Vision, as Seen by Don Corleone
Welcome to the final installment in our series of business lessons learned in unconventional places.
Understanding the Keys to Long-Term Success
One of my favorite books is The Godfather — the story of the rise to power of organized crime boss Vito Corleone. The Academy Award-winning movie was also great, but it’s impossible to capture the depth of his character onscreen. Gotta tell you- when I started reading the book I sure wasn’t expecting to get leadership advice, but The Godfather exhibited extraordinary long-term vision that can serve as a model for executives today… if it wasn’t fictional and didn’t involve murder, bribery and extortion, of course. (Details…)
Anyway, Corleone surveyed the landscape in the pre-World War II 1900’s and recognized that dozens of warring crime factions were causing loss of life and profitability for no purpose. He also recognized that media coverage of the never-ending violence made it way too visible, which would eventually force the government to step in. That meant that to ensure the survival of his organization it would be essential to look long-term and take some very difficult steps. What did he do?
- Determined that there were five crime families too big to get into a war with, and he formed alliances with them. This was unheard of in an era when everyone looked out exclusively for their own interests.
- Wiped out the smaller crime factions himself. This in effect cleaned up the streets and made them safe. Dangerous, but it had to be done to get constant violence off the front page of the newspaper.
- Sought partnerships with people that could further his own interests- police, judges, politicians, reporters, etc. He approached them with offers of “friendship” long before he needed anything from them- and made sure he gave more than he received in the early stages of partnership. That was his playbook for creating a sense of indebtedness and loyalty. The movie glorified violence, but Corleone used violence only as a last resort. He constantly tried to create win-win relationships.
- Invested his money in a wide variety of businesses. His empire became vast and diversified. He positioned his organization to both withstand recession and provide cover for his criminal activity, as it was possible to explain his wealth away as a product of his involvement in legitimate enterprises.
- Didn’t let his ego get in the way of his vision. Corleone had many opportunities to flex his muscle and say, “Look what I can do”, but he realized that doing so would jeopardize his long-term objectives.
And the result? On an “industry” level, disorganized crime became organized crime, and was able to fly under the radar much easier- increasing probability of longer-term success. On a personal level, Corleone became a rich and successful CEO of a powerful “corporation.”
Key business lessons from this example:
- Make sure you have a clear vision of your desired future state.
- Acknowledge that the more aggressive that vision is, the more likely there will be difficult / risky actions needed in the short term. Either prepare for them or change your intended outcome accordingly.
- It’s fine to have a big ego, as long as it doesn’t get in the way.
I’ll stop here, since I don’t want to build up a (fictional) underworld figure too much. But when I first read the book I was struck by how many times I thought “that’s exactly what a great leader would do,” making it a natural fit for this series.
You might say I was looking for the perfect topic for the finale… and this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Hope you have enjoyed the series. At Orion we are dedicated to continuous learning, so there may be other lessons coming your way soon!
Check out the rest of the series on Unexpected Sources of Business Education: