The ethical path to business strategy and leadership success:

Embracing empathy and integrity in the modern workplace

Analyse how Machiavelli’s strategies can be applied to business and decision-making.

Niccolò Machiavelli’s legacy in relation to business strategy

Niccolò Machiavelli, a famous Florentine diplomat and political theorist born in 1469, wrote his most important work ‘The Prince’ in 1532. In this tract, Machiavelli gave advice to leaders on how to gain and maintain power despite many challenges. The central theme of ‘The Prince’ revolves around how the Machiavellian leader uses manipulation, deceit, punishment, fear and distrust to achieve personal goals.


Artists impression of Niccolò Machiavell today as a businessman, fittingly, wearing a Pal Zileri suit

The Machiavellian leader: An unscrupulous approach to corporate strategy

The Machiavellian leader is someone who watches and manipulates others for his own benefit. They resort to cunning, scheming and unscrupulous tactics to manage both business and people. Unfortunately, some contemporary managers unwittingly adopt a Machiavellian leadership style, believing it to be effective in the competitive business world.

Recognising Machiavellian workplaces: The fine line between leadership tactics and unethical behaviour

By evaluating some of Machiavelli’s observations, we gain insight into how certain aspects are still applied in the modern workplace. However, it is very important to distinguish between strategic decision-making and unethical practices. While recognising the historical relevance, contemporary leaders must ensure that their actions are in line with ethical principles and promote a positive working environment.

1. Repelling hatred and contempt: the power of delegation

Machiavelli emphasises securing your power base by avoiding hatred and contempt. He recommends delegation as a management technique, but it should not be used to avoid responsibility or maintain unfair practices. Ethical leaders should encourage open communication and transparency while taking responsibility for their decisions.

2. Leading through change: balancing stability and business strategy

Machiavelli advises newly appointed leaders not to make drastic changes immediately. Ethical leaders understand the importance of balancing stability and innovation. Encouraging a culture of open dialogue and involving employees in the change process can lead to more sustainable transformations. Business strategy; Applying Machiavellian tactics in business

3. Eliminating rivals: Ethical competition for leadership success

While competition is natural in business, it is not acceptable to eliminate rivals through unethical means. Ethical leaders focus on fostering healthy competition and encourage teamwork and mutual respect.

4. Balance fear and love: Building trust and integrity

Machiavelli once pointed out that it is safer to be feared than to be loved as a leader. Ethical leaders recognise the importance of building trust and respect with their teams. They understand that genuine care for employees fosters loyalty, commitment and a positive working environment.

5. Strategic networking: real relationships over manipulation for business strategy

Machiavelli stresses the importance of appearing noble while privately setting up a plan for personal gain. Ethical leaders understand that genuine relationships and authentic networking are more valuable than manipulation. Building meaningful connections based on trust and mutual benefit creates a robust support system and contributes to overall team cohesion.

The pitfalls of Machiavellian leadership in modern times

Machiavellian tactics may have been considered effective in his time, but their applicability to the modern workplace is questionable. Embracing such tactics may lead to short-term gains, but ultimately harms the organisation’s long-term growth and employee well-being. Ethical leadership that prioritises empathy, integrity and transparency is essential for the organisation’s long-term success and employee well-being.

The journey to ethical leadership: Self-reflection and growth

In the 1960s, social psychologists Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis collected statements from Machiavelli’s writings to measure individuals’ propensity for Machiavellianism. In today’s context, self-reflection is very important for leaders to assess their management style. Adopting a truly ethical leadership approach involves seeing empathy as a good thing, demonstrating integrity and building a supportive work culture.

The benefits of ethical leadership for business strategy

Ethical leadership has far-reaching benefits for both organisations and their employees. A workplace that values empathy, integrity and honesty promotes employee trust and loyalty, leading to better retention and talent attraction.

Concluding remarks: The ethical path to leadership success

In conclusion, Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ lives on as a historical testimony to the political landscape of another era. However, modern leaders need to recognise the limitations of Machiavellian survival tactics in today’s workplace. Embracing ethical leadership principles such as empathy and integrity is essential for the long-term success of organisations and the well-being of employees. The modern workplace requires leaders who prioritise ethical decision-making and promote a positive work culture where employees can thrive and grow.

A biography of Niccolo Machiavelli

Florentine Histories by Niccolò Machiavelli

Similar article


Machiavelli’s literary influence and legacy

Machiavelli’s literary influence and legacy

Ethics in politics: Machiavelli's literary influence and philosophical ideas Introduction Ethics and politics have been subjects of deep philosophical enquiry throughout history. Ethics and politics have been subjects of profound philosophical inquiry throughout...

Ethics vs. Realpolitik: Machiavelli’s dilemma

Ethics vs. Realpolitik: Machiavelli’s dilemma

Unravelling Machiavelli's Perspectives: Ethics in politics, the debate on Realpolitik and moral governance Introduction Introduction In this in-depth exploration, we dive into Niccolò Machiavelli's complex philosophical landscape, focusing on the interplay between...



Leave a Reply