Five Fascinating Leadership Lessons from The Sopranos You Can Use Without Breaking A Sweat
Navigating an organization requires communication finesse and an understanding of the lay of the land, regardless if it’s a small business, a global corporation, or yes, even a crime family. Regarded as one of the best written TV series’ of all time by the Writer’s Guild of America, the HBO original series The Sopranos is a veritable cornucopia of leadership lessons you can use without breaking a sweat.
If The Sopranos taught us anything, it’s that gangsters face many of the same problems as the rest of us.
If you didn’t watch the show you should watch it because it’s one of the best TV shows ever plus you can learn many things from this show. Tony Soprano is the mob boss in New Jersey but he wasn’t boss from the beginning. He need to work his ass of to become mob boss. Competition for the boss place is really strong in any area of life, so if you want to become boss like Tony Soprano you need to use the right tools.
Many companies try to promote a family atmosphere, but there are families and there are “families,” as fans of The Sopranos know quite well.
Antihero or not, there’s a lot to learn from Tony Soprano than just Italian curse words. If you look past the nefarious nature of Tony’s work, he’s essentially just a small business owner tasked with managing and motivating his small team. His successes and failures as a manager are shown in great detail over the course of the series, along with the consequences therein.
With some help from David Chase, James Gandolfini brought a certain poetic quality to this king of the wise guys.
But looking back, many valuable leadership tips can be gleaned from Tony Soprano. Despite all his faults, there were several management lessons that can be learned from Tony Soprano. And, no, I am not equating running a business with running a mob crew but some of Tony’s management’s philosophies can be applied to any business.
I was stunned after the show, it was a masterpiece and I learned so much from this show which I want to share with you.
If one thing is for sure mob boss Tony Soprano does not deal with anything or anyone he doesn’t like. You cross this Soprano, you get crossed off his hit list. Although the series is based on the Italian Mob and the way things work — mixing business with pleasure — there are some valuable lessons to be learned. Over the series, there were plenty of leadership gems contained throughout too. Let’s find out my personal favorites!
Lesson #1: Follow the Same Rules You Expect Others To
So often, leaders play by their own rules but are sadly, setting a shitty example for their employees. Even the subtle cues are picked up by staff and it filters down from top to bottom. I’m not saying that Tony Soprano set a good example, in fact, he reinforces what a boss shouldn’t do — and that is so often how lessons are learnt.
Leaders don’t always appreciate the impact they can have on their followers.
Leaders are watched by their teams more often than they realize and this means that they are picking up subtle clues from the leader and making their own decisions about what they feel matters. When they see their leader flouting certain rules, it may send a signal that the rule isn’t as important and that they can flout it too. For example, Tony Soprano often referred to Christopher Moltisanti’s drug habit, and yet often dabbled in them himself. This hypocritical behavior was often a source of friction between the pair.
If you can quote the rules, then you can damn-well obey them!
Tony Soprano has it absolutely right here. Everyone should know the rules, and everyone should follow them — whether it’s the newest employee or the CEO. It doesn’t matter if you’re the boss of an organized crime syndicate or a food truck, you’ll need to lead by example. When managing your business, it’s not enough to make sure your employees are briefed on company policy and expectations. You should hold yourself to that same standard, or higher.
To lead by example means setting the standard and expected behavior for the people who work with you.
Despite offering up such a powerful lesson, this lesson is one Tony Soprano unfortunately fails to learn. The hypocrisy he displays to his underlings causes him far more grief then the FBI, or rival gangs combined. Tony spends every season fending off mutineers and dissenters that eventually grow tired of him setting rules and expectations that he himself refuses to follow. That’s where the lesson is. Want your team to get to work on time every day, etc.? You better set your alarm.
There was no doubt that Tony Soprano was in charge of his crew.
He demanded loyalty-and earned it-from his cast of characters. Take this comment from Christopher, Tony’s nephew and a member of the Soprano crime family when talking about Tony: “I’d follow that man back to hell and back,” he told his fiancée. A true leader whether in business or otherwise instills leadership and direction for his crew, company or military unit.
Lesson #2: Don't Take Shit From Anyone
Some walk the planet pushing people around, in some way feeling as though this will make up for the insecurities, and pain, they hold close to their chest. Some walk the planet being pushed around. They let their mechanic take advantage of them, their wives, their teachers, students, or friends. Then, there are those who walk the planet too strong and confident to get pushed around, but also too stronger and confident to push others around.
Don’t take shit from anyone. Life isn’t meant to be lived as a coward, or a lapdog, but as a warrior.
Don’t think that because someone may have more knowledge on a topic, that they can belittle you because of that. Don’t think that because you’re smaller, and they’re bigger, that they have the right to bully you. Somewhere deep down you have a warrior, starving for the light of the sun, dying to show you how to really live.
