So you want to be a leader of people, huh? Maybe even go as far as to say you want to be president? You’ve told everyone who will listen how you will proudly serve the people fairly and be the nicest person you can be while doing it. In your mind, you’ve concluded that you are going to be different and things will run smoothly when you are in power. You’re going to usher in a new period of likeable and trustworthy leaders. It’s all going to be so harmonious.
There’s a small problem with this. The most effective leaders aren’t necessarily the best people.
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a 15th-century politician who held the notion that if you want to be the best leader, there will be times where you are required to use underhanded tactics to ensure that you are the most effective leader you can be.
In The Prince, Machiavelli states that a leader must be concerned not only with how they are perceived by the public but they must also be willing to be to act immorally at the right times to ensure certain outcomes.
“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires.”
“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.”
Violence may be necessary to ensure the stability of the situation and it must be used sparingly as to avoid being seen as brutal and sadistic. Force may be used to purge rivals, to coerce resistant populations, and to remove the community of other people strong enough of character to rule. Scary.
In Machiavelli’s eyes, being nice is synonymous with being ineffective and this isn't what's required from a strong leader.
This is useful to us as we can see that there is an incompatibility within morality as one may want to ensure that measures are in place that benefit society as a whole but, at the same time, they have to use dark means to ensure that they are in power to make these changes possible.
This ethical trade-off is evident even in normal everyday life as one could have to choose between telling their boyfriend that they’re having a girls’ night out or trying to keeping a harmonious relationship. We all know how that often plays out…
Even on the small scale it's not easy, now imagine when the country is at stake. It would be useful to keep this in mind when we come across politicians who use unethical means in government. As much we’d like it, we can't have our cake and eat it too.