Machiavellian Leadership


When we discuss the idea of a Machiavellian leaders we have always seemed to use leaders that have official power over their “subjects”. We haven’t talked about leaders whose power over there subjects is determined by the subjects. Let me clarify. While a leader by definition has some power over the people they lead, there is a huge difference between a king leading his subjects and a captain leading his team. The king has total power over his people and is only threatened by rebellion and outside attack. A captain’s power is determined by the players on the team and can be taken at any time. Even if there power is not officially stripped there only power over the other players on the team is that the other players believe the captain is bettering the team, if that changes, the captain loses all power.Machiavelli spends a long time on the idea that while it best to be both, if one must choose, it is better to be feared than loved. However with someone like a captain, while  it is helpful for him or her to be feared by opponents, it is much less important for him to be loved. A captain must be feared to the extent that he will not be disrespected by his teammates but beyond that it is counterproductive. It is much better to be loved and respected by the other players.

Catcher and Captain of the Boston Red Sox , Jason Varitek.

If a captain can walk this fine line his team will benefit greatly. From encouraging hustle in practice to inspiring players on game day every great team starts with a great captain and the way to be a great captain is very different than the way to be a great ruler. There is of course a middle ground to these forms of leaderships and I believe the perfect example if the President of the United States.

President of the United States, Barack Obama.

He obviously has official power over the American people and a way to enforce that power (like a king) but his power comes from the people and he can lose power either through impeachment or simply by being voted out by the people every four years. For this reason he cannot instill the same amount of fear the American people as a king can to his subjects. On the flip side he has more power and the ability to enforce it that he does not need to rely solely on being universally liked to be effective as a captain does. My point in this blog is that the Machiavellian style of rule, while effective for some, is not universal and that even within his style of rule there is much variation and varying levels of effectiveness.


One thought on “Machiavellian Leadership

  1. The most important ability of an effective leader, according to captain Michael Abroshof, who was the captain who took on the worst performing ship in the navy and eventually turned it into the ship that all others’ were trying to emulate, “the most important skill a captain can have is the ability to see through the eyes of the crew.”

    Leaders must understand who they are leading and must also show that they care. According to John Beilein, a good leader is someone who is, “very humble yet very confident and others will follow him because they believe in and like him because he has shown that he genuinely cares about those he is leading.”


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