3. Presuming that after your college experience, you will go on to some level of leadership–whether on a committee, in a business, in a home (single or mulit-member)–which of Machiavelli’s principles of leadership ring true for you and that you will either remember and/or practice? See note on number 2 about personal pronouns.
I do not expect to ever become the head of a government, so I will not have to give much thought to armies, police forces, spies, fortifications and other matters like that to which Machiavelli devotes so much attention. Even so, I think it is always sound advice to always keep control over the people who have the guns, lest the get ideas about taking over the country. If I were ever to become the leader of some organization, I also realize that I would not have the type of powers that Machiavelli’s Prince had. He is always referring to Cesare Borgia as the ideal leader, and he was quite able to have his enemies tortured, executed, assassinated thrown into dungeons and so forth, which I would not wish to do at all unless it was unavoidable. I understand that times were tough back there in the 16th Century, and that he was not doing anything that all the other Princes at the time were not doing, but I hope we are a little more democratic and humanitarian today, at least in the Western world. Nevertheless, certain principles of Machiavelli do seem to apply to just about any organization, such as the idea of having a reputation for being merciful, but also to avoid being taken advantage of, to have wise advisers who will tell me the truth, and to be just and consistent in my policies and actions.
Machiavelli was a realist and therefore believed that individuals, countries and organizations were all motivated by self-interest, or the desire for power, wealth and fame. I think that is also true for much of society today, and that very few people who get ahead in life are saints. Some people are completely ruthless and amoral in their behavior, but I do not think they should be in positions of leadership. Unfortunately, they often are, but I agree with Machiavelli that the wise leader should “ desire to be considered clement”, but at the same time “ he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency” (Machiavelli 69). A leader who is considered too harsh or brutal runs the risk that his enemies will unite to overthrow him, but at the same time, they will also overthrow him if he is seen as too ‘ soft’ and easygoing. In my opinion, Machiavelli is correct that a leader or head of any organization should be consistent in his behavior, ideas and policies rather than being erratic and changing from one day to the next. Followers will not feel secure under a leader who is not consistent, nor will they respect him. As Machiavelli put it, an inconsistent leader is “ contemptible” and regarded as “ fickle, frivolous, effeminate, mean-spirited, irresolute”, and even though I do not agree with the exact language he uses here, I understand his point (Machiavelli 75).
I also agree with Machiavelli that many leaders are surrounded by selfish and self-interested flatters who are only interested in advancing themselves. Leaders can make use of people like those, but they should never trust them, for they will turn against them in a second in a difficult situation. I think that a leader must be clever enough to listen to advice and opinions that he does not like or agree with, rather than those who always tell him only what he wants to here. That is a very common problem with leadership in government or any organization, particularly with leaders at the upper levels: they become insulated in a bubble and have flatterers around them all the time who are afraid to tell the truth. Machiavelli says that the Prince should chose wise advisors and give them “ the liberty of speaking the truth to him, and then only of those things of which he inquires” (Machiavelli 93). I would go further than that and say that they should be able to tell him the truth whether he asks for it or not, no matter how unpleasant the reality might be.
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Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Arc Manor, 2007.