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Ethical Leadership Self-Assessment-How Machiavellian Are You?

When you hear the name Machiavelli, what do you think of? Ruthlessness? Deception? Certainly, the scholarly author of the 1513 treatise The Prince believed in success by any means. But he also argued that the skill of an individual leader is the key factor in determining the success of a state or enterprise.

This self-assessment, from The Business Ethics Activity Book, by Marlene Caroselli (AMACOM, 2003), takes the point of view that “Machiavellian, and even manipulative, behavior can actually benefit all parties involved.”

Read the following statements and answer Agree or Disagree. Think of the degree to which the statement matches your way of thinking. If you both agree and disagree with a given statement, try to determine which choice you’d agree with just slightly more than the other choice. Instead of a 50/50 response, consider the statement as a choice between 51/49 %; you would favor one response slightly more than the other. (There are no trick questions. Simply decide if you agree or disagree with the statements.)
  Agree Disagree
1. We should be adaptable when unforeseen events occur.
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2. One change always leaves indentations on which to build another change.
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3. In the beginning, problems are easy to cure but hard to diagnose; with the passage of time, having gone unrecognized and unattended, they become easy to diagnose, but hard to cure.
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4. A workplace accustomed to freedom is more easily managed by its own employees than by any other arrangement.
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5. A wise influencer must always tread the path of great men and women and should imitate those who have excelled.
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6. People who least rely on luck alone will be the most successful.
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7. Success is a combination of opportunity and ability.
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8. Most people have no faith in new things until they have been proven by experiences.
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9. If you have to beg others to fulfill a mission, you are destined to fail.
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10. If you are respected, you will be secure, honored and successful.
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11. Things that come easily are hard to maintain. Things that are hard won are easier to maintain.
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12. A leader who thinks more about his or her own interests than about yours, who seeks his or her own advantage for everything he or she does, will never be a good leader, for others will never be able to trust him or her.
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13. To keep employees loyal, managers must honor them by sharing both distinctions and duties.
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Interpretation
Because there are 13 items, if you chose 7 or more in either the Agree or Disagree category, then that is your “majority” category.

Now let’s see how open you are to influences that do not represent typical sources of knowledge acquisition. In all likelihood, you agreed with at least 7 of the statements. Would it “shock” you to learn that these 13 paraphrased statements are taken from The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli? Written 500 years ago, the book has become synonymous with words such as “duplicity” and “deceit.” Yet much of what it endorses makes sense for today’s leader, manager and/or influencer.

Does a majority of Agree answers mean you are Machiavellian, in the most negative sense of the word? Not at all. It means simply that no one thing is 100% “right” or 100% “wrong.” Even in The Prince there is wisdom from which we can profit. But…if you are not open, you won’t be able to spot the worth; your stamp of “worthless” will prevent you from seeing worth in hard realities. If you take no risks into the unpopular or unknown, you will not be able to optimize or reify possibilities that lie hidden in the here and now.

Remember that selling a particular service, product or proposal to others depends on your understanding of the current reality and your ability to remain mentally flexible or open to new ideas. Not until you have achieved these mental states can you create the new reality. It’s often true that “if you build it, they will come,” but if you don’t hear or see the opportunities calling to you, you will never be able to turn them into new realities.

Excerpted from The Business Ethics Activity Book—50 Exercises for Promoting Integrity at Work, by Marlene Caroselli (AMACOM, 2003).

Learn more about this book and other AMACOM titles