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Niccolo Machiavelli and LeadershipNiccolo Machiavelli and Leadership


Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)


Italian philosopher (pictured right) from Florence.

From his book, The Prince came the term Machiavellian (see point 2).

He opposed the ruling tyrants of Florence, the Medici family, and was imprisoned, tortured and sent into exile.


His most famous book is...

The Prince (1532)


What did he say about leadership?

Niccolo Machiavelli and Leadership


1. Be cruel to be kind

To keep order and unity, you may have to be:

  • tough.
  • unpopular.
  • even unprincipled.

“It is far better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both”, he said.

 But always make sure you’re not hated for incompetence (e.g. inconsistency and inflexibility).

 Niccolo Machiavelli and Leadership

2. The ends justify the means (now called Machiavellian)

A leader should preferably do good but may have “to act treacherously, ruthlessly, or inhumanely” to achieve what he wants.

Normally a leader will do things that are neither “entirely good nor entirely evil”. 

Only attack an evil, if you have the power to defeat it. If you don’t, ignore it, because it will either:

  • disappear or
  • have no effect until well into the future.

 Niccolo Machiavelli and Leadership

3. The importance of how people see you

A good leader doesn’t need all the qualities of leadership but must appear to have them.

It is sometimes better to seem good than to be good. So deceit is acceptable.

The best leader has the people’s support by:

  • openly showing love for them
  • firm opposition to their enemies.

 Niccolo Machiavelli and Leadership

4. Getting to the top is easier than staying there

Being a good leader is much more difficult than becoming one.

Opposition will come from:

  • the powerful and wealthy (who are afraid to lose what they’ve got).
  • people who want more money and power than they have at the moment.

 Niccolo Machiavelli and Leadership

5. Make change attractive

Change is difficult for people to accept.

So, when leaders do change anything, they must make it:

  • attractive
  • similar as possible to how things were done before.

Leaders should anticipate their future problems, so that they can find help and make plans to solve them.

Encouraging people to change is much better than forcing them to do it.

 Niccolo Machiavelli and Leadership

6. Tough humility

Leaders should be prepared to:

  • accept lesser positions.
  • serve new leaders.

But such humility mustn’t turn into cowardice in the face of any enemies.

 Niccolo Machiavelli and Leadership

7. Be decisive

Leaders should make decisions as quickly as possible with the:

  • courage and (if necessary) force of a lion.
  • cunning and deception of a fox.

Dictatorship may be necessary in times of emergency.


8. Pick good people


  • flatterers. Niccolo Machiavelli and Leadership
  • yes-men (people who agree with everything the leader says).

Instead pick wise advisers who:

  • tell the truth
  • speak wisely
  • give constructive criticism.

Leaders should listen to and question what they say before making a final decision.


9. Seek the good of everyoneNiccolo Machiavelli and Leadership

Leaders should not do things for themselves but for their people, particularly giving them:

  • material benefits.
  • the confidence and ability to do well and be good.

So these are vital:

  • education.
  • good laws

 Niccolo Machiavelli and Leadership

10. Learn

Learn from your own and other people’s past successes and failures i.e. learn from history.


11. Beat your enemies

  • be strong against them.
  • try to win them over onto your side.

But, if you have to fight them, make your battles “short and big”, striking quickly with the will and resources to win.


Key quotes on leadership

It is far better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.

A prince should not deviate from what is good, if that is possible, but he should know how to do evil, if that is necessary.

A leader ought to inspire fear in such a way, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred.

A leader never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise.

It is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated but it is very necessary to appear to have them


Key quote on change

The one who adapts his policy to the times prospers.


Key quote on interviewing and selection

The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.


Key quote on motivation

Benefits should be conferred gradually, and in that way they will taste better.


Key quote on decision making

Prudence is not in avoiding danger...but calculating risk and acting decisively.


Key quote on strategy

No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution.


Key quote on influencing people

Men are so simple...that the deceiver will always find someone ready to be deceived.


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