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Tony Soprano & Leadership …

by Tom O'Connor on August 15th, 2013

James Gandolfini receiving one of his 3 Emmy awards won for Tony Soprano

Renowned actor, James Gandolfini, sadly passed away in early summer.

His role as Tony Soprano (in the hit TV series, The Sopranos) has been seen as a model for some colourful leadership behaviours over the years – the recent Anglo tape revelations being a very definite case in point.

But organisation theorists see a lot that is positive in the Tony Soprano character as well.

None more so than Deborrah Himsel, whose 2004 book, “Leadership: Soprano Style – How to Become A More Effective Boss”, is very much in the vanguard.

One positive trait she draws particular attention to is his penchant for clear communications.

Clear Communications
Certainly, Tony is never ambiguous in letting people know where they stand with him.

His tendency is to move early when he senses something isn’t to his liking – and he is a master of the ultimatum.

Thus, when his nephew, Christopher, is vacillating between a career in the movies or with the mob, Tony gives him 10 minutes to think it over, with a simple choice: he either fully commits to the family business there and then or becomes estranged from Tony forever.

Tony metes out similar treatment to his daughter, Meadow’s boyfriend, Noah, on their very first encounter: telling him plainly that he isn’t wanted.

On another occasion, when he senses that one of his underlings, Patsy Parisi, is wavering on how to react to Tony’s assassination of his brother, Philly Spoons, Tony reminds him to give some thought to how he might support his family without the earnings he receives from Tony’s operations.

Conflict Resolution
But in other situations, Tony is equally adept at matching (these threats of) muscle with brains.

He is especially cognizant that internal feuding between mobsters is bad for business.

Hence, whenever he senses that tensions are rising between individuals or gangs, he is wont to call an immediate “sit-down” between protagonists.

The series is replete with these “sit-down” conciliation efforts, whether it is trying to appease:

– rival gangster, Johnny Sack’s umbrage at a comment made by one of  Tony’s henchmen about Johnny’s wife, Ginny, or

Paulie Walnuts’ demands for half the takings for his contribution to a heist pulled off by Ralphie Cifaretto, or

– rapper, Massive Genius’s, claim that he is owed $400k in music royalties by loan shark, Hesh Rabkin, etc.

Creative Problem-Solving
And Tony is no slouch either when a bit of creativity is needed.

For instance, in the very first episode in the series, to preempt an assassination he knows is about to take place at his friend, Artie Bucco’s, restaurant, Tony arranges for an explosion – that puts the place out of business for a while.

This piece of lateral thinking is to ensure that the place doesn’t get associated with any mob activity that draws police attention – while also counting on the insurance claim to more than compensate Artie later.

Equally audacious is a later instance where Tony seeks out the local pastor, Reverend James, Jr., as a partner in crime.

Here, Tony cuts a deal with the Reverend to foment some union protests at a construction site, so that in due course, Tony himself can extort money from the construction company – for breaking up the same protests.

So, next time you find yourself watching an old re-run of Tony Soprano in action, keep an eye out for how these traits might be adapted to the real-world: clear communications, conflict resolution & creative problem solving.

And, marvel again at that tingling sense of “terror or its mere suggestion”, to quote Clive James – that Gandolfini alone can bring.

PS. For related Torc training programmes, please click on the following links:
1. Leading with Emotional Intelligence
2. Leading with Resilience & Optimism
3. Leading with Teamwork & Collaboration
4. Leading with Influence & Persuasion
5. Leading with Empathy & Listening
6. Leading with Innovation & Creativity
7. The Leader as Teacher

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