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By November 15, 2017Home Blog

Niccolo Machiavelli’s writings have been a subject of debates and unsettled arguments for over 500 years.  This great thinker has had a malign and undeserved reputation. The idea that many people, from simple workers to politicians and leaders, have of Machiavelli is some sort of moral monster, but he is not history’s greatest monster. The image of Machiavelli exalting the desperate is opposite, because the public servant loved The Republic and believed that it was better at adapting change due to the diversity of opinions and the background of the people who made it up. While many viewed and continue to think of him as a cynic, the public servant was a realist who spoke the truth without reservation. His most controversial work, The Prince, came to life five centuries ago yet the ideas reflected in it remain just as important today. As a public figure, Machiavelli concerned himself with politics and the power that comes with it, aspect that remains central to modern political and corporate life. After reviewing other research papers and works on the subject at hand, in this study I argue that Machiavelli’s treatise The Prince is as relevant to managers and leaders in today’s corporate world as it was during the 16th century.

 The advancement of technology and the rise of competition in the modern business world calls for efficient corporate leadership. Mangers and leaders that want to succeed, continuously look for powerful insights and ideas to stay competitive and increase their profits on the market. Machiavelli’s book The Prince does just that, it captivates leaders because it is a power manual, it teaches how to obtain power and how to retain it, and virtuous leaders will always be interested in this topic. Renaissance thinker’s ideas about power and leadership proved so inspirational, that they’ve been reformulated and reinterpreted by business executives to correspond and be applicable to current standards.


Authenticity of The Prince

The intent of The prince was to be a guide, a handbook for politically ambitious leaders. People can play a game for good, or play it well, and for Machiavelli it was more important to play the game well then to be morally good.

Many articles and books have been written in support or as a criticism toward philosopher’s ideas written in The Prince. According to an article on re-examining Machiavelli, the purpose of The Prince “was to advise leaders on the best way to rule subjects”, and while he adopts stringent and manipulative strategies to do it, he recommends the application of such actions only when necessary. [1]

The New MachiavelliHow to Wield Power in the Modern World by Jonathan Powell, is another great example that points out the authenticity of Machiavelli’s revolutionary work. [2]

Powell, a close adviser of Britain’s prime minister Tony Blair, wrote his memoir for people in the government. According to him, there are many theoretical, constitutional books that are useless, because they describe how things should be rather than how things are. What is great about Machiavelli is that he writes about reality, he ignores myths and cuts short superstitions. There are many factors about the Renaissance thinker that many politicians would not want to own up to. For instance, in Chapter 15, Machiavelli states: “it is necessary for a prince who wishes to maintain himself to learn how not to be good” [3]. In regard to this statement, John Powell further suggests that Machiavelli did not mean for a prince to go around and be evil, but rather to check his personal morality at the door when he becomes a leader. The phrase is equally relevant for managers and business executives; while personal morality is a good trait, when a leader is responsible for the entire organization, the greater good of his assets is more important than his own good as an individual. “It is necessary for the prince to be a fox, in order to recognize the traps, and a lion, in order to frighten the wolves”- this is one of Machiavelli’s most important lessons: a leader must be a lion, a courageous person but he also must be a fox, and have the intelligence to avoid traps. [3]

Finally, Powell uses The Prince to draw lessons not only for political leaders, but for anyone who has access to the levers of power. [2]

Another writer that has brought The Prince into the modern world is Robert Greene. He used to work in Hollywood, and now writes bestselling books like “The 48 Laws of Power”. [4]

Greene looked at Machiavelli’s treatise as a great source of inspiration, connecting ideas from The Prince to nowadays politics and business. In the same manner Machiavelli advised the prince to think of ways to keep his citizens dependent on him, in regard to power, Greene states: “The ultimate power is the power to get people to do as you wish”. [5] The traditional way of looking at politics is veiled with concepts like: what’s good for the public, what are politicians’ intentions, of being altruistic and generous, and what Machiavelli did is remove all those concepts. The philosopher looked at the power as it was, watched the moves of various people on the chess board, making him the first person to come up with such pure and absolutely brilliant strategy. The power Machiavelli prescribed for the prince is greatly applied by modern leaders, although different types of leaders lead differently. There are leaders who go to office having high ideals, wanting to change things, believing that they are doing something for the good of the public but shortly understanding that they are dealing with a warfare. Leaders from this category can do very well if they are adaptable to the reality of things. The other type of leaders are beasts by nature, they are very Machiavellian, it is in their blood to influence others and to understand how the laws of power operate. So if one is in position of power, one must play the game; the dynamic doesn’t matter, it is either dictatorship or democracy.

