Machiavelli Management Style: Model for Modern Business Leadership & Lessons of 16th Century Power Politics…

“The first opinion which one forms of a prince (CEO in this context) is by observing the men he has around him; and when they show that they are capable and faithful, then he (CEO) will be considered wise”. ~Machiavelli.

Similarly the selection of employees in the modern organization is critical, as they are the most valuable assets of the organization. Machiavelli proposed hiring; “those who believe in the grandness of the task and greatness of the leader rather than who are simply driven by other factors like money and reputation”….“people looking for money and reputation will leave the moment they will get it better somewhere else”…

His name evokes corruption, reeks of manipulation, and oozes with betrayal. And although Niccol Machiavelli did espouse trickery as a means to maintain power, his name has been unfairly reviled by history. He was no less a master of diplomacy and good leadership, and there’s much to learn from his writings. Machiavelli sees the successful CEO as one who seeks “fame for being great and excellent”.  He does this by managing well. Managing well means two things: the prosperity of the company and its employees, and the creation of company policies that transcend the CEO’s term, securing the survival and success of the company for generations to come…”

In the article “Machiavelli & Modern Business: Realist Thought in Contemporary Corporate Leadership Manuals” by Peter J. Galie and Christopher Bopst write: Machiavelli’s book the ‘The Prince’ has become one of the best known, if not the most influential essay in the history of political philosophy. Since that time, Machiavelli has never gone out of fashion; no doubt because ‘power’ has never gone out of fashion. His teachings seem as relevant today as they were a half-millennium ago…

In bookTennis by Machiavelli by Simon Ramo applies Machiavellian maxims to competitive sports. An advertisement in the New York Times touted the book as follows: “Wily tactics for beating faster and stronger opponents at doubles …. to get the winning edge.” Perhaps no work captures the point more effectively then unpublished dissertation entitled ‘Machiavellianism Among Hotel Employees’, a work that manages to connect Machiavellian ‘realpolitik’ to chambermaids and concierges.

Machiavelli’s ideas about power and leadership, though rooted in another time and place, have also been reformulated and reinterpreted to apply to the attaining and exercising of power by contemporary business executives…

In the article Machiavelli & the Art of Management writes: It’s easy to dismiss the Machiavellian approach to running organizations in today’s kinder, gentler world of new age, team-based management.  But some management experts like James O’ Toole, Aspen Institute, finds some merit in the timeless rules and stratagems penned by Niccolo Machiavelli. Make no mistake: O’Toole is not an unabashed admirer of the man who believed that leaders can accomplish their goals only by being tough, manipulative, dictatorial, or paternalistic as the situation requires.

Indeed, O’Toole feels most of Machiavelli’s principles are outdated in the present context.  It is wrong to assume – as Machiavelli had done – that it’s a jungle of greed and treachery out there in the world of business. But the fact is, however devious his principles may sound to the moral brigade, a careful reading of his ideas are about techniques to forge a humane and stable government.

Many may not know that Machiavelli was motivated in his philosophy by the same goals as Confucius – both had a deep underlying concern for the good of the people through stability in government. And their ideas have applications in modern organizations even more than 500 years later.

Further, why did Machiavelli recommend that a prince (CEO in the present context) must be ready to be cruel and devious? Read it in Machiavelli’s own words: A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good. Therefore it is necessary for a ruler, who wishes to maintain himself, must learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge (or, not use it), according to the necessity of the case”.

The operative word here, as O’Toole points out, is “according to the necessity of the case“, which in other words means, “it all depends“. Your management style cannot be straitjacketed and has to change as the situation demands. Even the worst of Machiavelli’s critics should find nothing wrong with these arguments. After all, expediency is the name of the game in effective management.

“Fortune favors the bold,” he noted.  ‘Look at people who were willing to take prudent risks, who were willing to pick their battles, who want to fight today and also be around to fight tomorrow”. ~Machiavelli

In the article What Can Machiavelli Teach You About Business? writes: You can be a Machiavellian businessman, in the true sense of the word, without being Machiavellian, in the popular definition; that is, be effective without being unethical. Machiavellian thought can be applied to business in a moral and responsible way. No one needs to be trampled upon and no corruption needs to take place. His ideas are founded on the understanding of human psychology and how to use it to your advantage. Politicians and businessmen have long followed his methods and accomplished good things…

In the articleMachiavelli: The Elements of Power writes:  The philosophies known as Machiavellianism have been viewed as evil throughout the centuries, but as most business leaders and politicians agree Machiavelli has only defined the physics of power. Machiavelli was only interested in directly discussing the elements of power and he wrote “…since it is my intention to write something of use…, I deem it is best to stick to practical truth of things rather than to fancies. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons ‘what is’ for ‘what should be’ pursues his downfall rather than his preservation.”

