the storyline reeks of desperation and still doesn't solve the issue.

Today, culture can definitely start from the bottom up.

And that's why Dean Ambrose is the next big thing.

About the podcast

We live in a time where people are passionate about leadership and learning. There is an endless stream of resources for students of power and influence.

Few, however, dare to approach, how leadership intersects with the world of professional wrestling.

Or maybe no one was stupid enough to attempt it.

That's where we step in.

This site is the home of our podcast Leadership Suplex. First broadcast in 2016, we produce content to help think critically about leadership, wrestling, and current events.

We're mashing together two great worlds. It's never been done before. It's about time.
-Steve Carr and Aaron Burgess

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