Anxious to illustrate Machiavelli’s authenticity in the 20th century corporate world, Peter J. Galie and Christopher Bopst selected six written manuals about the Renaissance philosopher and closely analyzed the relevance of each. [6] Although each writer has an individual approach to Machiavelli’s teachings, they all acknowledge extraordinary similarities between The Prince’s republic and current corporations. Richard Hill, the author of The Boss: Machiavelli on Managerial Leadership claims that “Machiavelli’s observations about political leadership apply equally to business leadership”, while Alistair McAlpine, who wrote The New Machiavelli: The Art of Politics in Business, recommends that “taking the lessons Machiavelli preached and applying them to the activity of conducting business will help the reader find a safe pathway through the complicated world of business, particularly for those who are prepared to take the risks necessary to succeed” [6]



How is The Prince relevant for modern managers and leaders?

 For a great leader to say: “I will be good and wise and do the right thing” is not quite enough, because what is the right thing, after all?

World’s favorite search engine, Google, says “don’t be evil” is the right thing, but isn’t it precisely this user-friendly global corporation that is the modern-day Machiavellian? [7] We shouldn’t always look at the words, but look at the actions: the data Google gathers about individuals, the global presence the giant corporation has, it all suggest that in order to exercise power in the world, you have to give the appearance of being nice and good. If a leader looks too ambitious for power, people will realize it and will not like it. The public wants to feel that a true leader is motivated by higher aspirations, so the leader has to manage appearances. All big corporations like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, have on top leaders that play the game like that. For instance, the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg says: “the mission of our company is to make the world more open and connected”. [8] Zuckerberg does exactly what Machiavelli suggests in The Prince, he sincerely appears to be helping the world connect through his social networking organization, while expanding his power over every single Facebook user.

Machiavelli writes: “A prince must be very careful never to let anything fall from his lips that is not imbued with the five qualities that are mercy, faithfulness, integrity, humanity and religion” [3]Indeed, CEOs of big corporations seem to understand and apply these qualities a great deal, because common people are impressed by appearances and results. Thus, it can be asserted that the era we live in is remarkably similar to the one in which Machiavelli lived.

Machiavelli suggests that an individual attempting to embrace ruler ship shouldn’t concern himself/herself with compassion, brotherly love, and rather be ruthless in the position of power, not for self-promotion, but for the good of the state. [3] Although prescribed for the prince, his ideas can easily be applied to the modern leader. Virtuous leaders participate in power dynamics that at times puts them in the situation of making decisions that don’t fit with the normal standards. Therefore, it can be asserted that great leaders should do what must be done, prioritizing high purpose goals. [9]

Machiavelli’s advice is universal to the present day and can be used by anyone wanting to gain power. Intending his treatise to Medici’s attention was the perfect way for Machiavelli to express what he saw happening in the political life of his days, and he did it so accurately that, centuries later, people are still reading it and observing it in everyday lives The manual holds a valuable lesson about power, because for good or for real, being strong and fearless as a leader works, so one should act upon that.

Chapter III in The Prince reads: “it should be noted that men must be either caressed or wiped out; because they will avenge minor injuries, but cannot do so for grave ones” [3] It can be acknowledged from Machiavelli’s sentence that when a leader decides to do something, he/she should go through with it until the end. “Toxicity is inevitable, whether leaders like it or not” [9], but if something negative or unpleasant has to be done, it should be executed fast and put behind. Within an organization, it is the leader’s job to identify possible threats or negative situations, let it be an incompetent asset or a trader, and handle the issue quickly, by transferring the asset to a different department or by firing him/her.

