I have chosen The Godfather because, as many men, I like story based on ancestral honor, linked with power and money. Mafia stories I would say.. And, of course, as a marseillais and corsican, I love Mediterranean culture and traditions of tribalism (values of big families acting like tribes).
The Godfather is movie about the end of reign of an old mafia chief, Don Vito Corleone, in New York, after WWII. It shows the street wars that leading a mafia family includes, and also shows the coming of a new Godfather to replace the previous one, Michael Corleone, son of Vito. We see the real birth of a very clever and cold leader, among a very violent and cynical group of men: the “familia” Corleone.
Vito has many principles, and is said to lead family business in an old fashion way. The bad times begins for him when he refuses to make an alliance with a drug dealer name Sallozo: he prefers dealing with less “dirty businesses” such as women traffic (!) and gambling. This is the exact moment when the war for power begins within New York crime families, with, in center of every clans’ strategy, intimidation and influence. The drug dealer wants to skip Vito (with gunpowder of course), to make a deal with one of his son, more inclined to get involved in drug business.
Michael, who is the only honest male in Corleone family, is getting involved for the first time, with the shooting of his father. As the film goes and Vito gets older with less power and more health problems, he will become the leader of the family. And I will explain you what are the main characteristics of his leadership and where his legitimacy comes from.
I have chosen to stay focused on Michael because we can follow his way to become the leader all along the story. He becomes the new godfather as the film goes, and has to win credibility and recognition among his family. I have thought it could be interesting to analyze how he gets his legitimacy, his respect, as he is not in the beginning the most obvious leader of the family (because of his very honest past life : he is said “not to be willing to get involved into family business”, according to his brother Sonny). I will often make comparisons between Michael and his father, but in fact, we cannot see Vito in many leader situations, except in the very beginning of the movie, at the weeding, when he is talking to the people who want his help. The comparison can be based on what the other characters say about him.
And first I will set the situation through an Organization chart.
Michael Corleone’s Leadership.
The repartition of power
Before going into Michael’s leadership style, I will describe the interactions between the other characters before he gets involved into business. Here is a schema that sums up all the main characters’ position in the story. The arrows represent the authority. The big square stands for the crime organization.
Before Michael gets into business
Don Vito Corleone
Historic Leader of the family
War hero with a honest life. Does not want to get involved into family business
Don’s step son. He is the consiliero he helps the Don in taking decisions.
Santino « Sonny » Corleone
Don’s son, supposed to be the next leader of the family. He is involved into family business.
Tessio & Clemenza
Caporegime, they lead the « fieldmen », on the streets. They are led by Vito and sometimes by Sonny (for example, when Sonny thinks that Paulie is responsible for Don’s attack, he asks Clemeza to kill him)
The other sons, such as Fredo who is in Las Vegas, and the rest of the Corleone crime organization (fieldmen etcâ€¦).
After Michael gets leadership
The squares that are dashed are for people who get killed or disappear during the beginning of Michael’s reign.
New Leader of the family
Don Vito Corleone
Untill his death, he is the consiliero, the man who helps the Godfather into taking decisions.
Tessio & Clemenza
They are willing to create their own organizationâ€¦ And one betrays the Corleone Organization.
The other sons, such as Fredo who is in Las Vegas, with Tom Hagen, and the rest of the Corleone crime organization that stayed in New York (fieldmen etcâ€¦).
After Michael becomes the leader of the crime organization, many things change. As we see, he has regrouped the whole leadership and power in his own hands. Even if Vito is nominated as a luxury Consiliero, he cannot do this job for a long time because he has a health accident and dies. Now Michael seems to be the only one to take his decision. And he gets his new rank after having made his proofs.
How Michael becomes a leader
As we saw just before on the first organization chart, Michael is not involved into crime business. He just knows his father and brothers’ activities from a very far point of view. We can see it in the very beginning of the movie when he talks to his fiancée about Vito’s ways to convince people. Even if he does not really want to talk about it to protect both his girl and his family, he seems not to be so aware of details.
But he also seems to have a good relationship with his father. Even if he does not approve his activities he is not in a personal war with him. He is not in total opposition with Vito, as his “war hero” could lead him to do. We can say that he is aware of his father’s status, but he considers it as something different as his own honest way of living. He really separates in his mind his familial relationship with Vito from his own personal ideas of justice and life.
