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OWNER'S MANUAL

What Pro Wrestling Can Teach You About Business

Behind the spandex and the melodrama of those WWE matches, there's solid business advice. Seriously.
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There’s a professional wrestling term—please don’t ask me how I know this—that you should apply to your business.

Pro wrestling is scripted and the outcomes of matches are pre-determined, so in large part the writers control how spectators perceive individual wrestlers: If I beat you, I must be better. If I become the champion—even though I’m only the champion because a writer decided I should be champion—I must be the best.

Plus the wrestlers themselves dramatically impact how the crowd perceives a competitor. Say you and I are wrestling and the plan is for me to beat you. If I dominate you, shrug aside your feeble attacks as a nuisance, and emerge victorious without breaking a sweat, the crowd will naturally assume you’re a terrible wrestler. If I “sell” your punches, kicks, and holds, make it seem like you’ve inflicted real damage, and in the end barely pull out a victory, the crowd will naturally assume you’re a great wrestler.

In wrestling terms I can “put you over”: I can, through words and actions, show others you are skilled, capable, and deserving of respect—and bask in your reflected glory.

You have the same power with your employees and customers, but it’s easy to lose sight of that ability when your primary focus is on crafting a professional image, building a personal brand, or just protecting your turf.  Entrepreneurs are especially vulnerable to hogging the glory, since early on a small business is a reflection of its owner and its success often depends on the owner’s skill at building a reputation for knowledge and expertise. Once learned, standing in the spotlight is a really hard habit to break.

But it can be done. Many of your employees and customers deserve to be “put over.” It’s easy; for example:

  • Instead of leading an implementation meeting, turn it over to the employee who spearheaded the project. Don’t be tempted to somehow include yourself in the introduction; just say, “Next week we’re rolling out our new admin system, so Jason will walk you through the process. Jason?” Everyone already knows you’re in charge; the fact your employees get things done reflects well on you.
  • Instead of blogging about your company’s success, talk about a customer, but don’t make it “salesy.” If a customer has done something smart, share it. If a customer has taken a different approach to an old problem, share it. Don’t write, “Wow, this is awesome,” posts. Write, “Wow, this is really useful,” posts. Put your customers over and the fact you work with such smart, savvy people reflects well on you.

Next time, put someone else over. They win—and so do you.

 

Last updated: Nov 28, 2011

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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