In a battle for power, in order to win a leader must not wound the enemy, but crush the enemy, as that action wipes out the possibility of a comeback on the leader or his assets. The “crush your enemy” dynamic is something that Machiavelli discovered as a “law of power” and it proves to be timeless, because it exists in politics and definitely exists in business. A classic example serves the war between Microsoft and Netscape in the 1990s, when Microsoft completely crushed Netscape. As the former CEO of Netscape, Jim Barksdale, points out, Microsoft destroyed the viability of Navigator as a cross-platform competitor to Windows, and put in place middleware like Internet Explorer which made the competition very difficult, leading to the disintegration of Netscape. [10]The “internet war” was not the only time Microsoft made use of Machiavelli’s ideology, as the computer giant used FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) for years through well-timed announcements that stall the market while customers waited for Microsoft’s product releases. [11]

The strategy of maintaining power by wiping out competition is used by another giant corporation- Google- who whenever sees a possible competitor immediately buys it out. “Google buys YouTube for $1.65bn” was the headline of newspapers and media in 2006, when Google sealed one of the many investments the company planed to make in the video field. [12] The fact that modern organizational leaders manage their business much more according to Machiavelli’s teachings, states Richard Calhoon, is deeper than anyone might care to admit. [13] Indeed, seeing how quickly Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, took over one of the most popular websites on the Internet would make Machiavelli proud.

The competition for power is a dynamic in business that requires organizational leaders to consume various rivals in their path. Despite the cruelty of such actions, it’s a necessity that visionary leaders cannot ignore, because as Machiavelli puts it:  men are ungrateful, fickle, simulators and deceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for gain” [3]. For modern leaders to keep their companies afloat and strong, they cannot trust anyone, and must apply tactics that will benefit the organization. Amazon applied such tactic in 2013 when Jeff Besos bought the Washington Post to provide a financial cushion for the newspaper that could lead to a successful business model. [14] So did another internet giant, Facebook, when it bought out WhatsApp. [8]

Needless to say, the examples presented above mirror the widespread application of Machiavelli’s principles of power and leadership in the 21st century organizations. Its relevance is seen in leaders’ actions, behavior, and values held. This is the point author Antony Jay makes regarding the relevance of the political leaders from Machiavelli’s republic to nowadays business leaders: “A corporation is not something different from a state with some interesting similarities; it is a state with few unimportant differences”. [15]

Machiavelli’s teachings are so actual that psychologists in the 1960s developed a test to understand the degree of which an individual is Machiavellian. In the Studies in Machiavellianism, experts Richard Christie and Florence Geis studied respondents with high or low Mach through a 20 question test that tap into our Machiavellian instincts [16] After comparing the principles from Machiavelli’s The Prince to the principles practiced by individuals in today’s society, the two researchers defined the Machiavelian personality type as someone who seeks to manipulate others to achieve his or her own ends. [1]



 Qualities of a good prince and qualities of a good leader

Machiavelli wrote The Prince in a time of great turmoil for a commander that was dealing with the war. Surely, the philosopher was aware of the revolution his treatise would start among his political circle, yet it is unlikely he had any knowledge that his recommendations to a political leader in the 16th century would be so widely applied today by business executives and managers striving to become great leaders.

In his masterpiece, Machiavelli describes the attributes and qualities of a good prince as: grandeur, courage, sobriety and strength, with his reputation increasing if his actions are displayed accordingly. [3]

Grandeur, also known as honor, is a trait most important for virtuous managers and leaders. When placed in charge of a company, a leader must be consistent and wise in his/her actions, develop efficient strategies, hire the right people and train them to become great assets, rewarding them for their hard work. Such actions may seem tedious and time/money consuming, yet in the long run, it will bring success and build value to the organization. As Machiavelli says: “That prince who creates such an opinion of himself has a great reputation; and it is difficult to conspire against such a man and difficult to attack him” [3]

In other words, as long as the prince does not “steal” the property of the majority of people, and does not take away their honor, he will only deal with a handful of ambitious individuals

He will be despised if he has a reputation for being fickle, frivolous, effeminate, disorderly or irresolute; a prince should avoid this like the plague. [3]

Speaking of honor, Machiavelli suggests the nothing brings a prince more prestige than great campaigns and striking demonstrations of his personal abilities. A prince should show his esteem for talent, and actively encouraging able men and honoring those who excel in their profession”


In regard to the idea of a prince projecting fear, Machiavelli says: “It is much safer to be feared than loved” [3] Of course, it can be argued here that the ideal for a leader is to be both- feared and loved-  to be respected. Machiavelli suggests that there is nothing more dangerous to the stability of a regime than the hatred of its people. Philosopher’s statement is true to this day, and can be applied to small or large organizations.

