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The following article
was written by Coleman Patterson and
appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.
‘Machiavellianism’ well practiced at office,
September 1, 2006, 2D.
those who have seen Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,
you might remember the scene where Viscount Mabrey teaches
his nephew, Nicholas Devereaux, how to always hit a
bull’s-eye in darts. The method, which Mabrey shows to
Nicholas, is one that he learned from his friend “Niccolo
Machiavelli.” The secret method of hitting a bull’s-eye was
to walk to the target with the dart in hand and stick it in
the bull’s-eye. When young Nicholas suggested that such a
method was cheating, his uncle wholeheartedly agreed.
people, that scene would pass by with little notice or
understanding. However, serious students of organization
and management recognize and appreciate the reference.
“Machiavellianism” is a well-studied concept in management
research and a seemingly well-practiced (unfortunately)
concept in the work place.
Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy. He
wrote a pamphlet (or book) for the ruling Medici family in
Florence that outlined ways to gain and hold political
power. In his writing, he expressed views suggesting, “The
ends justify the means.” While it is better to be
forthright, honest, and noble, sometimes situations require
that power-holders be devious, ruthless, and dishonest to
make desirable outcomes arise. And when rulers must be
devious and manipulative, Machiavelli suggested, it is
important that their people perceive them as forthright,
honest, and noble.
Machiavelli’s ideas gained him notoriety. Suggesting that
rulers (i.e., political, organizational, and other) cheat,
manipulate, and act in devious ways for personal gain is
appalling to us today and it was also appalling to
Machiavelli’s contemporaries (at least they gave the public
impression that the ideas were appalling).
Contemporary researchers Richard Christie and Florence Geis
developed a test for measuring a person's level of
Machiavellianism. The test asks respondents a series of
questions and categorizes people by their scores into two
groups: low Machs and high Machs. Low Machs believe that
leading clean, moral lives are the proper ways live,
interact with others, and get ahead in the world. High
Machs believe that looking out for one’s self-interest and
well being is the best strategy to getting ahead—and if that
requires deception, promises, and/or punishments to get what
they want, they will do it.
Machiavellianism is alive and well in our society. The
recent series of well-publicized corporate scandals from the
past half-decade attest to that fact. Machiavellianism also
happens in less obvious ways in organizations, such as: only
revealing information to others when it is personally
beneficial, using rewards to bring about one’s desired
actions, using flattery to shape attitudes, and making
insincere promises to others to foster commitment and
loyalty. Researchers have also examined Machiavellianism
and its role in marketing and impression management.
Organizational leaders need to be aware of Machiavellianism
and how it exists within their workplaces. Creating moral
and ethical organizational cultures, transmitting clear
ethical guidelines and expectations to employees, and
leading by example are ways to combat the harmful effects of
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