21 Devious Leadership Tips From Niccolo Machiavelli

Written in 1513, Machiavelli’s “The Prince” is the ultimate cheat sheet to getting ahead and staying there – for those who don’t care about the consequences. The ends justify the means, and nothing is sacred.

I first read this book when I was working for the boss from hell, and I recognised so many of the tactics that I made it my mission to come up with some coping strategies. Understanding why he was such a nasty, heartless ba$*&rd helped me to get through with my sanity intact.

I am certain that we have all known people who have secretly studied these dark arts. Therefore, in the name of “knowing your enemy”, I thought that I would highlight some of his more powerful beliefs.

Having said this, much of this isn’t pure megalomaniac territory. There are some nuggets of wisdom here for certain situations:

1.) Don’t manage by consensus, do it yourself. Leaders send messages by actions, not words.

2.) Power is the ability to change things. If you possess power but don’t use it, it is a waste.

3.) When you win power, you need to show strong leadership immediately.

4.) Preparation is about being able to cope with the worst; whatever it takes.

5.) If you don’t have a clue what’s going on, don’t worry. Just get your hands dirty.

6.) Make friends with your weaker colleagues; keep the stronger ones at arm’s length.

7.) Your loyal followers will back you up, but make sure that you don’t try their patience.

8.) You succeed only because you are at the right place at the right time.

9.) Unpopular decisions will bring hatred and resentment – it comes with the territory.

10.) When you are under pressure, you have to defend only the important stuff, but you have to know what is important.

11.) We can only prepare for disaster when there isn’t one happening. But we don’t. It is easier to hope for the best.

12.) When you are in charge, being loved is optional, better to be respected.

13.) Deceit is usually easier than you think – if the people that you are lying to have an interest in being deceived.

14.) Make sure that you look the part. Presentation is half the battle.

15.) Being in charge lets you tell the story your way and in your own time.

16.) When two people fight each other, the weaker one becomes your friend.

17.) You can’t avoid risk. So face up to it and see who blinks first.

18.) Never change your mind. Make your decisions as early as possible and try not to sit on the fence.

19.) If you’ve had a setback. Don’t wait for someone else to make it right.

20.) If you trust to luck, eventually your luck is going to run out.

21.) Companies that don’t change, wither and die. If you don’t have the best idea, copy it.

There are a number of these tips that I deeply believe in, and practice whenever possible, but I won’t tell you which ones! Machiavelli was seen as a political troublemaker, but although his ideals have been adopted by many of the monsters of recent modern history (Hitler, Stalin, Putin), there are many of them that make perfect sense in a competitive office environment……


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