Although the Renaissance thinker is criticized for describing the harsh realities of ruler ship, one can make better decisions when looking at things as they are, not as one wishes they were.

The philosopher suggests that the reason for the ruler to choose fear over love is so it can establish more authority over the people. Since loyalty and trust are concepts often misused in today’s organizations, leaders apply manipulation as a way to change the behavior of their assets and employees to what they desire. Starting with the big corporations like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and finishing with small start-ups, manipulative and devious moves are used to obtain personal or organizational objectives.

In a Stanford article about leadership, Thomas Prescott, CEO of medical technology firm, Align Technology recommends leaders to find the right team for their organization, as having the right people is the key to success. While leaders think success is achieved by finding that perfect strategy, finding the right people that evolve to meet current needs is far more important. [17]

Therefore, through motivation and selflessness, through genuine concern for the good of organization and the good of other individuals or groups, a leader can make use of Machiavelli’s teachings and still maintain a good reputation.



This paper had the purpose to convince that Niccolo Machiavelli’s insights and teachings are authentic in the 21st century corporate organizations. It is true that the Renaissance philosopher has had a malign and undeserved reputation. The idea that many people, from simple workers to politicians and leaders, have of Machiavelli is some sort of moral monster, and I argue that he is not history’s greatest monster. The image of Machiavelli exalting the desperate is opposite, because the public servant loved The Republic and believed that it was better at adapting change due to the diversity of opinions and the background of the people who made it up. Well, by emphasizing good practices and the realistic knowledge from Machiavelli’s Prince, the actions of today’s business leaders that are unsavory but effective have been presented.






[1] stacey.R.Kessler, “Re-Examining Machiavelli : Three- Dimensional Model of Machiavellianism in the workplace,” Journal of applied social psychology, no. 8, p. 40, 2010.
[2] J. Powell, The New Machiavelli: How to wield power in the modern world, Random House , 2010.
[3] N. Machiavelli, Prince, Oxford: OUP Oxford , 2005, pp. 1-186.
[4] N. Perlroth, “Robert Greene on power ambition glory,” Forbes, 18 June 2009.
[5] R. Greene, The 48 laws of power, NY: Pinguen, 2000, p. 480.
[6] B. C. Galie Peter J, “Machiavellie and Modern Business : Realist through in contemporary corporate leadership manual,” Journal of business ethics , pp. 235-250, 2006.
[7] “Wikipedia,” [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don’t_be_evil.
[8] M. Zuckerberg, “Mark Zuckerberg’s full statement on Facebook buyng Whatsapp,” The Guardian, 2014.
[9] M. Pina, “Lessons for Leaders : Positive organization studies meets Niccolo Machiavelli,” Sage Journals , vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 450-465, 07 OCT 2013.
[10] P. Abrahams, “Microsoft would still have crushed Netscape,” Financial Times , p. 6, 20 March 2002.
[11] R. Faletra, “Street fight of the century,” Academic on File, p. 14, 19 AUG 1996.
[12] B. News, “Google buys Youtube for 1.65$bn,” BBC News , 10 OCT 2006.
[13] R. Calhoon, “Niccolo Machiavelli and the Twentieth Century Administrator,” The Academy of Management Journal, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 205-212, 1969.
[14] P. Farhi, “Washington post closes sale to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos,” Washington post , 1 OCT 2013.
[15] A. Jay, Management and Machiavelli, NY: Holt,Rinehart& Winston, 1967, p. 17.
[16] G. F. Richard Christie, Social Science, Academic Press, 2013, p. 430.
[17] M. Harvey, “Stanford,” 20 OCT 2010. [Online]. Available: http://ecorner.stanford.edu/articles/3737/Operations-and-Leadership . [Accessed 03 March 2017].


Farshad Rabib

Author Farshad Rabib

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