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James Gandolfini: ‘Don’t try to please them. Do it for yourself.’

James Gandolfini in "The Sopranos." (HBO/Barry Wetcher/AP)

There was a time -- it's hard to believe now -- when business authors actually wrote books lauding Tony Soprano's leadership. Really.

During the heyday of the HBO show "The Sopranos's" popularity, at least two different management guides were penned to capture the mob boss's wisdom. "He is a remarkably effective boss who can teach MBAs a thing or two about leadership," read the back cover of "Leadership Sopranos Style," a book written by a then-Avon executive. It was translated into 10 languages.

"Tony Soprano on Management," meanwhile, billed itself as an "offbeat leadership guide" bearing advice on making decisions, giving praise, and resolving conflict. ("Whacking people," the book felt the need to remind readers, is "a definite no-no in most corporate environments.") He was a boss, yes, and at times a good one. But there is apparently no end to where business authors -- and the people who read their books -- will look for inspiration.

On the occasion of actor James Gandolfini's sad and untimely death, I could include clips here from the show about how Tony Soprano ran meetings or talked leadership succession with his nephew. Doing so on this occasion would feel silly -- and surely include language inappropriate for a family newspaper.

Instead, let's look to Gandolfini himself for a little inspiration. He persevered, not getting into acting until he was 25 (after managing nightclubs and driving delivery trucks) or landing his big break for 12 years. And what motivated him apparently wasn't fame or just the next job, but doing the best work for himself. When he auditioned for the role of Tony Soprano, he has said he realized it wasn't going well, that he hadn't prepared for it right. He asked if he could come back and try again. "People want to see you, they want to see what you're thinking, they want something from you," he said in an interview in 2004. "Don't try to please them. Do it for yourself."

Words to live by for anyone.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

James Gandolfini: The Soprano who was Mozart

Memorable quotes from James Gandolfini's character Tony Soprano

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.



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Jena McGregor · June 20, 2013

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