Monday, December 08, 2003

Business Lessons from the Godfather

"I believe in America" is the opening line to The Godfather. While not uttered by one of the Mafia members (it is said by a mortician looking for a favor from the Don), it could have been spoken by anyone in the Corlione family, for The Godfather is a movie about an American success story: Poor boy comes to America. He works hard and starts a business as a young man, which expands and prospers. One of his sons takes over the business when he gets injured, but is ill suited to run it and gets "fired" after a shrewd move by the competition. Another son picks up the reins and is more successful, but gets into some problems with the same competitors, which he resolves with a "hostile takeover".

Like all good American success stories, the movie dispenses some good advice for getting ahead in the rough and tough business world:

Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer - Good political advice for all walks of life. If you are trying to get ahead for a promotion, you can bet you aren't the only one with that goal. Part of politicking means dealing with and working with people who you don't like or are even trying to undermine you. The best strategy to deal with these people is to not let them know you are their enemy.

It's not personal, it's business - A hard lesson to learn, but business sometimes means making decisions and choices that go contrary to friendships and relationships. This can mean reprimanding someone in a meeting on Monday after you had dinner with his family on Sunday or kicking off the board a friend who is incompetent. This is the reason why you hear "it's lonely at the top" - making hard business decisions sometimes means making decisions that go against friendships. And if you think this is harsh, I can point to countless businesses that failed since the people in charge were unwilling to make the hard choices due to friendships or perceived personal commitments.

I'll make him an offer he can't refuse - While taking a gun to someone's head during negotiations is frowned on in corporate America, effective negotiating is still essential for getting ahead. If you can't negotiate well, you will have trouble getting ahead, so learn how to do it.

There are other lessons as well, which is why Forbes put both Godfather movies in the top 10 business movies of all time.

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