Career opportunity: consigliere

When a young advisor breaks these unwritten rules he ceases to be a ‘Consigliere’

Thomas Hagen was consigliere to Don Vito Corleone in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptations
Thomas Hagen was consigliere to Don Vito Corleone in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptations

By Kevin-James Fenech

Kevin-James Fenech is the founder and owner of JOB Search - and FENCI Consulting

Even the Mafia felt the need to create the position of an ‘advisor’; they just referred to him as ‘Consigliere’.

It is exactly 50 years ago that Mario Puzo published his novel ‘The Godfather’ which was three years later popularised by Francis Ford Coppola’s movie going by the same title ‘The Godfather’. The book to me is still one of my old time favourites and I still remember how it shed light on the inner workings of the Mafia.

What I had found particularly intriguing, when I read the book some 30 years ago, was the idea of the Godfather having a trusted advisor. A role which carried no executive power but a lot of soft-power (influence). To me this was alluring and novel in equal measure.

Arguably, although I never realised at the time, this book probably inspired me later in my working life to become a business advisor.

In truth, politics and business  have adopted / adapted the idea of a ‘Consigliere’ and most positions of power today have the ‘trusted advisor’ as part of modern day chain of command structures; be they political, military, commercial and/or non-profit. I mean even the President of America has a ‘Senior Advisor’, so it really has become common practice for leaders to have their ‘Consigliere’. For it to work, however: you need TRUST.

Trust is not just key with this sensitive role but it is everything. Since the exact job description varies depending on the assignment and/or organisation but trust is a constant. Furthermore, the advisor can never and should never wield any real executive power; he/she has no decision making powers whatsoever. This is important to highlight since a lot of aspiring wannabe 'advisors' tend to misunderstand this.

The ‘consigliere’ is always looking from a distance; never getting emotionally involved; and constantly thinking strategically (playing out chess moves in his head of multiple chess games). It is as if the ‘consigliere’ is invisible or out of sight yet his work, advice and foresight are crucial to the strategic success of the organisation and its leader which he/she serves.

Let’s be frank, the modern leader has too much to do, ranging from high-impact fast paced decision making; countless meetings; the balancing act of managing stakeholder(s) interests; the constant switching of gears from tactical operations to Strategy; and the leader is invariably so close to the action that time to think calmly really is a luxury.

This is where the trusted advisor comes to play. The advisor, is kept informed of the most sensitive and confidential matters and be expected to think and problem solve on his own, so when the moment of taking a decision presents it self he/she can impart the best possible advice to the leader. Equally important, the advisor has to do a lot of listening and observing since the role is to understand the context, landscape and emotions, to make sense of everything for the benefit of his master- the decision maker- and give the best possible advice which sometimes includes options each with their own play-script.  

The irony is that whilst it is quite common for leaders to have in place trusted advisors, the role itself has never really been ‘institutionalised’. I guess this is what makes the role so mysterious but I hope a generation of young leaders continue the tradition of employing the services of a trusted advisor, since the best leaders of our times have always relied on their trusted advisor(s). I guess you could say Kings/Queens, Generals, Presidents/Prime Ministers, CEOs, etc, have one thing in common: they always benefited from a ‘Consigliere’.

For this to work, however, and I say this in anticipation of any ambitious millennials already dreaming up their paths to power, the ‘Consigliere’ is consigned to never hold power and stay out of the limelight. By this I mean, the advisor can and will never succeed the leader he serves. If the advisor harbours any such ambitions he is conflicted and will most definitely fail. Therefore, this is not a role for anyone and you genuinely mustn’t harbour a thirst for (decision making) power, since you will never taste it. You role is to think, influence and advise but it will always be your leader that takes the decisions and sometimes he/she will ignore your advice or only partially take on board your advice, as is his right.

To put it crudely, the advisor almost knows everything at a high-level but has zero executive power; the advisor attends high-powered meetings but speaks very little (unless specifically asked to do so by the leader); and the advisor always acts on behalf of his leader if and when asked to handle a matter or resolve an issue. You are their to serve (humbly) and to the best of your abilities. When a young advisor breaks these unwritten rules he ceases to be a ‘Consigliere’.

The best example I can think of to help the reader understand what I am getting at, is Manuel Estiarte. He is the ‘righthand man’ behind the success of Pep Guardiola; arguably one of the most successfully football managers of recent times. Everyone knows that Pep is the Manager and Manuel the ‘extended brain’; Manuel will never be a Manager and he is 100% loyal to Guardiola. This is what I am trying to elude to and explain.  

I hope a young generation of university graduates, perhaps looking for something different as a career, pursue the path to becoming an advisor. I have written this article in the hope that young University students out there get inspired or at least curious enough to consider this as a career.

Career Opportunity: Consigliere. Apply only after great thought and contemplation.

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