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Leadership Advice from Machiavelli’s The Prince

MachiavelliAlthough Aristotle is considered the Father of Political Science, Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince, is credited with being the first modern political scientist. A theme of survival of the fittest in a lawless and ruthless world in which no one can be trusted underlies his famous or infamous, depending on your point of view, publication. The Prince provides advice for leaders of principalities during a time in which there were few, if any, laws or rules for people to follow. It was a time when leaders used force more than reason or influence.

Machiavelli’s blunt and practical advice earned him the reputation of being an advocate of “the ends justifying the means.” It also resulted in leaders being power hungry, cunning, manipulative, and/or deceptive being called Machiavellians. Before dismissing The Prince, remember what the world was like when it was written. Winnow the wheat from the chaff and examine what he wrote in terms of leading a business.

Drawing on my experience, at, I identify numerous business applications of advice from The Prince. For example, at a level of 10,000 feet, Machiavelli’s advice concerning the acquisition of principalities applies directly to business acquisitions, with the obvious exception of killing the previous business owner’s family members. His advice regarding hereditary principalities and the challenges of passing the torch to children and grandchildren has proven to be applicable to family-owned businesses, resulting in the adage, “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.”

Like Xenophon, Machiavelli recommends learning from successful leaders, following their paths and adopting best practices. He also recommends setting lofty goals, being as strong as a lion and as cunning as a fox, being slow to believe and slow to act, and being deceptive. Recognizing the fickle nature of people, Machiavelli says it’s better for a leader to be feared than loved—after all, you can’t make people love you, but you can make them fear you; he places limits on the latter advice—avoid being despised and hated.

Regarding candidates for the leadership team, Machiavelli says some people are able to think for themselves, some appreciate what others think, and some can neither think for themselves nor appreciate what others think. While the first group is excellent and the second group is acceptable, the third group is useless. Smart trumps dumb. Teams need to be diverse, including foxes and lions, but sloths are not welcome.

I believe most of Machiavelli’s advice is worthy of consideration by today’s leaders, but some of it isn’t. “Faking it until you make it” is not a wise strategy in the 21st Century, especially with the proliferation of social media platforms. To explore Machiavelli’s The Prince, see

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