Learning to Lead from Rocky III

As anyone over the age of twenty should be able to attest, the greatest four minutes of cinematic history lie in the heart of Rocky III. After a brutal defeat at the hands of James 'Clubber' Lang (do names get any better than 80s character's monikers?), Rocky must dedicate himself to training under his new coach (and former rival) Apollo.

Thus begins a beautiful, four minute training montage, showing Rocky struggling, growing, progressing and finally beating his trainer in a series of challengers.

© Stevemcsweeny | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
© Stevemcsweeny | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

This segment is crafted in a way that illuminates two important facts about humans - we love to know we are progressing, and we love to work towards something meaningful. This may sound simple - but research from Teresa Amabile (Professor of Business Administration from Harvard University) has revealed the pertinence of these two loves.

Over the course of a decade, Teresa and her team recorded electronic diary entries from 238 professionals in seven different companies. These entries recorded each person's psychological state for the day, as well as describing one significant event that stood out for them. The results are eye-opening - with over one third of the 12,000 diary entries showing the writer to be unhappy and unmotivated.

As employees are much more likely to be creative and innovative when they are experiencing positive emotions, Teresa analysed the entries to discover what was the biggest factor in creating happy, engaged employees. The result was what Rocky knew all along - if the employees were making progress in meaningful work, they were the most likely to be happily engaged.

Unfortunately, this research also revealed the enormous disconnect between this fact and managers' actions. Future research by Teresa involving 669 managers showed that "Supporting Progress" was the least important employee motivator to them. Over 90% of the managers did not realise that making progress in meaningful work was the most powerful motivator for employee engagement.

If you are a manager, then I strongly recommend reflecting on your actions around your employees and the methods you enact to motivate them. In what ways do you support (not micro-manage!) your employees progress? How do you acknowledge the small wins and also remind your employees that each step is making a real difference towards the end goal? Does your language and your actions reflect the importance of your work? Are you creating meaning for your employees in their day-to-day experiences?

It is sobering to think that a manager's actions may have more of an effect on decreasing creativity, motivation and happiness than they may realise. On the flip side, it is exciting and freeing to recognise your new actions may have a greater ripple effect on your employees' lives, happiness and productivity than you could imagine!

So take a lesson from Rocky. People love to know they are progressing, and they love to know their work is meaningful. Start identifying and supporting these two loves, and see what transformation may occur.

And hire out Rocky III. You won't regret it.