This is the first reason why Michael will be forced to take decisions that will make him get more and more involved in Corleone’s crime activities.
The first decision he has to take is very linked to that. When he hears about his father’s murder, he goes to the hospital and finds no bodyguard, nobody to deal with the security. Surprisingly, he immediately reacts by phoning his brothers to have more information, and to inform them about this. This is not the first typical reaction of a son seeing his father lying in a hospital bed. The activities of his father are starting to have an influence on his decisions. Because, he could have only waited for his brothers to come, or waited for their instructions as mafia members. Instead of this, he decides to take decisions on his own, in this very special situation, and act for the first time as a leader: he decides to change his father’s place and to put him in another room. Then he convinces the baker who had come to visit Vito to act like an armed bodyguard, in front of Sollozo’s family members car. This is a very dangerous situation because they could be shot down. Michael manages to get the baker do what he wants. Michael also pretends he is an armed bodyguard, braving the danger to be shot down, but it seems to be totally natural for him, as the baker has the fear of his life.
We can analyze this first step into business through Hersey and Blanchard’s situational theory. Anybody who knows a little the Corleone family already knows that Michael is not involved into business. On top of this, some collaborators do not even know that Michael exists. So Michael has not any authority and legitimacy yet. And this is why I have chosen a situational theory. In this particular case, Michael becomes a situational leader. So now, let us talk about the follower. The baker has a high level of psychological maturity according to Hersey and Blanchard’s view. Vito already helped him in the past and he wants to be thankful and show his respect. He is willing to help the Corleone family. But he really lacks job maturity: he is not a gangster at all. So Michael will act very clever by supporting him. This is more about a non spoken language: we can see trust, support, care, encouragement into Michael’s eyes voice and behavior, but also a lot of firmness and determination. For his first decision taking, in the movie, Michael acts like a very adaptative leader. Because he manages to get the baker do what he wants, and also reaches his goal which is to avoid a confrontation with Sollozo’s men, by intimidating them.
This decision making was like a kind of introduction for Michael into Corleone’s business. The scene with McCluskey, the Police chief, will encourage him to go further into the dishonest side of life.
But the real first big decision Michael will take is when he decides to kill Sollozo and Mc Cluskey. We can see in that scene a part of Michael’s leadership. First of all we have to set the background. Sollozo wants to kill Vito, to set pressure on Corleone family, and to then get them into his drug dealing business. So Michael finds the following solution to his father’s problems: he gets into business by killing mafia lord Sollozo and the Police head, McCluskey. He is not at all considered by the other brothers as a heavyweight advice, as a real player in crime game. On top of this, he is considered as inexperienced. Moreover, this decision has heavy consequences: killing a Policeman is a bad tactic because it creates a very bad image on the public opinion and on the family’s political protectors. And on top of this, this is a very punishable action. So, to convince his brothers, Michael has a big lack of trust to fill. Here we can see all his leadership behavior.
He creates a very high level of legitimacy through the way he exposes his ideas. First, the words themselves. They are very well chosen, with no possible misunderstanding, no hesitation, no manipulation. Michael only gives facts, and very clear ideas, easy to understand and follow. His demonstration is very simple, with an explanation of the problems (“Sollozo wants to kill Dadâ€¦”) goals and his solutions to reach them (“â€¦ we habe to kill him first”). This makes his solution the solution. And it makes his quite stupid idea to kill the Police head very trustable. We can also see that Michael does not talk so much. He only uses the right amount of words, without many discussions. His thoughts are so clear that they almost cannot be discussed. He also takes the time to think all his decisions over, to make them look more powerful.
Then we will also talk about the non verbal aspect of the conversation. Michael has a very calm and slow way to talk. His voice is very calm and fluent. But he also talks with a lot of firmness and determination. He talks in a very simple and didactical way: it makes his discourse appear like the only one possible, the only possible solution. And what is even more surprising is that Michael never uses verbal violence, or physical influence to convince his brothers, on contrary to Sonny. His legitimacy comes from his words and actions, the power of them, and not any physical influence.
