What is Machiavellianism?
Machiavellianism is a political theory by Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli focused lots of time to writing after he was exiled in 1512. He then published a very famous book known as The Prince.
The Prince suggested that to keep power, leaders should be cunning, brutal, cruel and use any means possible to maintain power, rule and achieve their goals. This infamous recommendation is what has come to be known as Machiavellism.
Machiavellism thus is defined as the personality trait where someone is so focused on achieving something or maintaining the power that he/she is willing to used deceit, cunning, assassination, cruelty or any means possible to achieve it. Machiavellism is one of the three traits that form The Dark Triad. The other two are psychopathy and narcism. People that embody all these traits or score high on them are known to have malevolent qualities. Psychologists and psychiatrists see the Dark Triad as a mental illness, or a set of mental illnesses, whose victims end up either in jail or very successful.
People with Machiavellism personality tend to be unemotional and with little regard for human life and are not influenced by the conventional morality code.
In this article, we are going to look at why and how Machiavellism is used in organizations by business owners and managers and workers and how prevalent it is.
Machiavellism in organizations
Nicolo Machiavelli theory was developed mostly to point out how successful leaders manage to maintain power and build successful entities. He simply identified how great, or rather, effective leaders manage to exercise power over their juniors. Machiavellism thus existed long before Nicolo Machiavelli put his theory to paper.
Machiavelli described how organizations run within in all human societies then explained what the leaders had to do to ensure the survival of the organization. Note that it is irrelevant whether the motive of the organization is good or bad, the theory applies.
The theory is fully based on human nature – feeding on the tendency of human behavior in a natural environment where there is an unlimited choice. What he saw thus does not really describe the conventional good or moral behavior but a selfish urge to achieve whatever one wants to achieve.
Humans are naturally self-interested. We seek to satisfy and achieve our goals with varying degrees of zeal and rationality, and we employ varying levels of rationality to the means we use to achieve those goals. However, the things humans pursue in their lifetime are generally similar – food, shelter, pleasure and sexual/reproductive partners. There is thus a natural competition which we also indulge in varying levels of zeal and ruthlessness.
All organizations are comprised of people who are involved in one or more ruthless pursuits and zeal to achieve something selfishly at the expense of the organization or others. There are also individuals who are in a ruthless pursuit of achieving something for the organization and will employ any means possible to achieve what they want.
Machiavelli also noted that human beings are inclined to live communally and corporate with other social groups. However, this too is done with the sole aim of personal gratification and humans will only corporate with other humans if they see a possibility of the cooperation advancing their personal interests. This is one element of Machiavelism that helps organizations grow – everyone pursuing their own interests while in so doing, furthering the interests and growth of the organization.
Normally, great empires (both business and nations) have a criminal justice system that punishes unbridled self-interest within the organization and where possible, a military that deals with unbridled self-interest emanating externally. This is a clear manifestation of Machiavellism where the leaders assume that, where an opportunity shows itself, people, within and outside the organization, are likely to act in self-interest.
The emergence of trade unions in Britain in the 17th Century has its roots in Machiavelism in organizations. Even though they were formed to pursue a noble cause, they were also formed to pursue self-interest and oppose the ruthless self-interest of mining company owners in Britain.
Advantages of Machiavellianism in Organizations
Though running on ruthlessness and selfishness, Machiavelism has a good share of its advantages in organizations.
For one, the most successful organizations in the world have managed to reach where they are courtesy of Machiavelism. It is the zeal and selfish desire to succeed that made organizations become so successful. It is the competitive nature of its employees that led to innovation, hard work and giving up their all for the sake of self-interest and in the long run benefitting the organization. The famous phrase, ‘why do the bad guys always win’ is an example of how Machiavellianism has led to the success of organizations and individuals. The more ruthless one pursues their goal, the more likely they are to be successful.
Machiavellian tendencies also intimidate and frighten competitors giving organizations a better platform to better themselves.
Disadvantages of Machiavellianism
All elements of Machiavellianism can be described as unethical behavior in human society. All individuals with the Machiavellianism trait have a propensity to behave amorally and love manipulating other people. Machiavellian employees are likely to commit lots of counterproductive behavior that may not just lead to the suffering of other people but could also lead to losses within the organization. These actions range from behaviors that will affect other employee’s performance to ignoring the most important activities in their quest of achieving their own goals to outright thieving from the organization.
As much as they love being high achievers and would not let anything stand in their way, Machiavellians are also known to be thieves. Machiavellians will still from their colleagues and employers irrespective of how they are treated in the organization. This has a negative effect on the organization and will make it less competitive among its peers.
Machiavellians are also easily bribed. Somebody whose sole motivation is self-interest will not let an opportunity to enrich themselves without doing much pass and competitors are likely to use them to bring an organization down.