When Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks teamed up in the movie You’ve Got Mail, an important element running through the movie was Hanks’ character’s penchant for referring to, or quoting, The Godfather in his electronic missives. When he is finally asked why, he responds that “The Godfather is the source of all knowledge.” And so it is. Or at least it is believed to be.
You see, The Godfather is a cultural phenomenon. No, not as a reflection of Italian culture, or Sicilian culture, or the culture of organized crime. It probably does not accurately mirror any of those, nor am I suggesting that it does. So please, no protests that the book defames Italian culture or people. It doesn’t—it is not about Italian people; it’s about fictional people.
Nevertheless, it is a cultural phenomenon, an unexpected thread through our recent American culture.
Of course, we have seen the corporate wisdom books like The Leadership Secrets of Attila The Hun, The Lost Art Of War, and Cigars, Whiskey and Winning: Leadership Lessons From Ulysses S. Grant. Yet on a day-to-day basis the echoes we actually hear come not from the Mongolian steppes, the Vicksburg environs, or the base of the Great Wall. They come from the Genco Olive Oil Company or the family compound in Nevada. You cannot, I dare say, spend two consecutive days in any law firm, brokerage house, consulting firm, or advertising agency in a major United States city, particularly in the Northeast, without hearing some reference or allusion, sometimes unwitting, to a phrase, situation or scene from The Godfather films.
So I thought we might try to see if those life lessons, that wisdom, that we sprinkle through our day with a wink and smile could be collected and described in one place. Although Mr. Fulghum may have learned everything he needed to know in kindergarten, many of us take more we can identify with from the struggles of the Corleones to build their family and its business in a world filled by Solazzo's, Barzini's and Roth’s. It is from those struggles that we draw the life lessons for dealing with clients and adversaries, for building a practice, making a life. And there is no limit to where these lessons will serve us as we climb to even greater success, for as Michael Corleone said “All my life I tried to move up in society, where it was legal, straight. But the higher I go, the crooked-er it becomes. Oh where the hell does it end.”
It doesn’t end, so I write about law firms. But these ideas and lessons can be applied anywhere.