Five Leadership Lessons From The Godfather


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:

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 them 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.”

Credit unions buying fintech companies. Fintech companies getting bank charters. Banks and credit unions partnering with fintech companies to create new offerings. None of these are necessarily bad ideas, but expand your offerings because it makes sense strategically, and because you are sure you understand the risks and are sure you can execute.

Don’t do it 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, after Sonny had asked a question of Sollozzo about his proposal, revealing a potential rift in the family.

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

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Experienced hit man Clemenza offers this simple advice to Rocco after he kills the traitor Paulie along an abandoned stretch of highway.

The leadership lesson: Know what’s important to keep close and what is expendable. Sometimes it’s time to move on, and sometimes it’s time to hang on. Know the difference.

Make them an offer they can’t refuse

When the singer Johnny Fontane comes to Don Corelone for help in getting a movie role he covets, he is worried that it is already too late since the movie starts shooting in a week. The Godfather confidently reassures him that he will be able to influence the film’s producer: “I’m gonna make him an offer he won’t refuse.”

The old horse’s head in the bed routine is typically not recommended, but you should understand that dealing in the currency that’s important to the other party is the key to influence. Understanding their true wants and needs and worries. If you can help them achieve what they really want, you may very well make them an offer they can’t refuse.

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