All human struggles boil down to the struggle for power. It is only the basics of social Darwinism. Machiavellian principals are exploited on other levels than those first intended by the author for their universal truth. His theories of power have transcended the political arena and revealed the basic functions of the human struggle for power…

In the article Machiavelli’s The Prince: A Modern Executive by Ronnie Oldham writes: Niccolo Machiavelli, a contemporary of Copernicus, is generally accepted as an early contributor to the scientific revolution, because he looked at power and the nature of sovereignty through the eyes of a scientist, focused completely on the goal without regard for religion and morals and ethics. Drawing a connection between Machiavelli’s states and modern day corporations is not difficult.

A corporation has its king and barons, its courtiers and ambassadors, its loyalists and its dissident elements, its allies and its enemies. Today’s corporate executive must routinely make decisions which directly affect the lives of thousands of individuals. To be successful, he or she must be able to identify and objectively evaluate the entire range of options, strategies, and tactics available.

This involves weighing the negative implications of a decision against the anticipated gain and then acting, without hesitation, in the best interests of the firm. ‘The Prince’ provides valuable and timeless insight for modern managers facing the difficult choices involved in right-sizing, acquisitions, mergers, hostile take-over, and fierce competition in the marketplace…

“Men must either be cajoled or be crushed. For if you do a person a slight injury he will surely avenge himself, but if you crush him he cannot.”~ Machiavelli

In the article Business and Leadership Lessons – From Machiavelli by Steve Tobak writes:  Few historical figures are as divisive and polarizing as Niccolo Machiavelli. Some view him as the father of modern materialism, inspiring people to do or say anything to achieve personal gain, ( i.e., the ends justify the means). Indeed, the word Machiavellian – derived from his most famous work, The Prince – has come to mean cunning, deceit, and manipulation.

Others, however, see him as the world’s first great realist and a positive influence on modern politics and capitalism. Some even think Machiavelli was the first to apply empirical scientific methods to human behavior by making innovative generalizations based on experience, observation, and history.

Being a realist – much like Machiavelli – I’m not inclined to weigh in on the man’s overall affect on the world, good or bad. Regardless, many of his ideas for achieving long-term political success and power translate extraordinarily well into the current business climate of intense global competition…

In the article “Machiavellian Approach to Modern Business Practices” by Garrett Vogenbeck writes:  Machiavelli writes of the quality of ‘virtù’, a word that means more than just ‘virtue’ does in English. It can mean “ability, skill, energy, forcefulness, strength, ingenuity, courage, or determination” However, ‘virtù’ for Machiavelli is virtue not for its own sake but rather for the sake of the reputation it enables princes to acquire. These are qualities required for an entrepreneur, or someone who strives to be a leader or innovator within an organization.

Alongside virtù are three specific characteristics a leader must exhibit in order to maintain his power: “he must be stingy rather than generous” for the work will go unnoticed, and it is necessary to appear generous for the sake of gaining power only. Machiavelli also stresses the importance of discipline by noting; “that it is better to be feared than loved”. This is difficult to apply in management, for many employees have the capacity to move on if a manager is somewhat ruthless in his discipline. Lastly, Machiavelli stresses the means to attain and keep power, not the morality or ethics behind those means”.

Machiavelli’s is a practical, empirical and impressionistic system not an abstract and unified philosophical one. It offers generalizations from history and experience about the possibilities and limitations of political or business action – circumstances in which acts have justified consequences. In business, more than in private life, many consequences cannot be foreseen or fully controlled. So action cannot be governed by moral absolutes.

Business did not hold the same kind of power in Machiavelli’s era as they do now. Although Machiavelli had originally intended for his writings to be applied to government, they can now be applied to business too. Machiavelli generally understood the nature of power, and the way in which one must work with the people in order to succeed. And, that the political or business agent may sometimes perform harsh, deceptive acts that others may find reprehensible…

“Leadership is a struggle by flawed human beings to make some important human values real and effective, in the world as it is.” ~Joseph L. Badaracco