I would like to thank HBO for finally filling the ‘Sopranos’ void with its new show created by Sopranos alum Terence Winter and award-winning director Martin Scorsese: ‘Boardwalk Empire’. This show gives us a new “leader” to replace Tony Soprano as the subject of deep arguments and debates for hours on end. The show revolves around Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, who is the multifaceted treasurer of Atlantic City during the 1920’s. Nucky is basically in charge of every business that turns a profit in America’s Playground and will always get paid, no matter what.
Nucky displays many leadership styles (for better and worse) we have studied in this class, but for the sake of the blog, I will only focus on a few. Nucky’s leadership is confronted with a major change in society with the dawn of Prohibition. After our federal government put the ban on the sale of alcohol, bootlegging became an instant money-making profession. As treasurer of Atlantic City (which lies directly on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean), Nucky felt the need to take the opportunity to make some extra money for himself and his city and get involved with bootleggers and gangsters. This brings to mind Selznick’s idea of meeting the needs of a social situation (22). He says that in order to understand the nature of the work done by a leader, you have to know something about the social situation they are called upon to handle. In Nucky’s case, the social situation is that crime and illegal activity were going to start dominating a big portion of the economy, and in order to fulfill his duties as treasurer, he felt that he needed to get his hands dirty in this new venture. Nucky’s new identity, although not known by most of his constituents, is a representation of the impact Prohibition had on many of our country’s various leaders during these times. Organized crime rose drastically in America, and the moral values of leadership became insignificant.
The money Nucky began making from bootlegging clearly was illegal and therefore morally corrupt as determined by law. Cadbury discusses business as a part of the social system in his article and how one cannot isolate the economic elements of major decisions from their social consequences (70). Unfortunately, this is exactly what Nucky does. Blinded by financial gain, Nucky fails to address what major social consequences could arise for him and his city if caught bootlegging. Federal agents begin taking a large interest in Nucky and his business affairs, but Nucky refuses to stop. I guess we will have to continue watching the show to see if Nucky’s illegal affairs end up getting the best of him.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the show is Nucky’s noticeable commitment to his constituents of Atlantic City. As a viewer, we can clearly see that Nucky is not as honorable as he seems, but his followers don’t get to see his morally corrupt side. As Heifitz says, “a leader earns influence by adjusting to the expectations of followers” (17). Nucky makes sure that he is continuously satisfying his followers through gifts or promises and alludes to this year being an “election year” all of the time. Getting votes to remain treasurer is always in the front of his mind, so he is always doing things to better the lives of his people, earning influence day by day. But as Geneen says in his essay, “ultimately, a good leader should do the decent thing…he should know what the decent thing is, everyone else does” (12). It is hard to say that Nucky is not decent, because you can tell he cares about his followers greatly, but you cannot ignore the fact that he is getting involved with very indecent practices. It would be interesting to see Nucky’s followers get a glimpse of the real leader he is becoming, and whether or not they would remain loyal to him. There is clearly a prominent divide in Nucky’s morality at this point in the show and only time will tell if it all comes up and backfires on him. I suggest you tune in to HBO and watch ‘Boardwalk Empire’ as Steve Buscemi beautifully portrays a leader with many skills and deficits that mirror the theories we are learning about in class.