The Chicago Syndicate: Tony Soprano: Leadership Consultant

Monday, June 11, 2007

Tony Soprano: Leadership Consultant

Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family

If you're in the waste management/strip joint/butcher racket, look to Anthony John Soprano as your guiding cannoli ... er ... light.

His story--a blueprint for how to run a crime family like a well-oiled business machine--has been airing Sundays on HBO for the past seven years and has now come down to this weekend's series finale. Fans are heading into the closer blind, with previews revealing no more than a few quick cuts of the main characters set to a resonating drum beat.

Whether Tony lives or dies, he'll be missed like no other capo.

Since The Sopranos, which Vanity Fair called ''the greatest show in television history,'' debuted in 1999, Tony Soprano--reputed mob boss of northern New Jersey, loving father, modern-day American icon and born leader--has proved that ruling with an iron fist can be quite efficient.

Nancy Davis, associate professor at the Chicago School of Business Psychology (and a Sopranos fan), says Tony's approach, while effective, leads to a power struggle within the core group and spurs an utter state of panic, or "learned helplessness," among followers.

As a result, "they can't function without the support of the boss," Davis says. ''They need to be led. They need to be puppeteered." But the minute a gunshot wound to Tony's gut forced him into a coma in Part 1 of Season 6, his underlings were more concerned with who would be a fitting successor rather than with their boss's health; hence the power struggle. Silvio--Tony's loyal but limited henchman--ultimately takes the reins as acting boss. Davis predicts Tony will fall.

Jennifer Thompson, an assistant professor and Davis' colleague at the Chicago School of Business Psychology, says Tony's method of leadership has much to do with class distinction. Thompson says the closest comparison to this type of leadership is in a blue-collar work environment where brute force can win the boss's respect.

"It's not appropriate, but it's understandable [in Tony's case] and effective," Thompson says.

She cites an episode in Part 1 of Season 6, when Tony, post-coma, bludgeoned his massive bodyguard though he was unprovoked, emphasizing he was still the alpha in the room and proving he was still capable of dominance, despite recent proof that he is, in fact, fallible.

Wharton School professor Michael Useem says Tony's authoritative style works because lives are at stake. He made the comparison to a Marine commander, who gets his soldiers to comply by the judicious use of force because any procedural snafu could prove more costly than cash-filled envelopes.

"Tony Soprano has it half-right in business," Useem says. "When you get away from those circumstances, then autocratic control tends to be a non-starter. As a decision-maker, you do want people working for you who don't see it your way because they may see an opportunity you're not looking at."

It's hardly in Tony's nature to be that democratic, but everything is behind him now as his men stand firm in his corner at the crucial 11th hour.

How many CEOs wish they could say the same?

Thanks to Matthew Kirdahy

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