Leaders have to manage reflecting what their people are feeling, thinking, and saying, WITH leading what their people are doing, reaching for, and internalizing.
Angelo Cataldi, Philly sports talk radio legend, embodied this balance. On one hand, he had to be the ultimate Philly sports fan to hold his community together. On the other hand, he had to be the figurehead of the community at large, in order to keep driving progress (and engagement, because that’s how a career works!).
Here are a few of his hits – for mixing reflection with leadership:
Honk for Herschel: In 1992, Philly needed a running back and Herschel Walker was rumored to be available. Cataldi told his listeners to all honk their horns at pre-coordinated times so Herschel and the Eagle’s management could hear the community’s support.* Herschel came to Philly from 1992-1994.
McNabb got boo’d (and Cataldi got banned): Then Philly Mayor Rendell took Cataldi and 30 Philly fans to the NFL draft in 1999 to urge management to sign Ricky Williams. When the team announced their signing of Donovan Mcnabb instead, the 30 Philly fans got very Philly and famously boo’d. Very loudly. Very publicly. Cataldi got banned from attending the draft. Mcnabb went on to become a (broadly embraced) Philly football legend. Part of leadership is knowing when what you’re reflecting is changing.
The Wing Bowl: When it became apparent, circa 1993, that the Eagles would never make it to a Super Bowl, Cataldi and his partners came up with an event fans could gather and celebrate unique to their city – The Wing Bow. Before eating contests became popular, the radio show would gather, at first a few hundred people, and later a crowd in the thousands, for a buffalo wing eating contest on the Friday before the Super Bowl. Everybody needs a reason to party.
Leading a community takes work, and especially, it takes balancing when to reflect and when to lead. Check out Cataldi’s interview on The Press Box and think about it this way while you’re listening.
*when Herschel came on the radio show, they played him a recording of cars blaring their horns and told him about the campaign. He was impressed. As Cataldi later confessed, however, the recording was a fake. Yes, they asked people to honk, but they didn’t have the microphones or any way to record what happened. They played it for Herschel to get a reaction, and they did.