Still on the non verbal side, we can ad that Michael uses the same physical ways to convince as he used to convince the baker: a very insistent look, right in the eyes, full of light, as he was looking into the future.. He also sits a little tilted behind, like to show some force and wisdom.
Part of his way to convince is a non verbal one: his attitude is the one of a wise charismatic person.
In this particular scene, we can also observe that Michael repeats that he does not mix personal feelings with business, which seems to be the first quality of a mafia lord. On the contrary to Sonny, he reacts coldly and always thinks in terms of tactics.
The episode of the discussion about Sollozo and McCluskey murder is crucial in Michael’s way to become the leader, the godfather. With this fact discussed and done, he will prove that he is reliable, that he totally takes and assumes decisions, and that he is not only a field man, like could be Sonny, or an only intellectual, like Tom Hagen. He shows that he is both of them, and that he can do on the field the things he will ask from his Godfather’s desk to the family members.
Michael as a leader
Sonny’s murder sets the pressure on Corleone family. After is revenge on Sollozo and his exile in Sicily, Michael seems to be the only one to lead the family business. Fredo is not strong and experienced enough, and does not have the abilities and stature to do it. Tom Hagen is a lawyer, and will keep on having these activities for the family. He is too useful in this task. So Michael has to take the leadership.
As we exposed on the last schemes, he will change the organization of the family, and have a very autocratic style of leadership.
We will describe Michael’s ways to be a leader through some criteria that are: reactions to conflicts/personal involvement, decision taking, and relationships with followers, and then the monitoring.
First we will talk about personal involvement. However it is a real personal event that got Michael involved into business, his way of dealing with it is very detached. He highly separates personal feelings and business decisions. He keeps on saying it in the scene with the discussion about Sollozo’s murder, but we also can see it the way he decides to lead the family. He does not hesitate to skip Tom Hagen from his important role in the family organization, although he is his brother in law and they have known each others for ages. He acts the same with Fredo in Las Vegas, or with Tessio, who is killed although he is a very old family collaborator. Michael only focuses on goals to reach and thinks about business first. We also can see it in the way Michael reacts when a conflict happens. For example in Las Vegas, when he discusses with Moe Green and the conversation starts to turn into an argument, Michael never forgets to keep his rank, never shows no stress and does not to let his violent feelings act instead of him. His rank supposes he stands firm and calm and to act clever. He is the leader so he has a big legitimacy, his role is only to give orders and warn when someone does not respect them. And it is exactly what he does.
On a second hand, we can say that Michael’s way to take decision is very different from his father’s. On the contrary to Vito, who is more a leader member exchange relation (LMX theory), he is a total autocratic leader. Even if he asks the old godfather to be the consiliero, we can suppose it is more an honorific role, than a real one. It also can be to make the transition softer among the rest of the family. Michael can use his father’s natural authority and former role. He skips Tom Hagen to be the only leader when Vito dies. Then he is the only one to take decisions, without any consultation. He sets the new objectives of the family (make clearer and more honest business), and communicates them by himself to the other members of the family. According to the Path-Goal Theory of Leadership, Michael is the very exact definition of a directive leader (“A directive leader sets clear standards of performance and makes rules and regulations clear to followers in a non-threatening way”).
His relationships with the members of the family seem to be regulated by a very high level of hierarchy. Michael is the Godfather and every little decision has to get his approbation. And he does pay attention to the weight of long term relationships. For instance, when Tessio asks him to start a new family, although he is a very old friend of Vito and has been working for the family for ages, he does not make favor and fixes himself the time when Tessio could be able to do it. However, Michael has a real powerful flow of information coming to him. Another aspect of his management is a very efficient monitoring.
But on the contrary to Vito, on Michael’s reign, the other members of the family are only here to send information. They are the monitoring system of Corleone family. It allows the new godfather to take quick decisions, and to run a very active form of management, by being aware of the slightest changes into the environment.
In late summer 1945, Don Vito Corleone and Tom Hagen (his consigliere) hear requests for favors during the Don’s daughter Connie’s wedding reception, following a Sicilian tradition. Singer Johnny Fontaine, Corleone’s godson, asks for help in landing a movie role that will revitalize his flagging career. Hagen is dispatched to California to meet with studio head Jack Woltz. After initially refusing to cast Fontane, Woltz caves in when he finds the severed head of his prized $600,000 racehorse in his bed the next morning.
