Things All Entrepreneurs Should Learn From Niccolo Machiavelli

Originally published under the Entrepreneurs category by Rishabh Dev on iamwire.

Few people in entire human history enjoy a reputation as strong as Niccolo Machiavelli. So much so, that his name is now an adjective in common parlance, often spoken in a dreadful manner. In his book, The Prince, Machiavelli outlines those traits that shaped society in the turbulent times he witnessed in his lifetime. His beliefs and his words have lent heavily to laying the foundations of modern democracy in a big way.

But the one thing that people ignore is the wealth of knowledge about leadership.  Machiavelli has to offer them through his works. Leadership, that is eponymous with entrepreneurship in the modern day. According to Machiavelli, leadership is an acquirable trait. Let’s delve into his work and find out the things all entrepreneurs should learn from Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince.

Choosing the right people

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”

Machiavelli’s admiration for Cesare Borgia, who also inspired The Prince, is well documented, both in his own works, as well as other contemporary writers, thinkers, and philosophers. Borgia had the knack to select the right people for the right tasks, and carry out his commands to the letter. However, in spite of his military, diplomatic, and political skills, Borgia depended heavily on Papal patronage that later became his undoing. In Machiavelli’s opinion, this was his only flaw – to be surrounded by the wrong kind of people at all times.

Depending on people, their team, is certainly essential for entrepreneurs. However, entrepreneurs must take care that these dependencies are not so deep rooted that they take down the tree with them. An intelligent entrepreneur must allow people who would challenge his ideas and opinions enough. So that he may learn and mold those ideas for success. The successful entrepreneur (or ruler, by Machiavelli’s reference) must listen to such people. But doing what he feels would be appropriate for him, as well as the organization.

The art of delegating

“He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.”

Machiavelli believed that leaders must learn how to command their subordinates into obeying their orders. Otherwise, they risk the possibility that their subordinates will ignore them. It is a sign of a good commander to invoke loyalty and obedience among his followers at all times. They must understand their followers thoroughly so as to ensure their well being. But they still have to maintain a subtle detachment to encourage an emotionless command structure that their followers must obey without questioning it.

In the modern context of an enterprise, the entrepreneur must maintain a subtle detachment from the team. It’s to ensure that they understand the importance of his commands. They must realize that the leader is entrusted with their well being and growth. And they must act in a certain way that may seem brutal at times. But it is actually meant to help them grow. Most startup entrepreneurs have trouble delegating and assigning work which is one of their biggest barriers to growth.

Be prepared to take tough decisions

“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is much safer to be feared than loved.”

The sign of a good commander is his ability to balance fear and respect among his followers. He need to ensure that they obey him out of a feeling of obligation, but remain well aware of the consequences of disobedience as well. Also he must act as a father in time of need, and as a disciplinarian when required. Machiavelli gives the example of Dominican Friar Girolamo Savanarola, who blindly followed the Christian morals without a prudent approach to leadership. He ultimately lost his position as the ruler of Florence.

Entrepreneurs must follow this advice. This is to ensure that every member of the team is well aware of their duties, and understands that they can approach the leader for help at any time. However, they must not approach him with problems only, but also be ready with solutions. So that they do not take away precious time from him that can be utilized for strategic action.

Follow great examples to lead by great examples

“A prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent.”

Machiavelli insists that in order to become a great leader, every leader must follow the examples set by those before them. They need to learn from the actions of their predecessors. And simultaneously chart their own path while keeping those lessons in mind at all times.

For entrepreneurs, this is a very prudent advice. There are enough and many examples to learn from. These are about entrepreneurship, leadership, finances, innovation, and other such elements key to the success of an enterprise. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The thing is just keep an eye out for such lessons and instances that can lead onto the path of greatness as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Believe in yourself

“Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great. ”

Machiavelli impresses upon the reader to consider the age old wisdom in self-belief. If you believe in yourself strong enough, there’s no reason for you to be afraid of any obstacles in your path to success in anything that you do.

This would perhaps be the most valuable piece of advice to an entrepreneur, to believe in themselves, his capabilities, his team, and his product in order to achieve success. Without this trait, a leader is incomplete, and is sure to lead his team towards certain failure.

In the end

Machiavelli, like Sun Tzu, is considered to be among the finest strategists of all times. Even though his name lives in infamy as a mark of cunningness, deviousness, and unethical behavior, especially in politics or career. However he has a lot to offer for the one who wants to learn the ways of the real world and succeed in it. Entrepreneurs, for all their innovation and will-power to succeed, need these lessons from Niccolo Machiavelli. Because at the end of the day, running a business is nothing less than running a small country or leading an army into war.

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