10 Business and Leadership Lessons from Niccolò Machiavelli

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Image courtesy of Flickr user Robert Scarth 
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Few historical figures are as divisive and polarizing as Niccolò Machiavelli. The fact that this Renaissance philosophers works date back 500 years hasn’t blunted its impact or controversy one bit.
Some view him as the father of modern materialism, inspiring people to do or say anything to achieve personal gain, i.e. the ends justify the means. Indeed, the word Machiavellian – derived from his most famous work, The Prince – has come to mean cunning, deceit, and manipulation.
Others, however, see him as the world’s first great realist and a positive influence on modern politics and capitalism. Some even think Machiavelli was the first to apply empirical scientific methods to human behavior by making innovative generalizations based on experience, observation, and history.

Being a realist – much like Machiavelli – I’m not inclined to weigh in on the man’s overall affect on the world, good or bad. Regardless, many of his ideas for achieving long-term political success and power translate extraordinarily well into the current business climate of intense global competition.

Moreover, I never realized how closely my own ideas on business, leadership, and entrepreneurial culture resonated with his until I read this post by author Mark Harrison. It turns out that I’ve more or less been quoting the guy for years without even realizing it. Coincidence? Hmm.

In any case, he predates us all by a few centuries, which makes these 10 Business and Leadership Lessons from Niccolò Machiavelli remarkable, to say the least:

[Here are the first three.]

• “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”
 As I wrote just the other day, “Leaders must learn to adapt in a fast-changing world to avoid corporate or political disaster.” That is, after all, why most companies fail.

• “Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.” 
An entrepreneur’s first and most important goal is to find a unique and innovative solution that solves a big customer or market problem. Without obstacles, there are no opportunities. And those same obstacles provide barriers to competitors, down the road.

• “Never was anything great achieved without danger.”
 I’ve often said that willingness to take risks is a critical success factor. In Irreverent Career Advice for Up-and-Comers, I encourage young folks to, “Take big risks — now!” since, “It gets much harder as you get older and begin to ‘acquire’ things you don’t want to risk losing.”
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Steve Tobak is a consultant and former high-tech senior executive. He’s managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a management consulting and business strategy firm. Contact Steve, follow him on Facebook, or connect on LinkedIn.

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