Upon Hagen’s return, the family leadership meets with Virgil Sollozzo, who asks Don Corleone to protect the rival Tattaglia family’s plannedheroin business. Don Vito disapproves of drug trafficking and feels his political influence could be jeopardized; he rejects the potentially lucrative proposal. He then sends his primary enforcer, Luca Brasi, to infiltrate Sollozzo’s organization, but Brasi is summarily executed.
Don Corleone is shot in an assassination attempt. Sollozzo abducts Hagen and persuades him to offer Corleone’s eldest son, Sonny (James Caan), the deal previously offered to the Don. The youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino), whom the other Mafia families consider a “civilian” uninvolved in mob business, averts a second murder attempt at the hospital where his father is being treated, but is beaten by corrupt police Captain McCluskey. Sonny retaliates by having Bruno Tattaglia killed.
When Sollozzo meets with Michael in an attempt to settle the dispute, Michael shoots and kills both Sollozzo and McCluskey. He takes refuge in Sicily, where he soon marries a young local woman. The third Corleone brother, Fredo, is sent to Las Vegas, to be sheltered by casino operators the Corleones have backed financially. Open warfare erupts between the Corleones and the other members of the Five Families, while the police and other authorities begin to clamp down on Mafia activity. Don Vito is particularly distressed when he learns of Michael’s involvement, since he had planned for Michael to remain uninvolved in the “family business.”
When Sonny impulsively leaves the guarded family compound to confront Connie’s husband, Carlo (Gianni Russo), over his wife-beating, he is killed in an ambush, this after he assaulted Carlo the first time. Meanwhile, Michael narrowly escapes death in Sicily, when his wife is killed by a bomb in their car.
Don Vito meets with the other Five Family dons and settles their dispute, withdrawing his opposition to the Tattalglia’s heroin business. He deduces from the negotiations that the Tattaglias were acting on behalf of the more powerful Don Barzini. With his safety now guaranteed, Michael returns home. More than a year later, he marries his long time American girlfriend, Kay. As his father withdraws from active control of the Corleone family, and middle brother Fredo seen as incapable of shouldering the Don’s responsibilities, Michael takes control of the family. He promises Kay he will legitimize its businesses within five years.
Biding his time, Michael allows rival families to pressure Corleone enterprises and eat away at their revenues, disturbing several of his caporegimes. He directs them not to retaliate, disclosing plans to move family operations to Nevada while spinning off New York operations to family members who stay behind. Michael chooses Carlo to go to Vegas and replaces Hagen with a new consigliere; Vito explains to the upset Hagen that he and Michael have longer-range plans for him and for the family.
Michael travels to Las Vegas, intending to buy out their casino partner, Moe Greene. Greene angrily rejects the proposal, deriding the Corleones as a failing organization. Michael is particularly angered when Fredo, under the sway of Greene and his associates, warns his brother that Greene is too important to be treated in that fashion.
Vito Corleone collapses and dies while playing with his young grandson Anthony in his tomato garden. At the burial, caporegime Tessio (Abe Vigoda) arranges a meeting between Michael and Don Barzini (Richard Conte), now seen as the dominant figure in the New York families. As Vito had warned Michael, Tessio’s involvement signals his shift of allegiance to the Barzini family; the planned meeting is intended to result in Michael’s execution. The meeting is set for the same day as the christening of Connie and Carlo’s son, where Michael will stand as his godfather.
As the christening proceeds, Corleone assassins murder the dons heading the other New York families, as well as Moe Greene. After the christening, Tessio learns that Michael is aware of his betrayal, and is taken off to his death. Michael confronts Carlo over his suspected involvement in setting up Sonny’s killing, promising him safety; after Carlo confesses, he is garotted at Michael’s direction.
Later that day, Connie accuses Michael of murdering the vanished Carlo as Kay watches. When Kay confronts him privately, he denies the accusation to her, an answer she appears to accept. As the film ends, Kay sees Michael receiving gestures of respect from other mafiosi, paralleling the treatment given his father, just before the door to his office is closed.