Tony Soprano’s Leadership Secrets

by Rob Spiegel

Here's a surprising example of leadership effectiveness from the world of make-believe.

Business management gurus have long mined historical figures for guidance on the principles of effective leadership. You can find management instruction culled from the lives of history’s leaders such as Lincoln, Attila the Hun, even Jesus of Nazareth. Yet one of the best examples of leadership effectiveness comes from the world of make-believe: Tony Soprano.

Tony Soprano, crime-boss and family patriarch of HBO’s The Sopranos, demonstrates successful methods for leading a team and forging beneficial, productive long-term relationships. Here are just a small handful of winning leadership strategies Tony has utilized over the past four television seasons.

When in doubt, assert yourself. Tony is well aware that he doesn’t have all the answers, yet even in his uncertainty, he forges ahead with bold action. He proudly claims that more is lost by indecision than by wrong choices.

Relationships are everything. Tony is well aware that this principle swings both ways. Strong, positive relationships are a great asset in business as well as family. Likewise, weak, undefined and conflicted relationships can produce profoundly negative results. So, while he bolsters strong relationships, he also works to end or transform negative relationships.

Be careful where you speak frankly. All conversations are not for all ears. A slip of the tongue, even casually, can foster misunderstandings and undermine the team’s confidence in its leader. In Tony’s case, loose lips can get you killed.

Manage by wandering around. Whether he is at the Bada Bing strip joint or eating dinner with the troops at Arte Bucco’s Vesuvio Restaurant, Tony checks in with his team and lends his hand in a wide range of management decisions simply by being available. He is also quick to create distance if any of his lieutenants or soldiers takes advantage of this access by leaning on him too heavily.



Mentor the young – they will support you in your old age. Tony mentors his nephew, Christopher Moltisanti, just as he was coached by Jackie Aprile. The process of coaching the next generation ensures a relatively smooth generational transition, and in Tony’s case, Christopher will help support his family if something unpleasant happens, just as Tony helps to support Jackie’s widow.

Trust the messages of your dreams. Before Tony decides to whack his betrayer, Big Pussy Bonpensiero, he has a series of nightmares that spell out in images what Tony has difficulty accepting consciously – Pussy is a snitch. Upon awakening from his dreams, Tony double-checks the validity of his suspicions, then takes care of Pussy. Our subconscious sometimes knows what our conscious mind refuses. Tony correctly trusts that his dreams are a key to deeper truths.

Go ahead and mix family with business. Immigrant families have long understood the power and trust available in family relations. Though Tony’s family is three generations beyond immigrant status, Tony still draws on family members as a source of reliable business associates.

Go ahead and mix business and pleasure. Though the idea is counter-intuitive, Tony uses the blend of business and pleasure activities to deepen team bonding. Besides, when your work consumes your life, as it does with Tony, if you don’t mix business with fun, you won’t have much opportunity to find pleasure in life.

Deny everything. As Groucho Marx once said, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” Tony has perfected his ability to deny his misdeeds with powerfully convincing indignation. This helps him smooth out difficult confrontations. Though the tactic doesn’t work in all cases, it works often enough to keep it in the management tool box.

Tony Soprano may be an unconventional business leader, but the success of his management methods are undeniable. His has created a multi-million dollar enterprise that is grounded in reliable principles of human relationships. Try them out and let us know whether they work to improve the quality of your own business endeavors.

Rob Spiegel is the author of Net Strategy (Dearborn) and The Shoestring Entrepreneur’s Guide to Internet Start-ups (St. Martin's Press). You can reach Rob at robspiegel@comcast.net

 
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