When something is referred to as Machiavellian, we generally see it as rooted from cunning, cleverness, trickery, or worse, dishonesty and bad faith. In business and in politics, a way of doing things that disregards propriety or decency can be called Machiavellian. The concept of “the end justifies the means” more popularly explains the term.
But who is the person behind the term? Born in 1469 in Florence, Niccolo Machiavelli was a diplomat, a controversial writer and one of the most influential political thinkers of his time. Gathering from many years of experience with war and political affairs, and conversations with great thinkers, he wrote The Prince in 1513 as a “gift” to a nobleman whose political favor he was courting. Interestingly, that man did not even read the book, and yet it has influenced modern thinking.
Written as a handbook on how to acquire and preserve political power, it amazingly discusses topics that can actually be useful to businessmen, if we set aside the negativity. Although Machiavelli is known as a model for the efficient but amoral, astute, cunning, intriguing, controlling, nefarious and notorious ruler, concepts from The Prince can nonetheless serve as guide to contemporary reality, for those who are interested in the power play of people.
These are the seven most valuable lessons that businessmen can pick up from The Prince, while still remaining moral and fair.
1. Learn from a great mentor or master.
“A prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it.” (Chapter 6)
2. Associate yourself with important people and smart people.
“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” (Chapter 22)
3. Be adventurous, but also be careful – more often than not, people tend to judge based on the results you have accomplished.
“The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.” (Chapter 18)
“Men in general judge more by the sense of sight than by the sense of touch, because everyone can see but few can test by feeling. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few know what you really are; and those few do not dare take a stand against the general opinion.” (Chapter 18)
4. It is better to be feared by maintaining an air of authority, but not so much as to be hated.
“From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both: but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved. ” (Chapter 17)
“Being feared and not hated go well together, and the prince can always do this if he does not touch the property or the women of his citizens and subjects.” (Chapter 25)
5. Take sides – the middle ground is never the safest.
“A prince is also respected when he is either a true friend or a true enemy …When he declares himself in favor of one party against the other, without any reservation, this action will always be more advantageous than remaining neutral.” (Chapter 21)
6. Be ready to change with the circumstances and not be fixed in one method of action.
“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” (Chapter 25)
7. It is better to be skillful than to be lucky.
“Many men believe that the affairs of the world are governed by luck and by God; that even wise men cannot control them, nor can anyone even improve things. They would have us believe that it is not necessary to toil and sweat much over things, but to let chance govern them.” (Chapter 25)
Serina Alonzo is taking up AB Literature - BS Legal Management at De La Salle University.