Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and leadership
“The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli is a historic work dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici, the former ruler of Florence. It was written in 1513 Florence, Italy, but published only in 1532. This work is a kind of a textbook for those who want to maintain power and gain control. “The Prince” includes theoretical interpretation of the role of a ruler, and gives practical advice how to keep power and maintain strict control. At the beginning of the 21st century, recommendations and pieces of advice given 5 centuries ago are still of vital importance, because the qualities of a leader are universal and cannot be influence by regime, freedom of rights or political situation.
In his book, Machiavelli states that the main criterion for the Prince is to be outstanding personality. Present day leadership is based on a function of personality. It is also viewed in terms of the role of the leaders and their ability to achieve effective performance from others. Leadership is related to motivation, interpersonal behavior and to the process of communication. “…above all a prince must scheme to give himself the fame of a great man and of excellent judgment in every action. A prince is also esteemed when he is a true friend and a true enemy, that is to say, when he comes out in favor of one against another without hesitation.” (Machiavelli, 1984). Leadership may also be based on the personal qualities, or charisma, of the leader and the manner in which authority is exercised. This view of leadership gives rise to the question of ‘born’ or ‘natural’ leaders. In reality, no one is born a perfect leader. A person can have inclination to lead other, but naturally, leadership skills are developed through life experience and training.
On the other hand, leadership is also focus on the role of the leader in terms of the relationship with followers and the adoption of a particular style of leadership. Machiavelli shares the same opinion supposing that not all princes are leaders: “like all other things of nature that are born and grow fast, cannot have their roots and connections, so that the first adverse circumstances extinguish them” (Machiavelli, 1984).
In “The Prince” Machiavelli describes that successful leadership is when influence brings about behavior and results that were intended by the leader. In contrast there come princes who cannot command “because they do not have forces that might be friendly and faithful to them” (Machiavelli, 1984). This example shows that leadership is more than just adherence to a formal role prescription. It is more than eliciting mechanical behavior which results from a superior-subordinate relationship in a hierarchical structure. Effective leadership means successful functional behavior and the achievement of group goals. Today, a leader may be imposed, formally appointed or elected, chosen informally, or emerge naturally through the demands of the situation or the wishes of the group. This was impossible five centuries ago, but there were some leaders who had been chosen informally.
Nevertheless, the statement that leadership may also be exercised through greater knowledge or expertise reflects the qualities of a contemporary world leader. This argument is the most important one, which underlines the importance of the book in general. It means that a leader should have substantial knowledge be able to resolve difficult tasks. Good leaders must be able to cope with complex changes. Machiavelli describes this using the example of hate: “As Princes cannot escape being hated by some, they should, in the first place, endeavor not to be hated by a class; failing in which, they must do all they can to escape the hatred of that class which is stronger” (Machiavelli, 1984).
Machiavelli pays attention to morals and personal values of the Prince. Probably, this is the most controversial part of the work which argues that a prince should follow the principle of his own benefit; he should not made friends, because they can betray him, etc. The contemporary leader should keep morals and be an example for his followers, because only in this case the leader will be recognized. Nevertheless, contemporary critics suppose, “Being led by one’s heart instead of one’s head is, from the Machiavellian view, a fatal error” (Parallels: “Machiavellian” Politics Today, n.d.).
On the other hand, some concepts expressed by Machiavelli cannot be used by a contemporary leader, because they are inapplicable to the concepts of liberty and freedom. Machiavelli advises that an effective leader can use his position to gain special perks. He supposes that, very often, the ruler must decide what is good and what is bad, and do evil rather than good if it benefits him. The same interpretation concerns love and hate: “Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved” (Machiavelli, 1984). The article “Parallels: “Machiavellian” Politics Today” (n.d.) states that “Anything that diverts the leader’s attention from the power he needs to achieve these goals is probably not worth pursuing”. The Prince should follow a liberal way of ruling, but only if it does not weaken his influence on the state and his power: “if you want to maintain the name of liberal among men, it is necessary not to spare any sumptuousness; so that, always, a prince who does this will consume all of his resources in such works; and in the end, if he wants to retain the name of liberal, he will be required to weigh down the people extraordinarily” (Machiavelli, 1984). In this case, under a liberal man Machiavelli implies liberality and parsimony of a ruler. For contemporary leaders, this way is impossible because if he/she acts in his own interests only, he will not be able to sustain his position. Nevertheless, Machiavellian prescription of tyranny – “liberation agenda’” – can be applied to the situation in Iraq and the politics of the US government (Guttieri, n.d.).
Another discrepancy which cannot be applied to contemporary leaders is the processes of gaining power. Machiavelli explains to the Prince the necessity of army and discipline for successful reign, and discusses different tactics: “To desire to acquire is truly something very natural and ordinary and always, when men do it who can, they will be lauded, or not blamed; but when they cannot, and want to do it anyway, here is the error and the blame.” (Machiavelli, 1984). Contemporary leaders may exercise authority as an attribute of position only. Unfortunately, this Machiavellian thesis can be applied to the war in Iraq (and other military operations) and reflects the political position of the US in this conflict (Guttieri, n.d.). In his book Ledeen provides a very interesting parallels with contemporary world saying that “The bloody-mindedness derives from ambition, and human ambition is unlimited” (Ledeen, 2000).
Machiavelli analyzes advantages and threats of power, and advices the Prince to be watchful about possible threats threaten his power and the reins of government. This statement can be partially applied to a contemporary leader. “Nothing so much honors a man newly come to power as the new laws and new ordinances he brings into being.” (Machiavelli, 1984). Supremely, a new leader should not change everything in order to maintain his power and strict control under the followers (population). New rules can be implement only if the old law does not satisfy the needs of the society. Machiavelli illustrates that if people are united they are stronger, but dangerous at the same time, like “auxiliaries” (foreign military troops).
In all times, people have been looking for leaders who are willing to give it all they have. That is when a leader has to be sure that what he is doing is right so that he will keep going. The effective leader acquires a vision of the future, trust which helps him to judge what is right, creativity which helps to foresee and overcome difficulties, open-mindedness, good communication skills, etc. Being a leader is not a position, but a function. Machiavelli’s concepts can be applied to contemporary leaders in the light of democratic principles and regimes. The dogmas have not been changed, but our interpretation of them and our understanding of the political process differ greatly from Middle Ages.
- Guttieri, K. Post-Saddam Iraq: What would Machiavelli advise? Available at: http://www.sfu.ca/casr/ft-gutt1.htm
- Ledeen, A.M. Machiavelli on Modern Leadership : Why Machiavelli’s Iron Rules Are As Timely and Important Today As Five Centuries Ago. Truman Talley Books. 2000.
- Machiavelli, N. The Prince. Bantam Classics, 1984.
- Parallels: “Machiavellian” Politics Today. Available at: http://www-personal.ksu.edu/~lauriej/links/parallels/machiavelli.html