The Godfather Showed You How The 48 Laws of Power Really Work

Preston Charles
11 min readMay 19, 2021


The book “The 48 Laws of Power” examines power and is filled with examples of people who have understood the laws since ancient times. It becomes interesting to observe one of the most influential films of the 20th Century through the lens of the “48 Laws of Power”. Author Robert Green provides clear examples of powerful people who understood and applied them in their favor. He also takes time to demonstrate “transgressions” to their detriment. The Godfather characters are fascinating to observe through this point of view because people like to watch power. The audience can see how effectively the characters use their influence throughout the story.

The Godfather movies are some of the most influential films of the past 50 years. The stars of the Godfather movies went on to enjoy decades of success throughout their remarkable careers. The influence has been seen in cinema, television, and print media as well. The challenging circumstances force characters to make fascinating choices. The choices and philosophies behind those choices draw fans into investing heavily in the story. Many characters display their state of mind before taking action. The display fascinates fans living in the moment, and therefore these mindsets continue to influence popular culture. The following is a collection of ten examples of how characters understood the 48 Laws of Power.

Never put too much trust in friends, know how to use enemies

It is natural for most people to react forcefully to behavior they find threatening or repulsive. Who doesn’t feel the need to give someone a piece of their mind? While doing that may feel natural and even feel soothing to deal with an enemy in that manner, it may not be the most pragmatic way to resolve your issues. Perhaps you have heard the expression, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” This expression is a famous line from the Godfather movies. Michael Corleone states this expression to one of his employees, Frank Pentangeli. Michael tells him he learned that lesson from his late father, Vito Corleone, who established the family business and asked his youngest son to succeed him. Michael proceeds to explain to his employee that he will not support him in a dispute with his rivals. Unfortunately for Frank, his opponents take their orders from a man who poses a more severe threat to the Corleone family. Michael wants to appear friendly with the even more formidable enemy he knows is trying to hurt him. In other words, he is willing to tolerate the cost of dealing with his enemy to get close enough to attack him once the time suits him.

Always say less than necessary

Many leaders made their mark on history by making great speeches or relying on charisma to charm the masses. There is a place to get people interested in what you have to say, but exercising prudence is valuable. It is critical to control the message to acquire and preserve power. Tom Hagen knew how to keep his mouth closed to protect the family business. Tom Hagen, the Legal Counsel and advisor to the family, was skilled at getting his point across without literally saying it. He greets Kay Adams during an unexpected visit because she wants to understand how he is enjoying his vacation. Kay let Tom know she had tried to contact Michael. “Now, I wanna reach Michael.” Tom cleverly replies, “Nobody knows where he is. We know he’s alright, but that’s all.” Kay offers Tom a handwritten letter in hopes he’ll forward it. Tom replies with “Well, if I accepted that, in a court of law, they could prove I have knowledge of his whereabouts” He is always calculating and considerate of the risks involved in actions. He feels for Kay, but he understands the problems that would come with sharing any information.

Infection: Avoid the unhappy and unlucky

Avoid the unhappy and unlucky is an essential rule of self-preservation. Unhappy people have a way of stripping away the joy or good fortune of other people. They tend to resent the success of those who outperform them. Individuals like this focus on what they don’t have. They can be challenging to get along with because they feel nobody rewards their actual contributions. The problem is that they tend to feel slighted need a person to blame for their misfortune.

Think about Carlo Rizzi. Carlo married into the powerful Corleone family by marrying Connie, the Powerful Vito Corleone’s only daughter. He was brought into the family environment by Sonny Corleone, who was the eldest son of Vito. Carlo was jealous of the status of the biological sons. Their insight, wisdom, and competence were valued where those traits were not wanted of Carlo by the family. The decision was made to “Give him a living but never discuss the family business” with Carlo on his wedding day. He resented his perceived lack of respect by the family and displaced his anger onto his wife, Connie. His cruel and manipulative behavior toward his wife and his resentment of the family’s men, and the apparent nature of his core personality led to a succession of tragic consequences. Carlo lacked the positive outlook that would have enabled him to parlay his newfound position within a powerful family into a long prosperous career among his peers. Avoid this type of person.

