One of my all-time favorite writers, Bill Simmons* of ESPN, credits Rocky Balboa for ending the Cold War by defeating Ivan Drago in Rocky IV . The thought is intriguing. Communism began its decline very shortly after this movie’s release.
I watched Rocky IV for the 200th time over the Thanksgiving holidays. I was astonished by the allegorical similarity of Rocky’s one-man disarming of the Russians and the unique battles we face within the Talent Management industry .
During this particular viewing, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
The final step that links my other theories on change in to a circle of progress. The Trinity of Change is complete. Rocky IV is the answer.
To the importance of, and proper arena in which the 3rd step applies, it is advisable to revisit the initial goals for change - the disposition of the proverbial “Woobie”. Secondly, the ability to understand that change requires the ability to “Turn” whenever needed to achieve goals, thus eliminating obstacles.
Rocky IV closes the loop for us by illustrating the necessity to stand your ground, and stick true to what you believe in – even in the most impossible of situations.
Professional flexibility is often the byproduct of a team that works together as a singular, rational, reasonable and adaptable unit. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Often the target of our endeavors does not materialize due to inflexibility or unwillingness to change.
The lesson here is to be aware of these situations, and when necessary, be prepared to lace up the gloves and duke it out.
This is especially true in the fourth installment of the Rocky Balboa. Here we see a mature, self-actualized version of our hero, recently retired from boxing. He appears comfortable with his station in life.
Unfortunately, his former nemesis, now best friend Apollo Creed is not as content. Apollo convinces Rocky that he needs one more run at glory. He feels the need to return relevance, and supplant his status as one of the greatest ever within a culture that only wants the “now” thing.
Apollo bites off much more than he can handle, quickly finding out that genetically engineered, 7 foot boxers from Russia are a different breed of opponent. During their match, Ivan Drago serves up a case study in how not to approach a challenge. Unfortunately, Apollo is used as the example, and promptly finds himself “written out of the script” early in the film.
What did Apollo do wrong? Everything.
He did not plan
He did not change his approach (Now Turn!)
He wore his shorts from Rocky II (Woobie Alert)
Apollo’s posthumous contribution to this story is an illustration of the importance of knowing your enemy before going in to battle. In recruiting terms, this is relevant to situations where an attempt to “out-pretty” somebody, or intimidate with the glitz and glam of a well-tailored suit and a few choice buzzwords fails miserably.
Choosing style over substance and a severe lack of planning are key ingredients in the perfect recipe for disaster.
Lucky for us, our industry does not use the loss of a close friend as a motivational tool for taking on new challenges. We are faced with these every day. They come in the form of new clients, hiring managers, unruly candidates, corporate hurdles and the joys of bureaucracy.
The challenges we pursue are based on the assumption that we know how to reason, can demonstrate the ability to adjust to unique situations and to adapt to the needs of our clients.
In many cases, this still leaves us short of our goal. The thing that needs to adapt and embrace the new situation is often on the other side of the table. The best way to approach this conundrum is to ask yourself, “What would Rocky do?”
The answer is simple. Rocky would challenge the 7 foot tall, chemically enhanced, unstoppable Russian Boxer to a sanctioned fight.
On Christmas Day.
Rocky realizes that in order to make things right, and inadvertently end the Cold War, the Drago Challenge must be dealt with directly. He internalized the need to take this challenge because he believed that if successful, he could create a global balance of power favoring neither “Us” nor “Them”. He wanted to prove that there is a better way. One where competition and partnership can exist harmoniously.
Does this hit home at all? If not, please read on.
In the theater of your mind, picture the following as I attempt to tie this all together:
You are a great recruiter. You have been remarkably successful, earning kudos and accolades throughout your career. A new client comes to the table with an amazing opportunity. This is a career changer. The final hurdle needed to establish yourself as the most credible, reliable and superior resource in the Talent Management marketplace.
Your first assignment with this client requires that you execute an extremely difficult search, but under the guidance of a very difficult hiring manager. You quickly find that this person’s prime focus is not set on finding the best hire for the job. Rather, he uses the need to hire as a tool to reinforce his intellectual and professional superiority, thus declaring no candidate worthy of this opportunity. Each candidate you send is spot-on, yet he jettisons them from his inbox like throw-away sparring partners with a devastating combination of roundhouse questions and nitpicking jabs.
Whether this is the result of insecurity or an unrelenting desire for domination is of secondary importance. The reasons “why” should never be your primary focus. This holds true whether you are dealing with something as big as nuclear-era, global politics or as small as placing a junior level accountant.
In evaluating this challenge, you see where previous attempts fell short (Apollo), set your eyes on the end goal.
How does Rocky confront this situation?
He leaves the creature comforts of his safe zone behind.
For a recruiter, this could require the abandonment of things like twitter, LinkedIn and heaven forbid “this site” (not encouraged) and go back to the basics of using the Yellow Pages or a company org. chart that someone happened to “find”.
While your opponent trains in a cutting edge environment, using the most advanced equipment and performance enhancing drugs – you are staying true to the basics.
You move to Russia. Immerse yourself in your foe’s element.
You lift rocks. Lift carriages filled with your wife, trainer and drunken brother-in law. You lift even more rocks.
You train in a barn, using the most simple tools and objects to build mental and physical strength
You even scale the highest mountain in the land with no equipment. You have to yell from the top that you are worthy and that you will not stop until the proper recognition is earned.
This is how you prepare yourself to emerge victorious in this battle of wills.
And after all of that, you still have to fight the good fight.
As recruiters, we often find ourselves living on an island. This is one of only a few vocations in which you receive heat from a minimum of 4 separate entities (maximum = undefinable) while completing a single task.
Pressure comes from Delivery Managers. From candidates. From client HR partners.
Most of all, it comes from hiring managers.
Rocky finds himself in the same situation as he enters the Russian Boxing Arena. He is wildly unpopular, deemed unworthy by a population who knows nothing about him. He is the quintessential government mule, a whipping boy whose sole perceived purpose is to provide entertainment to the masses by being pummeled relentlessly.
Rocky’s strong-will and superior conditioning motivate him to face the challenge head on. He takes the beating of a lifetime, but strategically returns the favor at optimal times. To even his amazement, he finds the ability to endure more punishment than he thought possible. He begins to feed off of it. It makes him stronger.
As Drago continues to wail away, he becomes tired. At the same time, the crowd begins to see the extent of punishment as unnecessary, over the top or just plain cruel. Rocky feeds on this as well. He is winning them over.
He senses this as Drago’s punches begin to carry less power. They are still angry, but now they are misdirected. This exposes a weakness and Rocky capitalizes on it immediately. This is where you “cut the Russian”.
Rocky proves that his opponent is mortal, not a machine. He proves that he is just another man. Collectively, everyone in attendance is cut from the same cloth, inherently meant to co-exist in a harmonious and balanced manner.
Drago does not reach this level of actualization, and continues to fight until the last blow takes him down. Rocky has the resolve and fortitude to sustain himself until victorious, toppling the immovable object.Defeating Drago represents Rocky’s ability to meet and exceed the expectations of the collection of doubters.
Rocky is the hero. He is the true agent of change. He did not achieve this by simply satisfying a personal need for glory (although it does feel really good). By never backing down, working hard and seeing things through to the end, he earns the respect of the naysayers, teaching perhaps the most valuable lesson of all.
I’ll let Rocky take it from here:
During this fight, I've seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that's better than twenty million. I guess what I'm trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!
* I admire Simmons’ work with the utmost sincerity. I make every attempt to avoid duplication of any of his theories or ideas. But I can’t help it if we like the same movies. I hope my musings are deemed original in thought – as well as material.