Framing the Dialogue

What Would Machiavelli Do?

Machiavelli’s The Prince is famous a written “instructions” to his superiors about how to rule effectively and often brutally.  Many believe that Machiavelli was the brute, but he was really just the man behind the throne trying to avoid the fate (often death) of unstable rulers.

“…you’re doomed.  Doomed to the middle.  Doomed to be one of those who are acted upon, not one of those who act.  That’s all right.  We can take care of that.  This book will take you by the shoulders, shake you, and make you begin to live your sorry life differently.  To take stock of a situation and ask yourself, before you act:  What would Machiavelli do?  And the answer, in almost all cases, is:  Whatever is necessary.”

In What Would Machiavelli Do? author Stanley Binglooks at Machiavelli’s writing to provide advice to todays leaders.  Bing uses some of today’s most famous characters and take a humorous journey through brutal corporate America.  You could read this book in two ways.  I read it as a humorous parody pointing out some of the over-the-top behavior of powerful people.  Others will probably use it as a real how-to manual for getting ahead.

Consider some of Bing’s characteristics and notable examples:

  • Obnoxiousness – The Donald:  In perhaps one of the funniest quotes in the book Mr. Trump remarked to Larry King during an interview; “Do you mind if I sit back a little?  Because your breath is bad – it really is.”
  • Taking Criticism – Saddam Hussein:  A first-person account recounted an event where one of Saddam’s generals offered some unwanted advice whereby Hussein asked him to stand up and proceeded to shoot him six times.
  • Self love – Oprah Winfrey:  her quote says it all, “I see myself as an instrument of a will greater than my own and I really try to keep myself connected to that.  All my life I have always known I was born to greatness.”  I could also use this as an example of narcissism.
  • Self satisfaction – Lou Gerstner:  “No one has ever met my expectations, with the exception of my wife.”  Any chance she has photographs of him in some compromising position?
  • Madness – Caligula: “I have existed from the morning of the world, and I shall exist until the last star falls from the heavens.  Although I have taken the form of Gaius Caligula, I am all men, as I am no man – and so, I am a god.”
  • Honesty (or more correctly the lack thereof to get off the hook) – Bill Clinton:  “I didn’t inhale” and I would add;  “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman.”

I found the book to be enjoyable though there are just as many examples of successful people who don’t do things this way.  Read Winners Never Cheat by Jon Huntsman.  My guess is that even a man who seems as forthright as Mr. Huntsman has to watch his back for the Machiavellians with knives.

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