When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude

Hyman Roth was a compelling character in The Godfather saga. He had been a significant factor in the business and lived a long life in a world where many do not enjoy such longevity. Hyman began with Vito Corleone in the early days and was still active in the business world as a senior citizen. He was not physically imposing, nor did he have an aura of interpersonal dominance. Hyman Roth, in the words of his associate Johnny Ola, “always makes for his partners.” This trait is vitally important in the business world, especially in a business as competitive as Mr. Roth’s. As a very young man, he establishes himself to Don Corleone not through family ties but by his skill and willingness to assist him. He immediately adds value. Many decades later, and years after Don Corleone’s death, Hyman Roth seduces Fredo Corleone into working against his own family. Fredo is the son of Hyman’s old friend and the older brother of Michael Corleone, who has become the head of their family. After discovering the betrayal, a disgusted Michael asks Fredo about his conversations with Roth’s organization. In his own words, they promised Fredo that “there was something in it for me” and that “it would be good for the family.” One man inspired another man to turn against his own family by appealing to self-interest.

Crush your enemy totally

This lesson means leave no hope or optimism in the heart of your adversary. The adversary will never be able to strike back if the attacking force dismantles them. The family emphasizes this philosophy in words and deeds. Tom Hagen asks Michael to reconsider yet another risky undertaking after already winning a significant battle. “Is it worth it? I mean, you’ve won. Do you have to wipe everybody out?”. Michael replies in a matter-of-fact tone. “I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom, just my enemies.”. Michael verbally expresses to his family feels he HAS to wipe out or totally crush the enemy. This idea is also physically illustrated in which the Corleone family moves to “settle all family business.” They have had to deal with industry rivals for years. By the end of the scene, it is clear that they had every intention of crushing the enemy. Winning was not enough. The action of accomplishing the goal is not how any human being should deal with competition. In the scope of an epic Hollywood blockbuster, however, the point is made most dramatically.

Know who you are dealing with-do not offend the wrong person

Do not offend the wrong person. Have you ever had anyone say to you, “They didn’t know who they were messing with”? If so, what kind of mood were they in when they were living in the moment of the story? How often has something positive happened to the person who didn’t know who they were messing with? Senator Geary from Nevada did not observe this rule. His behavior demonstrates a blatant violation that is very easy to notice. Senator Geary repeatedly insults Michael Corleone. He flat out tells Michael that he will do business with them while he despises the Corleone family. He makes an insulting offer charging more than ten times the standard fee for their deal. The esteemed Senator then insults the Sicilian ethnicity and physical presentation. Geary also makes sure he takes time to insult the pattern of speech of the Sicilian people. “I don’t like your kind of people. I don’t like to see you come out to this clean country in your oily hair dressed up in those silk suits and try to pass yourselves off as decent Americans.” After the Corleone family outmaneuvered and compromised the esteemed Senator by capitalizing on his poor decisions, he felt moved to express something entirely different. Once vicious slurs of the past were now directed at those who were ‘among the most loyal, most law-abiding, patriotic, hard-working American citizens to this land…they are the salt of the earth, and they’re one of the backbones of this country.” The Senator learned his lesson the hard way.

Enter action with boldness

Boldness is a common idea that people love to promote. The concept is much more difficult for many to execute. We like to exclaim statements of boldness such as “fortune favors the bold” or “go big or go home” out loud while we repeat the same predictable actions day after day in our lives. This behavior is normal because there is a level of security in accepting our circumstances. In the early 20th Century, there was a young man who practiced boldness without preaching it. In 1917, a man called Don Fanucci controlled the neighborhood businesses. He was said to be with the “Black Hand” and was feared by many. There was no Don Vito Corleone at this time. Vito Corleone was a young man who wanted to move up in the world. Don Fanucci, however, was a man who made demands and expected others to fulfill those demands. Young Vito also became a target of such an order. Fanucci forced Vito out of a steady job and insisted that his nephew take the position instead. Not only did he suffer that insult, but Fanucci also pressured him to pay proceeds from Vito’s new business venture. Unlike his good friend, Vito did not see a reason to pay the don the money. Vito made a proposition to his friends that he would do them a favor. Referring to Fanucci, he tells his friends, “I’ll reason with him. Leave everything to me.” He was the one person who was bold enough to address Fanucci and put a stop to the problems he caused. He moved with boldness once he decided to correct the problem.

