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It’s the 20th anniversary of The Sopranos. Love it or loathe it, no one can dispute the profound effect this show has had on popular culture around the world. It changed forever both the content of television shows (stories about deeply disturbed protagonists we somehow root for) and the way we watch these shows (bingeing).
Tony Soprano ruled his New Jersey crew and, less successfully, his family through fear and intimidation. President Trump has spoken openly about using fear to achieve his goals. “Real power is—I don’t even want to use the word—fear,” Mr. Trump told Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in 2016 when he was a presidential candidate.
With increasing attention on whether President Trump’s leadership style is effective–see, for example, James B. Stewart’s analysis in The New York Times–it’s worth taking a closer look at the cost of leading like Tony Soprano.
Terrifying People Is Unethical
For decades I’ve been trying to remove the stigma associated with the word “ethics.” With what other word is “ethical” most closely associated with? ”Violation”! When you read or hear about ethics in the news, invariably it’s about someone who did something wrong and is now being punished for it. I’ve fought for years to show that ethics covers much more ground than simply bad actors acting badly.
In “University” (season three, episode six), Tony dismisses the horrific murder of an employee as a “workplace accident,” another testament to his inability to care for anyone but himself. Matt Zoller Seitz, the co-author with Alan Sepinwall of The Sopranos Sessions, considers “University” to be the best Sopranos episode of them all. You may not agree with this assessment, but there is no doubt that this disturbing episode shows in grotesque detail how brutality hurts everyone it touches, ultimately including the people who committed the violence.
People Don’t Respond Well To Fear
Let’s set aside for a moment the ethical concerns about fear-based leadership. A practical problem with it is that it doesn’t work. People don’t respond well to fear.
In a study published in the peer-reviewed publication International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers found that toxic workplaces resulted in the “loss of a positive company image, low self-esteem, loss of employee morale, high turnover, work-life conflict, high absenteeism, poor employee health, and lowered employee productivity.” According to the study, toxic workplaces are characterized by bullying, incivility, aggressiveness and harassment, among other negative qualities. All of them are caused or encouraged by fear-based leadership or allowed to flourish under it.
That Cliche About Living By The Sword Is Right On The Money
The ending of The Sopranos is the most fiercely debated finale in television history. Books, blogs and even doctoral dissertations have dissected every beat of the last scene. Was Tony whacked? If so, who did it? If not, what will become of Tony?
For the purpose of examining Tony’s leadership style, however, it doesn’t matter how the series ended. Whether Tony Soprano got what was coming to him or will live the rest of his life in fear, the consequences of his actions are not what any rational person would want for themselves. Even Kid Rock, a man not known for attending keynote speeches on ethical leadership, sang this, in “Only God Knows Why”:
Oh, somehow I know there is more to life than this
I’ve said it too many times and I still stand firm
You get what you put in and people get what the deserve
The tasty onion rings that Tony, Carmela and A.J. enjoyed together may be the best in New Jersey, but they came with a steep price.
January 11, 2019 at 07:18PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs