10 Lessons In Leadership From Don Corleone

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Brian Halligan
Brian Halligan



I watched The Godfather this weekend. Don Corleone was quite clever about how we was able to influence people and get things done. Here are a couple of his leadership best practices:

woman presenting in a meeting and showcasing her leadership skills
  1. Different Strokes for Different Folks -- He was perceptive about the right way to motivate people and he used the right method with the right people. He would use fear to motivate some people (i.e. the undertaker), he was very respectful of some people (Luca Bracci), and he gave others a swift kick in the pants (i.e. Johnny Fontaine).
  2. Two Ears and One Mouth -- He always listened carefully and did not do too much talking. He'd occasionally ask for clarification, but he never interrupted.
  3. Decisions, Decisions, Decisions -- His role was to listen, think, and make decisions. He did not ever "do" anything in the movie, but made lots of decisions and delegated the actions efficiently. Good managers are factories for good decisions.
  4. No Happy Ears -- After getting the bad news from the movie producer that Johnny Fontaine wouldn't star in his movie, the consigliere responded that he needed to leave immediately and fly home because the Don insisted on hearing bad news immediately . As an old manager of mine once said, "bad news doesn't get better with age."
  5. Emotionless Decisions -- There are numerous times in the movie where emotions could have influenced his decision, but in every case he made a dispassionate business decision.
  6. Only the Paranoid Survive -- Toward the end of the Godfather, the Don goes over and over how Michael (his son) will likely be targeted/assassinated. The Don was paranoid and had a high attention to detail on important matters.
  7. Keep Your Word -- The Don was no saint, but when he said he was going to do something he did it, always keeping his word. That way, when he promised to do something (i.e. not take vengeance on the killing of his son Santino), it was believed by all involved without question.
  8. Action Reaction -- When he thinks about what to do, he always thinks about the reaction of all the constituents in an almost system dynamics like fashion. For example, when they asked him to fund a lucrative drug practice, he said no because the judges/police who were on his payroll would no longer support him if he entered a "dirty" business like drugs, as opposed to gambling and prostitution which his constituents thought were harmless vices.
  9. Quid Pro Quo -- As on old boss of mine from PTC used to say, "never do something for nothing." The Don did "favors" for folks all the time, but let them know their time would come for return a favor.
  10. Good Knowledge Management -- During every meeting, he had his "consigliere" with him taking notes and action items to ensure nothing fell through the cracks.

Of course the Don used one more tool to great effect -- fear. He was a cold blooded killer who had set some harsh precedents. HubSpot is not condoning that type of thing, but some of his other practices listed above are pretty smart.

Topics: Leadership

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