by Yasmine Moulin
What Today’s CEOs Can Learn From Machiavelli
While Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince was first published in 1532, it can be used today as a roadmap for strategy and leadership. I believe a successful CEO must possess Machiavellian values. What? The values that I will discuss are the following: the value of a good reputation, the value of partnerships and alliances, and the value of choosing a good leadership team.
A Good Reputation
In Chapter 21, Machiavelli (1985) addresses the importance of a good reputation. He stated, “Nothing makes a prince so well esteemed as undertaking great enterprises and setting a fine example” (p. 76). CEOs are closely associated with the companies they lead. One could say it is the leadership style and not the CEO that makes or breaks a company’s reputation; however, while many recognize that CEOs are individuals; we are inclined to think of the CEO as the company they represent. For example, when we say Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, we think respectively of Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple. For many, these names are associated with a good reputation and success. In contract, when we say Ken Lay, Chuck Conway, and Bernard Ebbers, we respectively think of Enron, Kmart, and WorldCom. These names are intertwined with fraud and bankruptcy and the demise of the companies they represented.
In Chapter 10, Machiavelli (1985) discussed the importance of partnerships and alliances with other businesses when he stated,
It is necessary to consider another point in examining the character of these principalities: that is, whether a prince has such power that, in case of need, he can support himself with his own resources, or whether he has always need of the assistance of others. (p. 42)
Therefore, whether we are in Machiavellian times or in current times, to be successful in business, developing alliances and strong client relationships is a necessity. This is especially true for a start up or early stage company. These alliances and relationships will end up being valued ambassadors and supporters of the company’s mission, values, and goals.
A Good Leadership Team
Machiavelli (1985) maintained that choosing good ministers is important because a ruler shows his intelligence in his choice of the men (or women) around him. Machiavelli continued by stating that a prince should “be a very broad questioner, and then, in regard to the things he asked about, a patient listener to the truth; indeed he should become angry when he learns that anyone has any hesitation to speak it to him” (p. 95). Perhaps Machiavelli stated it too strongly when he advised becoming “angry” with those who were reluctant to speak the truth. However, it is important to note that if employees feel they cannot be honest and forthright in expressing their opinions, then the CEO may not hear what he needs to know. Clear, open, and honest communication should always be welcomed and encouraged.
In conclusion, although “Machiavellian” has a negative connotation to many, we can see by the above-mentioned examples that CEOs today often value the same things, i.e., a good reputation, building relationships, and being surrounded by a good leadership team. We can also conclude that although The Prince was written hundreds of years ago, the Machiavellian style of leadership is still relevant.
Machiavelli, N. (1985). The prince. (Mansfield, H. Jr., trans.). Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. (Original work written circa 1515.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Yasmine Moulin is owner of Yasmine Moulin Consulting, providing professional development, executive leadership programs, social media branding and marketing, and business management consulting services. Yasmine has been in the continuing professional education field for financial professionals and business leaders for many years. She has successfully planned and developed executive education and professional development programs for VPs, CEOs, CFOs, and senior leaders. Yasmine was an early adopter of social media & saw the power it has to build relationships, brand awareness & authentic engagement with clients & potential new clients. This lead her to being a social media consultant and strategist. Previously, Yasmine was in the English as a Second Language (ESL) industry including being an ESL teacher and English & French tutor. Yasmine holds a Master of Arts in Leadership from Royal Roads University. Combining executive, management, business & leadership experience along with education & professional development, her focus & passion is in helping clients & their teams obtain their professional & personal goals. Yasmine currently lives in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.