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The Godfather - Leadership and EthicsThe Godfather - Leadership and Ethics


The Godfather (1972)


Famous for...

  • The Corleone family, members of the Mafia, the international crime organization that originated in Sicily and made big money from prostitution, drugs and protection rackets (payments to prevent attacks on people or their property). The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics
  • “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse”, Marlon Brando’s famous line as Don Vito Corleone, pictured right (Don is the title given to the head of a Mafia family).
  • A real severed horse’s head in one scene, arousing protests from animal rights groups. It came from a dog food company.


Set in...

America and Sicily 1945-55.

 The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

Based on...

The American, Mario Puzo’s (pictured right) novel, The Godfather.



  • The Godfather Part II (1974), the first sequel to win the best film Oscar.
  • The Godfather Part III (1990).

 The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics


Francis Ford Coppola (pictured right), also director of Apocalypse Now.



Three for :

  • best actor (Marlon Brando).
  • best film.
  • best adapted screenplay (Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola).

 The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

Key characters

Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando, star of On the Waterfront), head of his Mafia family.

Michael Corleone (Al Pacino, star of Serpico), his youngest son, pictured right above.The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

Sonny Corleone (James Caan), his eldest son.

Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall, star of Apocalypse Now), his adopted son and family lawyer (or consigliere), pictured right.

Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), Michael’s girlfriend and then his wife.


The story

In the summer of 1945 Connie marries Rizzi in New York (pictured right below). The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

Connie is the daughter of Mafia boss, Don Vito Corleone, known as the Godfather. He makes his money from prostitution, protection rackets and gambling.

His youngest son, Michael, a highly decorated war hero, reassures his girlfriend, Kay Adams, that he has nothing to do with his father’s criminal life.

With the family lawyer, Tom Hagen, Don Vito listens and gives help to friends and associates in return for their loyalty.The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

One of these is the undertaker, Amerigo Bonasera. Another is Don Vito's godson, Johnny Fontane (pictured right together), who wants a big movie part from the studio’s boss, Jack Woltz .

Don Vito says, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” and the next day Woltz finds the bloody severed head of his prized racehorse in his bed. Fontane gets the part!

Much to his eldest son, Sonny's disgust, Don Vito refuses to go into the drugs business with:

  • Virgil “the Turk” Sollozzo, a heroin dealer.
  • the Tattaglia family. The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

In response they shoot Don Vito and kill his aide, Luca Brasi.

Michael is furious when he thwarts another murder attempt on his father by

  • Sollozzo.
  • a corrupt policeman (Captain McCluskey).

Michael persuades his family that he should kill Sollozzo and McCluskey in an Italian restaurant. After the murders, Michael has to flee to Sicily where he marries a local girl, Apollonia (pictured above), but she is killed by a car bomb in a failed attempt on his life.The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

Back in New York, Don Vito returns home, distressed to hear that Michael is now a murderer.

Some months later , Sonny (pictured right) beats up Carlo Rizzi (the husband of his now pregnant sister, Connie) for hitting her. Under orders, Rizzi abuses her again to lure out Sonny who is ambushed and killed.

Instead of seeking revenge, Don Vito meets the heads of the other Mafia families to end the Mafia war and so ensure Michael’s safe return from Sicily.

Don Vito deduces that Emilio Barzini, head of the Barzini family, is responsible for the war and Sonny’s death, not the Tattaglias.

Michael returns from Sicily and, a year later, Kay accepts his marriage proposal. He takes over from his father as head of the family and its businesses.The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

He moves the family business to Las Vegas, where he is greeted by his brother, Fredo, and Johnny Fontane at the hotel casino, jointly owned by

  • the Corleones.
  • Moe Greene, pictured right (who refuses to sell his share to Michael because he thinks he can get a better deal from the Barzinis).

Before dying of a heart attack with Michael and Kay's son, Don Vito tells Michael that their enemies are planning to kill him. When this is confirmed, Michael orders the killing of

  • Moe Greene.
  • Don Barzini. The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics
  • Philip Tattaglia (head of the Tattaglia family).

Michael’s attendance at the baptism of Rizzi and Connie’s son gives him a perfect alibi.

He tricks Rizzi into admitting his part in Sonny’s death and has him killed, too. He lies to Connie and Kay (pictured right) that he wasn’t involved in his death, finishing the film as the new Godfather.


Lessons for leadership and ethics

1. Great leaders are tough but tenderThe Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

Don Vito is a great Mafia boss. He inspires great loyalty and affection, because he is

  • kind (as well as ruthless).
  • principled (refusing to go into the drugs business and avenge Sonny’s murder that would have caused a family war).


2. Good people can turn badThe Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

On his return as a war hero (pictured right with Kay), Michael is the embodiment of the American Dream – successful and apparently moral.

But his character is corrupted by his desire for revenge and murder.

Originally he tells Kay that he won’t be a criminal but ends up lying to her about his involvement in Rizzi’s murder.


3. Revenge is destructive

Michael’s vengeful murders lead to more killings.

 The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

4. The road to hell is paved with good intentions

Michael killed for what he thought were good reasons, but this turned him into a deceitful monster.

Don Vito does favours for people (including politicians, judges and film stars) but only for something in return, however bad.

He threatens to kill people, if they don't co-operate  (“an offer he can’t refuse”).

Johnny Fontane's film career is helped by the severed horse's head in the studio boss's bed.   


5. Conscience kills contentmentThe Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

Michael’s uneasy conscience makes him unable to smile and relax.

In the sequel, Godfather Part II, his evil ruins his marriage to Kay.

In the next film (Part III), she marries the non-violent Tom Hagen and Michael:

  • dies a sad, lonely death.
  • grieves the murder of his daughter, Mary (caused by his vengeful life of crime).

 The Godfather - Leadership and Ethics

6. Think before you act

Sonny’s murder is caused by his impulsive responses to Rizzi’s beatings of Connie.


7. Family matters

Mario Puzo said his book, The Godfather, was a novel about family, love and loyalty, not crime.

Don Vito confirms this when he says:

“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man”.



Key quote on negotiating

I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse, Don Vito Corleone (to Johnny talking about the studio boss).


Key quote on business ethics

It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business, Michael Corleone (about killing Sollozzo and McCluskey).

Don’t ask about my business, Michael Corleone (to Kay).

I don't like violence, Tom. I'm a businessman. Blood is a big expense, Virgil Sollozzo (to Tom Hagen)


Key quotes on family

A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man, Don Vito Corleone.


Key quote on death

Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes, Peter Clemenza (a Sicilian message that Brasi is dead).


Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)

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