Plan all the way to the end

Organizations that develop effective plans control the world. The ability to plan and organize separates people who repeatedly succeed from those who rarely do. The ability to improvise is essential, but it cannot be relied upon as a sole option. A well-conceived plan is the foundation of any massive undertaking. It is critical to think ahead and understand each step along the way. Michael proposes a manner to solve the problems presented by Virgil Sollozzo. Virgil attempted to remove Vito Corleone from power so he could pursue his business interests. The family knew Virgil would have to keep trying to remove Vito until he succeeded.

Along with the rest of the family, Michael Corleone devised a plan to neutralize the threat of Virgil Sollozzo. The Corleone family planned their response in painstaking detail. Peter Clemenza went over the execution of Michael’s plans to make sure he knew what to do and why to do it. The family addressed Sollozzo’s police protection and how to leverage external allies to deal with public perception. Like a strong project team, they covered the details of the plan. Without labeling their actions, they successfully covered the mission, work scope, human resources, scheduling, procurement, and levels of acceptable quality of the work, communication, and even discussed risk management. When Sonny asks his brother if they went over one of the plan’s specific details, Michael says, “Yeah, A million times.” They cover communication methodology to other family members and even deal with the duration of the “vacation” after the big event.

Control the options: Get others to play with the cards you deal

“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” You know what you want to do, and you know what you want other people to do. People in power rise to power because they know what they want and then take steps to get what they want. Influential people remain in control because they know what they want from others, and then they know how to direct them toward their desired outcomes. Johnny Fontane was a superstar, someone many people believe was based on Frank Sinatra. This successful singer worked for a big band leader, who signed him to a personal services contract. Johnny wanted to be released from his contract and ultimately did so with the help of his Godfather, Vito Corleone. At the wedding reception, a captivated Kay Adams asked Michael how his father could get him out of the contract when the bandleader had no interest in releasing him. Michael famously replies to her that “My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.” After singing at the wedding, Johnny reaches out to his Godfather again to help solve a problem getting a career-changing movie role with Jack Wolz, who runs the studio. Vito confidently tells him the “Hollywood Bigshot” is going to give him what he wants. Jack Woltz initially refuses to comply with the first two requests. Things change drastically after an overnight visit, and the Hollywood bigshot decided Johnny Fontane was the perfect man for the movie, after all. Vito made sure there was a clear choice that would work out in his favor. The Corleone family constantly gave options, but the alternatives were usually unfavorable.

Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once

Many of us have been there. We may have experienced a lack of satisfaction in the workplace, the home, or community. Your Management team says the company will revisit hiring new staff for the position your best friend is qualified to fill once the economy picks up. Your significant other says they will give you more attention once things slow down at work and your best friend moves out. Your City Council says they will make improvements downtown once they successfully address the local unemployment issue. The need for change is constant, and those who are savvy enough know how to address those concerns, even if they have no intention of doing anything to deal with the actual problem. The stage is set for a young war hero named Michael Corleone. He tells a young Kay Adams that “In five years, the Corleone family is going to be completely legitimate.” Later, after they become man and wife, Kay says, “It made me think of what you once told me. In five years, the Corleone family will be completely legitimate. That was Seven years ago”. Michael holds his wife closer and says, “I know. I’m trying, Darling.” Michael’s desire for total power is just too much for his dream of running a legitimate business to overcome.



Preston Charles

Preston Charles studied marketing at Morehouse College and earned his MBA in Supply Chain Management and Strategic Leadership from Penn State University.