Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed…In Corporate America

If Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed were corporate employees, who would win?

In 1976, the Oscar went to Rocky, the iconic film about a mediocre boxer with a huge heart, who is given the chance to fight the Heavy Weight Champion of the World, Apollo Creed. Apollo is known for his superior physicality, unbelievable speed, and self-aggrandizing showmanship. Rocky is awkward, slow and scrappy, but has an iron will and a jaw of steel. The film follows Rocky along his journey to overcome self-doubt and train for the fight of his life. In what I consider to be the thematic monologue of the movie, Rocky explains his definition of success to his girlfriend, Adrianne, the night before the fight:

“It really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head either. ‘Cuz all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed. And if I can go that distance, and seeing that bell ring and I’m still standing, I’m going to know for the first time in my life, you see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”

In case you don’t understand “Rocky speak,” Rocky’s interpretation of success is to make it to the end of the last round without having been knocked out by Apollo. His is not a mindset of glory or showmanship. He doesn’t want fame or fanfare. He simply wants to take as many punches as Apollo throws at him without going down.

Apollo has an entirely different definition of success. He is a fighter who wants to win by the glorious “KO.” His desire is to show everyone that he could easily beat Rocky, but is mercifully willing to let him put up a fight for a couple of rounds. In the end, the fight goes all fifteen rounds, and Rocky loses by decision to Apollo. It’s a personal victory for Rocky! Yet for Apollo, making it through to the end only to win by decision wasn’t good enough. And thank goodness for that—otherwise, we wouldn’t have Rocky 2!

Think about how differently Rocky and Apollo would approach corporate life. Here are a few ways their two mindsets would manifest themselves at work:

Apollo: Get to the top as fast as I can without regard for others. Promotion trumps relationships. Rocky: Build experience and relationships along the way; get promoted when I’m ready.

Apollo: I am smarter than my boss; I should have his job. Rocky: Regardless of how smart I am, I know that I can learn a lot from my boss to make me better at my craft.

Apollo: I need to look good in front of others to get promoted. Rocky: I need to become valuable by being helpful to others so they’ll want me on their team.

Apollo: I need to crush my opponents so they are not a threat to me. Rocky: I need to prove to myself that I can be successful. If others are successful too then that’s fine by me.

Apollo: I will sprint to the finish line. Rocky: I will pace myself and prepare for a marathon.

My money is on the Rocky Balboa’s of the world. I believe that a long, prosperous career is not about getting riches or glory early on. A career is not a one or two round fight that ends in a knock out; it is thirty year slug fest of hard work, ups and downs, good times and bad times. You are likely to have great successes and wins over the years, but you will also likely take some blows. The key is to keep getting up when others are staying down. Those who are willing to ‘go the distance’ are those who will ultimately win the corporate fight.

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