The Prince


The excerpts from Machiavelli’s The Prince, are essentially a ‘how-to’ manual for taking over a country or territory through military force and political maneuvering. While the language and literal meaning may be outdated, the applicability of the essential philosophy to the present day corporate landscape is uncanny. With this in mind, the excerpts appear as a guide to ‘cutthroat’ business tactics. Questions about power, influence, and leadership are inevitable, as the philosophy that is presented pushes the boundaries of morality and ethics towards a simple yet paramount conclusion: the end justifies the means.

Study Notes

The excerpt is basically a guide for taking over a country using military force and political maneuvering. Our goal is to apply the guides and rules to modern business practices.

Key Point: The end justifies the means. In other words, do whatever it takes to get a job done.

The language in the article is militant. Use the key below for possible modern applications.

  • Prince = Leader / Employer / Manager / Owner
  • Army / Subjects / Inhabitants = Employees / Workforce / People
  • Province / State / Territory = Property / Company / Business
  • War = Conflict
  • Enemies = People you have hurt

You are bound to have difficulties with people that you hurt or inconvenience when you buy or take over property.

Example: A business where employees are unhappy with new management.

New Leaders:
  1. Make sure none of the old leadership team/management is still present.
  2. Don't change all the rules.

These two things will help staff get back into a routine, allowing new management to work in peace.

If the new property needs a lot of changes, there are two options:
  1. The new owner can manage the new property in person.
  2. The new owner can assign a new management team. This is best.

A person who is inconvenienced or put out a little bit will be difficult. Therefore, either put people out a lot, or don't.

Example: If a company needs to be overhauled, fire the old management and problematic employees all at once. This is the only way to guarantee that they won't be problematic.

If a new owner tries to force change by partially replacing management or staff, they will be wasting their time and resources. This will only ensure that everyone is put out a little bit and that there will be problems. Start a new 'colony' instead of creating a 'garrison'.

  1. Colony = New team (managers and/or staff).
  2. Garrison = Partial new team surrounded by old management/staff.

When a new leader takes over property, many people in subordinate positions will follow.

As long as these people don't get 'big heads' they will help a new leader assume control of the business or property.

Key Point: Don't put off conflict. The situation will only end up worse later.

Don't help a leader gain power or control. The leader won't trust you because they will see that you are smart and a potential threat.

Example: A political campaign manager single handedly helps a candidate win an election. The newly elected leader then suspects that the campaign manager resents his or her power and, therefore, doesn't trust the campaign manager anymore.

Key Point: Again, if there are controversial changes to be made, a leader should make them all at once. Like a band-aid, it's less painful in the long run if you pull it off quickly.

A leader that wants to be 'good' will not be a success. A leader should know how to be good and then decide if what's good can bring success.

Definition: good = moral, fair, just, virtuous, noble.

Question: Can a leader be good and successful?

A few Machiavellian Proverbs:
  • Always spend other people's money instead of your own.
  • It's better to be called cheap than greedy.
  • It's better to be thought of as nice than mean, but sometimes it's easier to keep things in order by being mean.
  • It's better to sacrifice an individual than to hurt an entire community.
  • It's safer to be feared than loved.
  • Fame is worth working for.
  • Leaders need to be good actors.
  • A liar will always find people who want to hear lies.
  • People respect leaders that have opinions.

Question: Are the above proverbs or sayings ideas that you agree with?

Key Point: A leader should keep smart people around to help with tough decisions.

But: Ultimately the leader needs to make his or her own decisions.

Conclusion: The results that you get make whatever you had to do in the process okay. Or, the end justifies the means.