Was Machiavelli Right? Are the Best Leaders Situational or Steadfast?

By |Published On: February 24, 2014|

I subscribe to an electronic newsletter published by booz&co called ‘strategy+business’.  It often has interesting business and leadership related articles.  If you read this blog regularly, you know I enjoy reading about leadership, particularly business leadership.  I even have a few opinions of my own on the topic that I occasionally share.

A recent article in ‘strategy+business’ caught my eye.  It was titled, “After 500 Years, Why Does Machiavelli Still Hold Such Sway?”.  I was drawn to the title because I don’t think much of the leadership style Machiavelli espoused.  However, over the years I have met many people whom I would characterize as “Machiavellian” – incorporating the values (or lack thereof) described by Machiavelli in his work ‘The Prince’.

So the writer of the article makes his claim that Machiavelli’s theories are alive and well today in leaders who practice “realism” or “situational leadership”.  He goes on to describe a study he conducted of business school students.  He provided the students with two case studies of successful business leaders.  One was a leader who had developed core values and stuck by those values even when doing so seemed to be against his “best interests”.  The second was a leader whose behavior toward others was “situational”.  If he needed to be a ruthless bully, he would be.  If he needed to be compassionate and caring, he would be.

Guess what  – the students wanted to be more like the “situational leader”.

I thought the article was interesting, but flawed.  I don’t think having uncompromising values and being situational in one’s behavior are mutually exclusive.  In other words, I believe a leader can have core values by which he governs his decisions while at the same time can recognize that every situation and every person is different.

Unlike Machiavelli, I believe great leaders develop core values and make decisions based on those values – never compromising them.  What do you think?

One Comment

  1. George Tsichritzis June 4, 2017 at 4:55 am - Reply

    Machiavelli said that the leader should govern with love and fear, But, because this is difficult, in the case that the leader has to select love or fear, it’s better to select fear. Actually you say the same thing, You wrote “governing with love is not mutually exclusive with governing with fear”. Machiavelli says exactly the same, However he believes that governing with both love and fear is difficult. So, in the case a leader has to choose between the 2 options, fear is the safest way to go.

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