Be like Machiavelli without being Machiavellian


Machiavelli’s name is synonymous with a seemingly ruthless yet effective form of business practice.

This Florentine historian, philosopher, diplomat, and writer lived over 500 years ago and might have been relegated to obscurity, but his insights in group dynamics, power relations, business, and strategy are so relevant even today that they’re still in use.

Although “Machiavellian” often means tyrannical or corrupt, following his sage advice doesn’t have to mean effective leadership at the cost of ethics.

1. Morale is a mirror.

Machiavelli was acutely aware that employee morale is a key indicator of the health of an organization, and he monitored it constantly.

In the give and take between leaders and followers, leaders need to bend and make a concession or two—sometimes preemptively—to avoid trouble down the road.

2. Look and dress the part.

Project an image of control, infallibility, power, and courage.

It doesn’t matter if you feel it or whether it’s true—most often, it’s not—but that’s not the point. You’re attempting to earn and keep the confidence of those around you. Be the leader others want to follow.

3. Keep your thoughts to yourself.

Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.

An effective leader confides only in his or her closest associates, and you’ll relinquish authority if you reveal too many of your thoughts or plans in advance. Don’t share anything more than employees need to know, since more talking on your part will mean less respect on their part.

4. Feed people’s passions.

Not every argument needs to be won with facts and figures.

Cater to people’s hopes and dreams, and discover the power of accomplishing more with the promise of hope than with a PowerPoint slide full of factoids.

5. Watch your back.

Are you successful and at the top of your game?

Everyone wants your spot, and many people are prepared to do whatever it takes to get it. Now is the time to identify those who could potentially harm you and either closely monitor them or form strategic alliances with them.

Avoid a full frontal assault at all costs—subtlety is key.

6. Surround yourself with smart people.

Your success as a leader depends on the company you keep.

Just as any politician chooses assistants, aides, or cabinet members, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, those who will work with you and for you and, ultimately, those who make you look good.

Leadership implies you have someone to lead, and no matter how good you are alone, your success depends on team effort.

Machiavelli gained a lot of wisdom in the political arena of his day, and his advice regarding business dealings and maneuverings of people in the corporate world is still remarkably relevant.

Not much has changed over five centuries when it comes to power struggles and one group wanting to best the other, and the dynamics Machiavelli dealt with are much the same as in today’s corporate world.

Learn the methods, practice them,  and your skill with situations in your sphere of influence will improve dramatically.

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