Opinions vary as to what defines a “classic” business book. My own opinion is that it offers insights and counsel that are of timeless value. To paraphrase Bernard of Chartres, a 12th century monk, their authors provide the shoulders upon which each new generation of leaders stand.
Some of the best sources are not (technically) business sources. For example: Il Principe. Its author, Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469-1527), was an Italian Renaissance historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer. He has often been called the founder of modern political science. The first version of The Prince appears to have been distributed in 1513 but it was not published until five years after Machiavelli’s death. It is probably among the most controversial political documents, largely because of its suggestion that an ultimate objective justifies the means — any means — to achieve it.
In my opinion, one of the most valuable insights derives from Machiavelli’s emphasis on the important of gaining and then preserving — preferably increasing — power. Without any power or at least sufficient power, we are vulnerable to being controlled by others who possess it. Consider this observation:
“And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”
Machiavelli saw himself as a realist, as this observation indicates:
“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.”
My opinion is that Machiavelli would have no problem with the concept of servant leadership if (HUGE “if”) those who practice servant leadership have so much power that they can be, say, and do whatever they wish. First be feared and respected, and only then can you afford to be liked.