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Without Trust,
Life is Not Worth Living

-- Confucius

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Was Machiavelli Right?

At the end of the Middle Ages, a masterful advisor to the royalty of the day named Niccolo Machiavelli wrote extensively about how to survive in a world filled with connivers and deceivers. Machiavelli is considered by many authorities as one of the most influential writers on the thinking of the modern era.

I’m going to quote Machiavelli here, and let you assess whether his advice is worth taking:

    “A leader must not mind incurring the charge of being cruel if it is for the purpose of keeping his subjects united and faithful.”

    “It is much better to be feared than loved,”

    “Man is semi-animal, semi-beast. The leader is thus obliged to know how to act as a beast, and must imitate the fox and the lion, for the fox can recognize traps, and the lion can intimidate. If all men were good, this would be poor advice; but as they are bad and will not be loyal to you, you are not bound to be loyal to them.”

    “A leader must take great care to say only the words of mercy, faith, humanity, and morality, for men in general judge more by what they hear and see, than by what they experience. Everybody sees what you appear to be, few know who you really are. And the few who know who you really are will seldom dare to oppose you in light of the many who support you. In the actions of leaders, the end justifies the means.”

What do you think Larry Elison and Mark Hurd would say about these statements?

Does anything appear to be out of balance? How many people take Machiavelli’s words as their “gospel?”

Notice that there are some “mind traps” in his argument, such as the “either/or” question. This is an age-old “dialectic” dualistic approach you’ve heard innumerable times before: “Are you a communist or a capitalist?” “Are you a liberal or a conservative?” This mind trap locks you into two dimensional approaches to life. What if Machiavelli took a “trialectic” approach and posited: “It is much better to be trusted than to be feared or loved?” Machiavelli did not he ask this question, but I will.

Vince Lombardi, the renowned football coach said: “Leadership is based on the spiritual power to inspire others to follow. This spiritual quality may be used for good or evil. When devoted toward personal ends, it is partly or wholly evil. Leadership which is evil, while it may temporarily succeed, always carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction.”

I’ll give you one more point to ponder: that great leaders do three things really well….

Strategic Vision: They set an Inspirational Vision, then chart an Innovative Course that generates a Significant Advantage or Improvement over ordinary alternatives.

Culture of Trust: They create a System of Trust that Unleashes and Focuses Human Energy and Co-creativity on achieving the Strategic Vision.

Operational Excellence: They establish a coherently aligned system of organizational Processes, Measures, & Rewards that reinforce #1 & #2.

Machiavelli has been the guiding light for many so-called realists who will sacrifice their principles for the sake of expediency. But do people who gamble their values become great leaders? In the next blog, we’re going to explore America’s greatest leader: George Washington, and why he was the most trusted man in America.

  • Robert Porter Lynch

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