The Other Machiavelli: Finding lessons for leaders in a lesser-known work by the Florentine political philosopher

However cynical it may seem, Machiavelli’s The Prince has long been recognized as a source of insights for anyone trying run a business or gain power in one. A ferocious little treatise of under 100 pages, The Prince was aimed at Lorenzo de’ Medici, the iron-handed Florentine ruler, by an author hoping to regain the proximity to power that he formerly enjoyed.

But modern corporations aren’t principalities ruled by autocrats. They are, in fact, more like republics, their leaders dependent on the support of directors, employees, customers, investors, and one another. That is why, in turning to Machiavelli for management wisdom, we would be well served to leave aside The Prince in favor of another of his works, one that is less known but perhaps more to the point. Don’t be fooled by the academic-sounding title; Discourses on Livy has a great deal to teach us about leadership in any organization resembling a republic. Chances are, that includes your business.

Published posthumously in 1531, Discourses draws on the ancient Roman historian (among others) to analyze the nature of power in public life. Like The Prince, this is not a handbook for saints. But the author was a brilliant student of human nature, and not one to underestimate the potential of a determined individual. In Discourses, he firmly asserts the importance of an individual founder in establishing or renovating a republic—and by extension, for our purposes, a business. A prudent founder, he writes, “must strive to assume sole authority.”

Yet a single person cannot sustain an enterprise in the long run. That is only possible if the founder’s vision and talents result in an institution supported by stakeholders who can carry the venture into the future. “Kingdoms which depend only upon the exceptional ability of a single man are not long enduring,” Machiavelli writes, “because such talent disappears with the life of the man, and rarely does it happen to be restored in his successor.”

Besides, princes have no monopoly on wisdom. Despite the notorious unpredictability of the mob, the author acknowledged the wisdom of crowds when he asserted that “the multitude is wiser and more constant than a prince.” Machiavelli was also insightful about succession: “After an excellent prince, a weak prince can maintain himself,” he observed with admirable economy in one chapter’s epigraph, “but after a weak prince, no kingdom can be maintained with another weak one.”

Many of the epigraphs are bull’s-eyes of this kind. Take this one, for example: “Whoever wishes to reform a long-established state in a free city should retain at least the appearance of its ancient ways.” This is worth doing even if you make massive changes, because, Machiavelli notes, “men in general live as much by appearances as by realities; indeed, they are often moved more by things as they appear than by things as they really are.”

Honesty may be the best policy, but that is not a maxim ever attributed to Machiavelli. In keeping with the notion that people attend largely to appearances, he says leaders compelled to do something by necessity should consider pretending their course of action was undertaken out of generosity. In another chapter, he argues, “Cunning and deceit will serve a man better than force to rise from a base condition to great fortune.”

Machiavelli, of course, took a hard-headed view of humanity, believing that people act largely out of self-interest, whether to gratify their egos or sate their desire for material wealth, and that, for better or worse, actions tend to be judged by their consequences. Indeed, he was very much what philosophers call a consequentialist, arguing that, in some contexts, bad things must be done to achieve good ends achievable in no other way. This is not to say that law-breaking or other unethical acts are justified—even some of Machiavelli’s contemporaries considered such advice controversial—but every business leader knows that hard decisions must be made, be it the closing of a venerable division or taking a company in a risky new direction, for the long-term good of the enterprise.

Even when advocating something like mercy, Machiavelli did so with consequences in mind. He argued, for example, that failure should not be harshly punished, especially if it arises from ignorance rather than malice. Roman generals, he notes, had difficult and dangerous jobs, and Rome understood that if military leaders had to worry about “examples of Roman commanders who had been crucified or otherwise put to death when they had lost a day’s battles, it would be impossible for that commander, beset by so many suspicions, to make courageous decisions.”

If punishment should not be meted out lightly, neither should rewards be delayed. If you don’t cultivate loyalty and support from others in good times through open-handedness, Machiavelli says, those people certainly won’t have your back when things get rough. Doling out rewards only in the face of tough competition or harsh circumstances will lead subordinates to believe “that they gained this favour not from you but from your adversaries, and since they must fear that after the danger has passed you will take back from them what you have been forced to give them, they will feel no obligation to you whatsoever.”

Republics, in his view, have no choice but to grow, for “it is impossible for a republic to succeed in standing still.” Companies are the same. But acquisitions—whether in battle or by purchase—must be carried out with care, for “conquests made by republics which are not well organized, and which do not proceed according to Roman standards of excellence, bring about their ruin rather than their glorification.”

Finally, Machiavelli was well aware of the risks of advice-giving, so much so that he gave one chapter the title “Of the danger of being prominent in counselling any enterprise, and how that danger increases with the importance of such enterprise.” Consultants, take note. Just don’t let the clients catch you reading Machiavelli.