Learn what it means to stand up for yourself. Make it a habit.
Then start standing up for others who haven’t learned that courage yet. They’ll see your actions, it will give them courage, and help them become stronger, better people. Argue that point all you want. Argue that its “dangerous” to get in a fight, and that you can get wounded, get a concussion, or break a few bones, but those wounds are nothing in comparison to the wounds carried by a victim; wounds that can’t be healed, and instead last a lifetime.
Why the f*** you care what other people think about you?
You can’t do nothing to change it so don’t focus on the things you can’t change, it’s not worth it. Instead focus on the things that really matter to you. Do you have a hobby? Focus on your hobby. Focus on your family. Focus on your side job. Focus only on things that matter to you. If you adopt that mindset you will truly be happy and fulfilled. People will always criticize you but only few of them will tell you that in your face because they are cowards and they don’t deserve your time.
It was the brilliant Oscar Wilde who said: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.
Yet in many quarters of society we see people who silence their opinions and lose their authenticity in an attempt to be liked by everyone or to appease both sides of an ideological divide. The same thing happens in the corporate world. In their effort to build relationships and secure an internal support base, leaders can lose sight of who they are and what they stand for. Good leadership is evident when a person is authentic and stands behind their values, has a clear personal brand and behaves consistently.
Lesson #3: Action Is Better Than Inaction
One of the reasons why Tony Soprano makes for a great mob boss is that he is strategic in his decisions. Yes, yes, yes, sometimes his emotions get the better of him, but a lot of the time, you can see the gears moving in his head as he doles out advice and assignments to his crew of made men. Sometimes you have to concede in certain situations to keep everyone happy. I mean, think of all the politics Tony had to play when Johnny Sack became boss of New York.
The idea — that any action is better than inaction — has been around since long before Tony Soprano muttered it in between bites of eggplant parmesan.
While it’s of course important not to overreact or react without all the necessary facts or research, Tony Soprano hit the nail on the head when it comes to one of the biggest problems many businesses face: fear of making changes. Being decisive isn’t just important for when things go awry; it’s important that business owners use the same haste to strengthen their team when the opportunity presents itself. As things often spiral out of control in Tony’s business, he’s reminded of his past management mistakes and isn’t afraid to make difficult, unpopular decisions regarding his workforce in order to not repeat them.
The worst thing you can do is remain idle and keep wondering while your customers’ money goes elsewhere.
Tony Soprano always looks at the big picture and has no problem placing different people in charge of rackets or schemes they’re more suited for. This is done regardless of seniority or whether it irks his other soldiers. You should have the same mentality when managing your business. If orders are piling up, and you’re too afraid to make significant changes such as expanding your workforce to meet demand, your business will suffer.
How many times in your life you didn’t take a chance because it was too risky?
I can say for myself that I did it for too many times. You should take whatever life offers to you and do something with it. If you decide something and you fail you really did better than most people because you take the chance, you work on something and you fail. In every fail you learn many valuable lessons so you don’t repeat them in the future. What you can learn from indecision? Nothing! It’s better to fail than don’t act at all. You should always be confident in your decision even if it’s the wrong decision.
Should I eat that slice of pizza or not eat that slice of pizza? Just do it, because you want it and you’ll thank yourself while you’re enjoying bite by bite.
Tony Soprano made decisions quickly and stuck to them. He thought things out, looked at the pros and cons of some of his potential decisions. When there was a problem with a crew member, for example, Tony met the problem head on. If you were to ask employees within a company what annoys them the most about their bosses, inevitably the answer is indecision. No one likes to wait in limbo before a decision is reached.
Lesson #4: Put Your Family First
Behind every successful businessperson is a family that loves and supports him or her. And if you’re the big boss, remember the same applies for your staff. Yes, you’re paying them a salary to do a job, but if you’re empathetic to their family needs and commitments, you will find they will be even more dedicated to your company or business.
In the Soprano’s, family is always first.
Family is always first, and no matter how hard the Mob may try to say it’s their business family first, the actual families of those involved would ultimately win. Be it Tony’s kids and their issues, a wayward girlfriend or an aging parent, oftentimes various Mobsters would need to go and take care of their families. Friends come and go, but family is here forever. Someone can be your friend one day and other day can be your worst enemy. Be aware of those things because it’s really painful when your friend stick the knife in your back. On the other hand, family will be always with you. Family will respect you and your decisions and you could really depend on your family.
Family often drives people so for leaders, this should be respected.
It can be tricky for a work-life balance sometimes and things from home can impact the workplace. A leader who is in touch with their teams will be able to approach and discuss these matters and should be open to letting a team member get their family front sorted so they can be more focused and productive. Getting a good work/home balance can be challenging, and a good leader will know and understand that if an employee’s home life is good and functioning well, it will lead to a more productive and focused workday.
