First, I find the very premise of the book intriguing, the gift to a would-be prince from a simple scholar of history and student of the human animal. Given the honest content of the text, and the straight-forward manner in which it is presented, it is understandable that some would presume to define this work as the nexus of discussions on power. After all, that was the intent of the author when he compiled his thoughts. Machiavelli thoroughly explores the avenues by which men acquire power, and the avenues by which they either retain or lose said power.
The arguments he presents are compelling not only for his era in time, but are also highly applicable to the world in which we live. The reader may have to spend some time searching out how these principles apply today, but they are every bit as relevant now as they were when they were originally penned. The methods described by Machiavelli bring into focus an idea presented by Pfeffer…leaders in today’s world shy away from the very concept of power, and are increasingly hesitant to pursue its use.
The Prince provides a detailed look into how power is successfully acquired and maintained. Throughout the ages great leaders have not been hamstrung by concepts such as political correctness and tolerance to all things. Instead, those who desired to lead men counted the cost and pursued their ambition.
The business landscape today is no different than the feudal disputes of ages past with the sole exception that we have handicapped our leaders by punishing them when they lead in a decisive or intolerant manner.
Leaders that are able to capture the essence of power through Machiavelli’s work will be blessed with an upper-hand in the boardroom as well as the marketplace. Machiavelli does a superb job of defining which methods of government and conquest do well, and which ones are not nearly as effective. Again, the strategies and examples the author provides are readily applied to today’s business environment.
Machiavelli’s work also provides a great deal of insight into power acquisition and management methods that do not work. Furthermore, the politically correct cultural and societal norms of the American and western European countries will have a difficult time embracing one who solely uses a Machiavellian approach to power acquisition. The primary cases given for Machiavelli’s work were all located in Western Europe (Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland) several hundred years ago. The society he was acquainted with was feudal in nature. The world is considerably smaller now then when the work was completed. As such, it is imperative for the student of power to have a firm grasp of Machiavelli’s general principles and how they can be implemented in a broader context as applied against varied cultures.
The true beauty of this book lies in its timeless nature. Machiavelli is quick to point out that some of the information in his book may be hard for certain readers to embrace; however he also presents the case for any who seek power to follow his guidelines as he has laid them out. This work is applicable in the business dealings one finds themselves in on a daily basis. It is not uncommon to have discussions with colleagues wherein someone feels slighted because the system has not treated them in what they deem a “fair” manner. However, I fully agree with Machiavelli in that those who are truly interested in acquiring and retaining power must not lament on the way the world should be, but should instead concentrate on how it is and operate within those parameters. Case in point, it is not uncommon to hear individuals complain because someone was well connected and received a job or promotion. Those who were passed over for the slot may lament the sheer injustice of the event because, in their own mind, they were imminently more qualified than the individual who received the slot. The reality of the situation is that the individual who was selected understood that networking played an integral part in the promotion process.
Those seeking to acquire some degree of power within their organizations would do well to invest the time to read The Prince. While the work may be 500 years old, it is every bit as relevant today as it was when the scorned Machiavelli wrote it. Those who fear power will turn away from these pages, those who long for power to influence change will embrace it.