As a child of the 80’s I grew up on a healthy dose of the World Wrestling Federation. The WWF was in its heyday and characters like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Andre the Giant, and my favorite, Hulk Hogan were at the top of their game--and they were everywhere.
Wrestling blew up in the 80’s and as it did the characters became caricatures--big, larger than life giants who wore a costume and had a gimmick. The matches were televised, often on Pay-per-view and they all follow the same formula. In between the matches, they would cut away to an interview and that's where “Mean Gene” did his work.
Gene Okerlund was the WWF’s straight man. In a world of over-the-top and extreme, he was the man in the suit with a mic. His job was to help make the wrestlers shine. Whether they were trying to be a hero or a villain, he helped them create their character in style. “Mean Gene” wasn't a star wrestler, but he helped create dozens of stars-- and in doing so, became a star himself.
Last week, I was sad to read that Gene Okerlund had passed away at the age of 76. In one of the articles that I read about his passing, the reporter had interviewed Hulk Hogan (arguably the biggest star in the wrestling universe). Hogan said that “Mean Gene” was the best partner he’d ever had.
I thought that was interesting. “Mean Gene” and Hulk Hogan Never wrestled each other. They weren't ever tag team partners in the ring. But, as Hulk Hogan looked over his career, “Mean Gene” had helped him become an icon.
There's a lot that leaders can learn from “Mean Gene.” He was a celebrator. He used his platform to highlight and spotlight those that he worked with. Top leaders will become stars because they create stars. As you lead, think about what you can do to highlight your people. Think about ways you can help your people excel and win and you’ll be amazed how wins come your way as well.
“Mean Gene” Okerlund is a wrestling legend, A WWE Hall of Famer, and he got there by helping others reach their highest potential. As one ESPN contributor wrote, “He never tried to steal the spotlight, and as a result, the spotlight always seemed to find him. The best leaders will do the same as they become their stars by creating stars.