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Guest Commentary: Lessons From The Godfather (So, Listen Up)

“The Godfather gave us all a lesson in knowing your competition, and how to lead from a position of strength,” writes Dr. John Passante.

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John Passante is a broad-based senior executive with over 30 years of extensive organizational development and senior human resource experience with progressive corporations involved in multiple locations, both domestic and international.

My father was born in Sicily, making me a first-generation American. It comes as no surprise then that my favorite movie is the epic film “The Godfather.” The film’s main theme is family – who can argue with that?

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To quote my father, “John, always remember, that blood is thicker than water.” Family!

In a sense, employees often times feel that their work environment is an extension of their family. The fact is we all spend more time at work than we do at home. “The Godfather” teaches about having clear goals, responsibilities and accountability to each other. And, the family requires total trust!

“The Godfather” can be best described as a focused decision-maker, an executor (no pun intended). He garnered respect and steadfast leadership and was action-oriented. His leadership style is best expressed by: “La Famiglia,” the idea that “The family that works together, stays together.” Mutual accountability, supportive relationships and family first. Is there a sense of “togetherness” in your organization?

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Do your key functions – operations, manufacturing, distribution, sales, marketing and human resources – “feel” like a corporate family and have each other’s back? Do they network both internally and externally for the good of the cause?

“The Godfather” gave us all a lesson in knowing your competition, and how to lead from a position of strength. He was a skillful negotiator. In fact, he made compelling offers his competitors could not refuse. He was a role model of leadership confidence! Don Corleone was a good example of concise communications and being cool under fire. He chose his words very carefully and listened to the people he trusted.

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His consigliere, the character “Tom,” offered insightful and wise counsel. Seeking counsel is a sign of leadership strength. “In the counsel of many there is safety.”

The Godfather lives his values. Family first, always! Show respect in all you do. Clearly, the Godfather teaches about the consequences of not putting the family first and being disloyal. Indeed, he is not someone we should model our ethics after. However, there are lessons to be learned from his behavior and actions. The Godfather did not let his emotions show. He made decisions with thought and advice from his son Michael and other trusted advisers. Effective leaders are aware that they cannot do all, and they delegate effectively. Great leaders are excellent listeners, which makes for positive negotiations with customers, vendors and competitors.

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When things go off the rails in business, and we all know that they do at times, the Godfather gathers the family (his staff) around the table for a meeting. The pragmatic agenda is to address the issue and come with a plan to attack the problem and minimize the drama and to share the resolution. The Godfather’s leadership posture was iron-clad emotional control. He was a combination of seriousness, courage, tenacity and relentlessness.

The Godfather only made promises he could keep. His word was his bond. We all know that trust and respect erodes when a leader does not live up to their word! When we think about it, a company’s value proposition and culture is in fact, an offer employees cannot refuse. A true demonstration of professional respect.

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As a life-long learner, I am a firm believer that throughout our life’s journey, we are exposed to important life and business lessons. We encounter positive leaders or ego-driven, negative leaders. They impact us and how we think, react and ultimately, how we treat the people around us. With that said, there are insights we can learn from Don Corleone, The Godfather. And again, not as someone we should not look up to as an ideal role model. The lesson learned from observing many leaders, is to emulate the leaders we truly look up to, admire and respect.

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