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The Negotiating Wisdom of Vito Corleone

One of my favorite leadership philosophers was the late, great Vito Corleone, immortalized in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. Don Vito rose to power because of his talent for engaging almost anybody in productive negotiation.

The Don was committed to reasoning with others to find win-win solutions. He cared about people and always sought to help them, as long as he was creating the potential for his family’s future profit. He would commit as much time as was necessary to understand their interests and come to a mutual understanding. He would listen carefully and never raise his voice. Nor did he ever lose sight of his own goals and settle for a weak compromise. For he understood that business success comes, above all else, from aligning the interests of all parties, from sharing the wealth, from ensuring that no one feels like they lost. Losers, he knew from experience, carried vendettas which could lead to counterproductive behaviors. Conversely, successful outcomes usually come down to creating an us out of me and you.

I think of this often, for my clients’ biggest problems often derive from their single-minded attempts to impose their will on customers, suppliers, regulators, investors, or employees. They are surprised when, after I’ve listened to their description of the problem, I ask, “How does the other person see it? What’s in it for them?” That simple question often opens the door to being able to reason together.

Of course, Don Vito had one advantage in these negotiations that most of us lack. If he could not reason with you, he would simply have someone kill you or decapitate your horse. But he would be sad that you had compelled him by your unreasonableness.

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