What would Machiavelli have taught modern leaders?
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, often known as the founder of modern political science, was an Italian Renaissance historian, politician, and philosopher. He was a senior official in charge of diplomatic and military affairs, and Secretary to the Second Chancery in the Florentine Republic. He also wrote comedies, carnival songs and poetry. He is best remembered for his “Il Principe” (The Prince) in 1513.
He wrote about unscrupulous politicians with immoral behavior who kill innocents; he thought that this was normal and effective in politics. Today, a Machiavellian leader is considered deceitful, devious, and cunning. During the period of Enlightenment in Europe, thinkers like Spinoza, Rousseau and Diderot found inspiration in Machiavelli.
Stanley Bing, a columnist for Fortune Magazine, wrote a book about Machiavelli and dedicated it to himself (Bing). I learned something about Machiavelli and Bing, and thought that if Mr. Mac had written a Decalogue when he was alive, it would include the following:
- Exploit yourself only slightly less than others. Push yourself to your limits, and beyond. A mind so stretched will not return to its original state – it’s more stretched and capable of things never tried before. But if you overextend yourself, do it more with your people. Never accept mediocre or haphazard staff work lest you build a culture of mediocrity and entitlement. Push always!
- Be a paranoid freak. Andy Grove attributes Intel’s “ability to sustain success to being constantly on the alert for threats, either technological or competitive in nature.” Develop that attitude that constantly looks for threats to your success. Look over your shoulders, because people will usually stab you at the back.
- Have a couple of good friends, but cultivate a few enemies. In life, you’d have friends and enemies. Don’t be naïve. So you’re good, mild mannered, and low key. Still, there’ll be a bunch of guys who’ll hate your guts or dislike the way you part your hair. Keep tab of both friends and enemies. Have a list. Add to your list. See how you can use your friends to help you. Nurture your rage and plan to destroy your enemy from a distance. Delegate to your friends the dirty jobs of destroying your enemies.
- Eat anyone that stands in your way as you move forward. The idea is to move forward. If you stand still, you’re stagnant – NOT stable. But there are obstacles. Eat them if you have to. Don’t get cute and say, “I can’t do it. Something’s in my way.” Realize that you move fast forward without obstacles.
- Make a virtue out of your obnoxiousness. In an interview with Larry King on CNN, Donald Trump said, “Do you mind if I sit back a little? Because your breath is bad – it really is.” Avoid bad habits that are harmful to you own self. But if those bad habits are harmful to others, cultivate and celebrate them. A little irreverence sometimes helps.
- Your cruelty is your strength; be proud of it. Grow your personality as you move up in the food chain. Winners are hard as a rock inside. Many people revered for something great were mean and did evil things in their past – famous philanthropist Carnegie’s goons shot dead a bunch of workers. Nazi enthusiast Ford is better known as a mass-production genius.
- Carry a grudge until the extinction of the cockroach. Contrary to popular belief, life can be long. If someone pisses you off, take it easy. Don’t get mad. Wait. Get better. Make your enemy feel at ease. Then, when you see his guards down, get even. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
- Think BIG. You can’t own everything. Starbucks already owns coffee, and Jose Mari Chan owns Christmas. It doesn’t mean you can’t try. Think BIG, not big …
- Follow the money. Many successful people keep their eyes on the nickels and dimes and the teeny little stuff, but splurge when it comes to unneeded expenditures. Donna Karan said in 1996 when her business was humming and all was well, “We creative types like to spend!”
- Have fun always. Nice people have fun probably 25% of their time. Mean people who enjoy every minute they inflict harm and suffering on others have fun probably 95% of their time. So, what’s it for you?
Bing warns that Machiavellian techniques are good for leaders, but moderation is the rule. New York City Mayor Rudy Guliani canceled the permit for Hillary Clinton, his potential opponent for the Senate, to hold a bash at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He did a few other tricks, because he could. By the spring of 1999, polls favored Clinton as Senate candidate. When Machiavellians make their opponents too much of an underdog, the tide can turn against the former. (Email: [email protected])
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