‘Do It First, Do It Yourself, and Keep on Doing It’: A Leadership Lesson from Scarface

Scarface

Scarface

‘Anything he starts, we’ll finish.’
Tony ‘Scarface’ Camonte

The 1932 gangster classic ‘Scarface’ stars Paul Muni as Tony ‘Scarface’ Camonte.

Though poorly educated, Camonte is charismatic, industrious and dedicated. He works his way up through the ranks of the Chicago mob during the Prohibition era, extorting money from saloons and terrorizing bar owners. He has a passion for violence, success and power, ruthlessly pursuing his objectives with little regard for the law or human life. His progress is achieved by savage assaults, brutal murders, drive-by shootings and the liberal use of pineapple bombs.

Mid-way through the drama Camonte celebrates the arrival on his turf of the Tommy Gun, sometimes nicknamed ’the Chicago typewriter.’

'There's only one thing that gets orders and gives orders. And this is it… It's a typewriter. I'm gonna write my name all over this town with it, in big letters!’

Director Howard Hawks and scriptwriter Ben Hecht were clearly both fascinated and repelled by the amorality of the mob. Camonte is no two-dimensional villain. He has charm and style. He commands loyalty from his colleagues and is protective of his family. With growing success, he develops a taste for fine living and takes a shine to his employer’s girlfriend, Poppy. She, however, is initially sceptical of both his advances and his expensive tailoring.

Poppy: 'Kind of gaudy, isn't it?'
Tony Camonte: 'Ain't it though? Glad you like it.’

For all his obvious shortcomings, I was quite struck by Camonte’s personal business mantra:

'Listen, Little Boy, in this business there's only one law you gotta follow to keep out of trouble: Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doing it.'

Camonte is a driven man. His gangster bosses, with time and achievement, get complacent and comfortable, and set limits to their ambition. But, regardless of his wealth and accomplishments, Camonte stays actively involved in the brutality and bloodshed. He maintains an insatiable appetite for more. 

We’re all nowadays familiar with the commercial imperative of speed and agility; with the contemporary benefits of first mover advantage. But how committed are we to the concept of sustaining direct personal involvement as we progress through the ranks? How much do we subscribe to Camonte’s dictum to ‘do it yourself and keep on doing it’?

In my own experience people often see promotion as a licence to take their foot off the gas, to step back and empower. They have earned the right to withdraw from the front line; to marshal resources from 50,000 feet; to develop long-term plans and strategic visions; to mentor and train. They regard leadership as a hands-off task.

Of course, we need our most senior and experienced minds to be thinking about the future. And a primary responsibility of leadership is to equip teams with capabilities and confidence so that that they can do the job themselves. But at the same time, if you want to retain a cutting edge, to stay abreast of change, to remain relevant, you have to sustain active involvement with Clients, consumers, brands and business. However tempting it is to coach from the sidelines, you have to stay match-fit.

I once approached my boss Simon Sherwood with a proposal to take a broader, more strategic role in the Agency. I’d had my fill of troublesome Clients and tiresome pitches. I wanted to apply myself to more cerebral activity.

Simon, sitting at a desk that was empty but for a small stack of yachting magazines, leaned back in his Eames aluminium chair and regarded me with cool-eyed detachment:

‘Always remember, Jim, if you’re not facing income, you’re entirely expendable.’

I gave up on my proposal and returned to my desk.

 

'Can't fight corruption with con tricks.
They use the law to commit crime.
And I dread to think what the future will bring
When we're living in gangster time.
Don't call me Scarface.’

The Specials, ‘Gangsters' (Crispin Macmichael Sandys Hunt)

 

No. 236