Five Leadership Lessons From The Godfather

March 1, 2012

Today Paramount and Cinemark are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of The Godfather with a one day showing of the iconic film in 55 Cinemark XD theaters. The movie is my all-time favorite (with the possible exception of The Godfather II). In honor of the anniversary (which is actually later this month), I offer these five leadership lessons from the film:

  1. You need a wartime Consigliere
  2. Just because some businesses might be OK for other people, they may not be right for you
  3. Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again
  4. Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.
  5. Make them an offer they can’t refuse

You need a wartime Consigliere

When Michael was plotting his revenge against the other families, he announced that he was replacing his own step-brother as trusted advisor: “Tom Hagen is no longer Consigliere. He’s going to be our lawyer in Vegas. That’s no reflection on Tom, it’s just the way I want it.” Then to Tom: “You’re not a wartime Consigliere, Tom. Things could get rough with the move we’re making.”

Loyalty, history and track record are important factors in keeping people on your team, but don’t confuse that with having the right people with the right skills and experiences in the right positions at the right time.

Just because some businesses might be OK for other people, they may not be right for you

When Don Corleone sits down with Sollozzo, who is seeking financing and political protection in order to expand  his illegal drug business, Don Corleone tells him: “…I must say no to you and let me give you my reasons. It’s true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn’t be so friendly if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling, which they consider a harmless vice. But drugs, that’s a dirty business.”

Banks buying brokerage houses. Brokers and investment banks getting bank charters. RIAs buying financial planning firms. None of these are necessarily bad ideas, but expand your offerings because it makes sense strategically, and because you are sure you can execute and understand the risks, not because it’s an appealing source of new revenue. If you’re simply looking for a new source of revenue, why not sell hamburgers?

“Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again”

After Sollozzo exits the above scene, Don Corleone tells this to his hot-headed oldest son Sonny, because he had asked a question of Sollozzo about his proposal.

In this era of social media communications and 24/7 open-source networking and crowd sourcing, remember to keep some things within the firm. That’s how competitive advantages are created.

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Experienced hit man Clemenza tells this to Rocco after he kills the traitor Paulie.

Know what’s important to keep close and what is expendable.

Make them an offer they can’t refuse

When Johnny Fontane come to Don Corelone for help in getting a movie role, he is worried that it is too late since the movie starts shooting in a week. The Godfather confidently reassures him: “I’m gonna make him an offer he won’t refuse.”

The old horse’s head in the bed routine is not recommended, but you should understand the currency that works for anyone you’re trying to influence– their wants and needs and worries. If you can help them, you may very well make them an offer they can’t refuse.


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