Sometimes your family are those you’re born with, and sometimes it is the people you choose.
Take Hilton for example which is one of the most respected brands in the world. They have built a culture that’s all about filling the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality. This culture doesn’t just extend to its customers, but its employees too. For Hilton, treating people like family means demonstrating the core values of the business, and empowering and trusting people to pick a path that aligns with those values, while giving them the freedom to be themselves, to innovate, and to be creative.
The Sopranos focuses on two families — Tony’s immediate blood relatives and his chosen “made” family — and it’s clear that both segments of his life are what drives his every decision.
And while you might not (and should not!) require a blood oath or sacred ritual to invite your customers into your company’s “family,” you should start considering your current clients as a vital part of your business strategy too. Your business is thriving because of your amazing customers. Finding, and more importantly keeping, those amazing customers is one of your top objectives. One of the best business practices to follow is to treat your customers like they’re family. By being open, direct, and honest with your customers you build the same sense of authenticity and transparency as you would in your communications with family members. This type of interaction builds loyalty and shows your customers that you appreciate them.
Lesson #5: Mistakes Are Not Free
Perhaps one of the most notable things about Tony’s personal management style that many will appreciate, particularly those with large departments and lots of politics, is his directness. Tony Soprano has no problem looking anyone in the eye and telling him that he’s screwed up, what the consequences are and what he needs to do to straighten things out.
Every single action has a consequence. There’s no such thing as a cause that has no effect.
Life, the world, society, whatever personification you want to give to what we’re living in, isn’t an emotional, forgiving entity. It doesn’t “care”. Whether you fail, succeed, thrive, or dive, has little effect on the world. If you “fuck up”, there are consequences. When you wake up, the effort you put in to your work, the sacrifices you make, the smile you lend to a stranger, the door you open for the elderly women, all has a consequence. Live knowing that how you live, does have an impact. You’re not merely an insignificant piece of a grand puzzle, but an important character in an epic film.
Tony Soprano offered real accountability even unlike most leaders, really putting his life on the line.
The lesson leaders can take from Tony Soprano is that you are, at the end of the day, 100% responsible for the actions of your people. Customers don’t want to hear that it was your employees’ fault, they want the problem fixed. Tony demanded accountability from his people and he usually got it because he was accountable in turn. Tony is happy to delegate as much as possible to his captains, but he holds them totally accountable. If they meet their projected targets, they are well rewarded. On the other hand, when performance wanes, there are definite consequences.
When things go right, good leaders deflect the credit. When things go wrong, good leaders take all the responsibility.
That’s tough, but that’s the price of admission to leadership (or rather, it should be). It’s just a shame that most people in leadership positions didn’t get that memo. When you’re truly responsible, you believe that overall success or failure is up to you, even if you work within a team or are blindsided by unforeseen circumstances. Responsibility is what you must first train yourself to have before taking charge of a task; it is a way of thinking. A truly responsible person claims responsibility either way, both the flaws and success of a task but also deals with what is. Instead of figuring out who’s to blame or worrying about how things “coulda woulda shoulda” been if only something had gone differently, you deal with the matter that is at hand and seek a solution.
Though the list of flaws Tony Soprano possessed were long, the lessons a man can learn about leadership, manliness, and assertiveness, are almost at par. His example can be used as a beacon of good, but also serve as a warning to what not to do. What can we learn from the greatest anti-hero since Hannibal Lector? Certainly not everything, but leave the illegal activities out of it and Tony Soprano had some admirable qualities that are worth noting.
Simply put, Tony Soprano isn’t the best example of an effective manager. He’s an entertaining exposé on both what to do and what not to do as a manager.
He’s the criminal equivalent to both Goofus and Gallant. This interesting dichotomy has kept The Sopranos binge-worthy 20 years after its premiere, and brought beloved characters such as Walter White and Donald Draper into existence. It’s that same dichotomy that can teach a business owner a few things about management and leadership as well.
Tony Soprano is a survivor, and he has guided his “business” through some heavy competitive waters.
He has used street smarts and guile to get his way, and much like the original Godfather, his ability to read people, especially adversaries, has probably been his biggest asset. He is willing to take risks, confront his competition, and use all of his instincts and acumen to lead his company of scoundrels to survival, if not ultimate victory. Tony Soprano knew who to align with and who to avoid. And he was rarely wrong. Tony Soprano knew his business and where he wanted it to go in the future. It’s something every manager should focus on and not be content with the status quo.
Incorporate these lessons into your own leadership style and you can run the show like a Boss; you don’t have to wake up this morning and get yourself a gun.
Want to revisit your favorite The Sopranos moments? All 86 episodes are streaming on Crave! What did you take away from the series? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.