Who is Vito Corleone?
Vito Corleone is a character in Mario Puzo's 1969 novel The Godfather and the award-winning 1972 film adaptation by Francis Ford Coppola, and its 1974 sequel. He is a Mafia boss known to most as the Godfather.
His rise from a poor orphan immigrant to a revered Mafia boss offers endless lessons on how to handle any situation you may encounter. We cover four traits every gentleman should emulate from Vito Corleone.
He’s Respected by Everyone Around Him
Don Corleone has a knack of quickly gaining the loyalty and respect of those around him. Everyone, even his closest friends, refers to him respectfully as "Don Corleone" or "The Godfather".
Early on in his crime career, a local gangster called Fanucci tries to extort him and his friends. While his friends are busy panicking, Vito calmly recalled everything he knew about Fanucci and the Mafia (the "Black Hand" as it was called during this period).
After careful consideration, he realized that Fanucci only acted like he was a mob boss in front of easy-to-trick immigrants. He asked his friends to leave everything in his hands to convince Fanucci to accept less money, telling his friends "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse". He got rid of the threat posed by Fanucci.
As a result, Vito earned the respect of the neighborhood, becoming known as a "Man of Respect" in the neighborhood.
During the Great Depression, Don Corleone offered good-paying jobs to anyone willing to work for him. Anyone who came to him for help, he encouraged and helped.
Respect is not something we can demand from people. Instead, its something we earn through our actions.
Below are a few pointers to help you earn people’s respect:
- Always honor commitments and promises.
- Get in the habit of figuring things out for yourself. Be a solution provider and think of ways to offer value to others.
- Everyone has desirable and undesirable traits. Respect others—even if you don’t like them.
- Embrace your creativity and follow through with your ideas.
He’s Loyal and Kind to His Family and Friends
In a scene in the first movie, Don Corleone is talking to his godson Johnny Fontane. He asks him “Do you spend time with your family?” Johnny responds “Sure I do.” Don Corleone replies, "Good because a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."
This testament highlights the importance The Godfather lays on his family and those close to him. He is a man who leverages his influence and helps those close to him.
For example, one elderly woman, a friend of Vito’s wife, asks him for help. Her landlord has evicted her without sufficient cause. Vito talks to the landlord and requests that he let the woman keep her apartment as a favor. The landlord doesn’t take Vito seriously.
Once he finds out who Don Corleone is, he not only gives the woman back her apartment, he lowers the rent. It is unlikely that the woman will help Don, but that doesn’t stop him from assisting her.
Loyalty and kindness are great virtues to have. It’s important that people close to you know that they can count on you. A genuine gentleman will stand with his loved ones through thick and thin.
Also, his kindness is not limited to his family and friends. If he comes across a stranger who needs his help and he’s able to offer assistance he will not withhold it.
He Values other People’s Expertise
Everyone in the family respects the Godfather for his long experience. You could say that he is an expert in many aspects of the family business. Yet, he also knows that there are gaps in his knowledge.
Running a mafia business entails confrontations with the criminal justice system. So, the Godfather wisely sought a dedicated lawyer.
Tom Hagen, the lawyer, and consigliere to the Corleone family advises the Godfather on a range of matters. He’s also one of the few non-Corleones admitted into the inner circle.
Don’t get caught up in the expertise trap where you falsely believe that your brilliance in one area would render you competent in another. One of the most important qualities of a leader is the ability to identify and appreciate the value other people bring to the table and knows how to put them to full use.
Though a Gangster He Has a Moral Code
Despite his role as a crime boss, he is a moral and principled man. In the first movie, Don Corleone faces a challenge in deciding whether to expand his empire to include heroin peddling. A gangster named Sollozzo wants to involve the Corleone family in his narcotics smuggling operation.
Two other crime families, the Barzinis and Tattaglias, are already in on the scheme, but Sollozzo wants Vito’s protection and financing too. Despite the profit opportunities offered, the Godfather refuses to enter the business because he feels it is a distasteful business.
He also held himself above prostitution, another reason for his intense dislike of the Tattaglias, whose primary business was prostitution.
Every gentleman needs to be ambitious and driven, but ambition without a moral code is a very dangerous thing. You are probably not a Mafia boss. You probably work in the corporate world, run your own business, or maybe work a government job.
Regardless of whatever field you are in, you are bound to run into unscrupulous fellows. People who will seek to engage you in dodgy or even illegal affairs.
That’s why it’s very important to be clear on where you draw the line in the sand. As the Good Book says, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?”
Don Corleone survived assassination attempts, rivals trying to steal his empire, and disloyal friends backstabbing him. Though he’s a man from another generation, there’s a lot the modern gentleman can learn from him. Embrace the four Vito Corleone’s traits we have covered today.
- Be loyal and kind.
- Earn people’s respect through your actions.
- Value other people’s expertise.
- Have a moral code.