By Steve Adubato, PhD
Like so many fans of The Godfather movies (I and II, but definitely not III), I find myself quoting Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic masterpiece in numerous situations. In fact, I have often said many of the challenges I have faced as a leader can be looked at or put in context by scenes or quotations from The Godfather. I explore these lessons in my new book, Lessons in Leadership.
Here are a few:
-- “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” Many leaders, whether the head of a large corporation, a baseball coach, or a hospital CEO, gravitate almost exclusively to people we get along with and like. It’s natural. It’s human nature. Yet, in The Godfather, Don Vito offers valuable leadership insight by reminding us to never assume that our “friends” or those we simply like will stay loyal or supportive. Further, there are times when it is essential for leaders to stay connected to their so-called enemies. By engaging them and interacting with them, we have the potential to neutralize their animosity toward us by finding common ground and areas of agreement or mutual interest. In addition, in a constantly changing world where mergers and acquisitions are the norm and not the exception, your so-called enemy today may very easily wind up being someone (because of market forces) you are forced to be friends or colleagues with tomorrow.
-- “Never tell anyone outside the family what you’re thinking.” This is what Don Vito told his outspoken and often volatile son, Sonny Corleone, who had a habit of saying whatever came to mind in meetings with other organized crime families and associates. It’s an important lesson about leaders having discretion, being disciplined, holding their tongue at critical moments in meetings and public situations, and not simply blurting out whatever they are thinking. Now, I’m not advocating that leaders never put their cards on the table or speak candidly and openly with others. The key here is that leaders can be candid, direct, and honest while remaining disciplined, diplomatic, and selective in how they share information.
-- “You’re not a wartime consigliere.” This quote is about Tom Hagen, Sonny Corleone’s stepbrother, at a critical moment in The Godfather as it becomes clear the Corleone family is about to engage in a violent war with other organized crime factions. Under these conditions, Sonny (the de facto leader of the Corleone family at this point) concluded that the situation required a different type of advisor: a “wartime consigliere.” While Tom had been a loyal soldier and a smart advisor, he lacked both the skill and the temperament to effectively perform in this role. Sometimes, difficult decisions must be made regarding whom to put in certain positions and whom to remove in order for the organization to succeed. The well-rounded leader understands that loyalty and dedication – while extremely important – are not the totality of what is required in certain positions at certain times. Rather, skills involving strategic thinking, temperament, personality and a range of other factors are highly relevant and must be considered.
So, while The Godfather is largely about illegal criminal activities that are clearly deplorable, it also shares relevant Lessons in Leadership about family, loyalty, business, competition, and how human beings interact and deal with each other in difficult, challenging and complex situations.
NOW...YOUR TURN: For Godfather fans, what was the most powerful "leadership lesson" you took from this epic cinematic masterpiece and why? Click Here to share your thoughts.