October 29, 2013

Lessons from the Godfather Trilogy: Universal Principles and Practical Advice


In the end, by leaving behind a negative or personal handling of a matter and instead taking a positive business-like approach to all issues, the business world as a whole will benefit.

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Few movies are as revered or have reached the iconic status in American culture as the movies that make up The Godfather Trilogy.  Obviously, the great acting by many incredible actors in these films plays a major part in achieving that status.  But perhaps even more appealing is the writing behind the film which has generated many lines that can not only be considered quotable quotes but also, in a broader sense, universal principles of life.  These universal principles are applicable to all walks of life from the mob underworld to all levels of the business world and can provide practical instruction to all who are open to such advice.

“It’s not personal Sonny.  It’s strictly business”
Michael to Sonny in The Godfather

There may be nothing more important to sound business practices than the principle that decisions to be made should never be motivated by personal or emotional animus but rather should always be the result of an objective decision-making process.  All too often, the actions and adverse positions of opposing parties are taken personally and retaliation is sought without first thinking through and formulating an appropriate response on an objective basis and in accordance with the circumstances.

The pros and cons of a business decision cannot be properly and professionally evaluated if one’s judgment is clouded by emotionally charged and negative feelings towards the opposition, particularly during the course of negotiations.  Accordingly, if you find yourself unable to separate yourself from an emotional opinion of the situation presented, it may be wise to run the matter by a colleague for a fresh and objective viewpoint.

It is particularly important to remain objective when evaluating matters and engaging in settlement negotiations.  Emotions have no place during negotiations but can run high and get in the way of an objective evaluation of the matter at hand.  Ultimately, in all cases, it’s not personal, it’s strictly business.

“Never hate your enemies – it affects your judgment”
Michael to Vincent in The Godfather, Part III

A corollary to the general rule that negative emotions should have no place in business matters is that one should never allow issues to become personal with the opposition.  When one allows their emotions to intrude into their dealings with another, the ability to evaluate any and all issues that arise is clouded by such negative feelings.

As difficult as it may be, one must attempt to disassociate and cut out any negative feelings or animosity (even when such emotions may be warranted under the circumstances) towards a business associate.  Only then can a proper evaluation and handling of the issue or case be completed.  After all, remember what happened to Sonny Corleone in The Godfather when he allowed his emotions to cloud his judgment and get the best of him.

“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”
Michael to Pentangeli in The Godfather, Part II

No advice may be as difficult to heed than the caution to keep your enemies or adversaries close.  Unfortunately, there are some adversaries in the business world who thrive on petty confrontation and routinely taking matters to a personal and negative level.  Such people seem to enjoy pushing buttons and disrupting the normally smooth handling of business transactions.  While there is no valid place in business for such boorish behavior, there is usually no recourse against the same and one must be prepared to deal with such people effectively in order to provide their clients with the representation they are entitled to and/or to obtain the result desired.

One way to deal with such “enemies,” or all adversaries for that matter, is to keep them close.  A way to keep them close is to be more knowledgeable on the issue at hand in order to keep a step ahead.  Additionally, as aggravating as the adversary may become, it never fails to remain in control of your own emotions and hit them with kindness, good humor, and/or rational explanations supporting your position.  Also, a positive way to view the difficult situation of having to deal with such people is to remember that each communication will move the parties one step closer to the eventual resolution of the issue at which point you will no longer have to deal with that person on that matter.

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Don Corleone to Johnny Fontaine in The Godfather

In terms of settlement negotiations, it may be said that you can not sell something to someone they do not want to buy.  When negotiating, one should put themselves in the position of that opposing businessperson or client and attempt to frame any settlement offers in the best light from that perspective. 

For example, the value of settling a matter now as opposed to after many more months of negotiation can be emphasized.  Where the parties are engaged in a non-binding mediation and have reached an impasse, perhaps the offering of paying for the mediator’s services by one party can spark further discussions to an ultimate resolution.  By thinking of settlement from the other party’s perspective and being creative and positive in framing your settlement offers, one may be able to effectuate a settlement of a case within one’s range of range of value.

In trying to reach any resolution of a matter, it must be remembered that emotions have no place in negotiations.  If at all possible, check any emotions generated by the case or your interactions with the opposition prior to entering into any settlement negotiations.  All attempts should be made by both parties to participate in the settlement discussions in the most objective and business-like manner possible. 

“I have always believed helping your fellow man is profitable
in every sense, personally and bottom line.”
Michael to reporters in The Godfather, Part III

Although Michael Corleone may have issued this statement with a sense of irony, it cannot be denied that helping your fellow man is indeed profitable in every sense.  In addition to assisting all of our clients with their business matters, a businessperson may also profit on a personal level by volunteering one’s services within the scope of their expertise wherever possible. 

In addition to the altruistic reasons in support of volunteering in the community, such activities have the consequent benefit as a source of networking and advertisement.  By participating in charitable activities, one can come to know many different people as well as have your name or your firm’s name disseminated to the public in a positive light. 

“…a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”
Don Corleone to Johnny Fontaine in The Godfather

While the demands and pressure associated with developing a business are great, there is no opportunity to replace missed moments with one’s family.  Life is short and there are no second chances to recover such priceless moments.

Whenever possible, a balance between work and life outside of work should be sought and encouraged.  It can be said that people who develop their life outside of work, particularly with their families, but also in terms of their hobbies, recreational activities, and in exploring creative outlets, are more apt to have a higher productivity level when it comes to work.  Spending and enjoying more time with one’s family will tend to serve as a release from the pressures of work and lessen one’s overall stress level which, in the end, results in a more healthy lifestyle overall.  A more healthy lifestyle, in turn, may render you a more productive and efficient worker.  In the end, all aspects of your life both in and out of work will benefit.


 An understanding and application of the universal principles enunciated by the great characters in The Godfather Trilogy to one’s business practices can improve one’s abilities and may also serve to ease the stress generated by the profession.  All in all, with the business world as demanding as it is in and of itself, an effort should be made by people to deal with each other in an objective and professional manner without descending into personal animosity and attacks.  Ideally, we should treat others as we desire to be treated and should maintain positive and objective arguments as opposed to attempting to pursue or defend a matter through negative and emotionally charged tactics or personal attacks.  In the words of Clemenza from The Godfather, we should metaphorically, “Leave the gun.  Take the cannoli.”  In the end, by leaving behind a negative or personal handling of a matter and instead taking a positive business-like approach to all issues, the business world as a whole will benefit.