Leadership Lessons, Sopranos Style

Last night’s unexpected passing of actor James Gandolfini has many talking The Sopranos this morning.  The HBO series was probably one of the best-witten shows ever to appear on television.  And Eduflack would even say it was better than the beautifully written Aaron Sorkin masterpieces SportsNight and The West Wing.

The Sopranos was as good as it was because the writing told a real story.  It connected with the viewer on an emotional and intellectual level, allowing us to connect with the protagonist (Tony Soprano) in a very personal way.  While few of us knew what it was like to be a Jersey mob boss, many of us could relate to the struggling father and husband, the man with anxiety disorder, the CEO fighting to keep his company together with a team of individuals resisting his efforts and resenting his role of authority.
As we think about successful communications in the education space, there is much we can learn from the writing of The Sopranos and how those words were delivered by Gandolfini and the other members of the fine cast.  It perfected the art of storytelling, truly affecting our hearts and minds.
Today’s New York Daily News has a wonder compilation of some of Gandolfini’s best quotes while performing as Tony.  And some of these provide us an interesting glimpse into some of the needed qualities of leadership, whether one is leading a crime family or a school improvement effort.  Some of the highlights (as culled by Politico):
“All due respect, you got no f****ng idea what it’s like to be Number One.  Every decision you make affects every facet of every other f****ng thing.  It’s too much to deal with almost.  And in the end you’re completely alone with it all.”
“Those who want respect, give respect.”
“A wrong decision is better than indecision.”
“Oh, poor baby.  What do you want, a Whitman’s Sampler?”
“If you can quote the rules, you can obey them.”
“It’s good to be in something from the ground floor.  I came too late for that and I know.  But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end.  The best is over.”
Bada bing, y’all.

4 thoughts on “Leadership Lessons, Sopranos Style

  1. Hi! Reading smart articles here and there educates me and makes me a better person. I respect James Gandolfini but I don’t really think this good informative site needs quotes with “F” word! This has disappointed me and I hope other articles will be better arranged and written. Consider this comment as a plain complaint, nothing personal!p.s. I’ll look forward to your reply!________________William – http://www.carid.com/

  2. William, sorry to disappoint.  And truth be told, it is a similar argument I have with my mother, who does not believe there is ever a need for such language in civil society.  But in looking at effective communication, sometimes such language is indeed effective.  One only needs to look at the leadership of folks like President Lyndon B. Johnson to see that.  I used the examples from The Sopranos to demonstrate the power of language in shaping leadership.  But I should have also been clear, that there are times and places for such language, and an education setting is not one of them (even though the underlying message is directly relevant.)  But one only needs to read or watch a David Mamet play to understand the use (and overuse) of such language and its power to shock and drive action.

    But point well taken.  I’ll try better next time.

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