Thought of the Day: Advice from An Old Hillbilly

Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong.

Keep skunks, bankers, and politicians at a distance.

Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.

A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.

Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled.

The best sermons are lived, not preached.

Forgive your enemies; its what GOD says to do.

If you don’t take the time to do it right, you’ll find the time to do it twice.

Don’t corner something that is meaner than you.

Don’t pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight, he’ll just kill you.

It don’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.

You cannot unsay a cruel word.

Every path has a few puddles.

When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.

Don’t be banging your shin on a stool that’s not in the way.

Borrowing trouble from the future doesn’t deplete the supply.

Most of the stuff people worry about ain’t never gonna happen anyway.

Don’t judge folks by their relatives.

Silence is sometimes the best answer.

Don‘t interfere with somethin’ that ain’t botherin’ you none.

Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.

Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.

The biggest troublemaker you’ll ever have to deal with watches you from the mirror every mornin’.

Always drink upstream from the herd.

Good judgment comes from experience, and most of that comes from bad judgment.

Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back in.

If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.

Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time.

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.

Most times, it just gets down to common sense.

Warren Buffett: This is your 1 greatest measure of success in life

Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Warren Buffett is no doubt one of the few business icons who can deliver the gift of wisdom and truth when we need it most. And those truths, when you really stop and consider them, are always spot-on.

In her biography of Buffett, “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life,” author Alice Schroeder writes about a time when Buffett gave a presentation at The University of Georgia. The students asked him about his definition of success.

When you’re nearing your end of life, your only measure of success should be the number of “people you want to have love you actually do love you,” he answered.

“I know people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and they get hospital wings named after them. But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them,” said Buffett. “If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don’t care how big your bank account is, your life is a disaster.”

That’s right, a self-made billionaire says that the amount you are loved — not your wealth or accomplishments — is the ultimate measure of success in life.

To give and receive

Love is one of the most powerful emotions a human being can feel, and yet, we still live in an individualistic society of keeping up with the Joneses: We forge ahead with our business ventures and strategically plan our career paths in hopes of finding fame and fortune. We feel we’ve finally arrived at the top when we’re able to vacation twice a year to exotic islands and drop a European luxury car (or two) in the garage. We dream about having all of these things, love be damned.

“The problem with love is that it’s not for sale,” Buffett told the students. “The only way to get love is to be lovable. It’s very irritating if you have a lot of money. You’d like to think you could write a check: I’ll buy a million dollars’ worth of love. But it doesn’t work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get.”

So how can we follow Buffett’s principle of success in a way where we can truly leave behind a legacy? The path of putting love into motion is a daring and courageous one, but here are a few ways to do it:

1. Be selfless and don’t expect anything in return

The laws of love are reciprocal. When we choose to love someone unconditionally by encouraging and believing in them, love comes back in full force through respect, admiration, trust and loyalty.If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don’t care how big your bank account is, your life is a disaster.Warren BuffettCHAIRMAN AND CEO, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY

What’s more, when we receive those things, we become more self-compassionate. A 2011 study conducted by the University of California found that self-compassion can increase motivation, willpower and the ability to recover from failure. Another study, published in 2007 in the Journal of Research in Personality, concluded that people who have self-compassion are more likely to be happy, optimistic and show personal initiative.

2. Be empathetic

Empathy is one of most common traits of likable (or, as Buffett prefers to say, “lovable”) people. True empathy occurs when you’re able to step into someone else’s shoes and see their perspective.

Empathy also plays a major role in a person’s potential to influence others. In a DDI study of more than 15,000 leaders across 20 industries, researchers found that the ability to listen and respond with empathy was the most critical driver of a team’s overall performance.

3. Make work enjoyable and fun

When you enjoy work, you enjoy life. In Carol J. Loomis’ biography of Buffett, “Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything,” she mentions a quote from Buffett: “I love every day. I mean, I tap dance in here and work with nothing but people I like. There is no job in the world that is more fun than running Berkshire, and I count myself lucky to be where I am.”

The evidence here is clear: In positive and uplifting cultures where people share the same values, beliefs and norms, you’ll find a high-performing group of people who attract folks of the same kind.

4. Treat others the way they want to be treated

As children, we’re often taught the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you want to be treated.” But the Platinum Rule takes it to a whole new level: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

When we follow the Platinum Rule, we can be more certain that we’re respecting what they want, instead of projecting our own values and preferences. That doesn’t mean we should ignore the Golden Rule altogether, but we should realize its limitations given that every person and every situation is so different.

5. Follow your passion

If you want to have your dream career, you must follow your passion. It’s that simple. Many of us take our cushy paychecks and job security for granted, even though we might hate our jobs and would rather be doing something else — something we actually love.

As humans, doing what we love is a major contributor to true happiness in life. So if you don’t know what your passion is, it’s time to figure that out.