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The Exhausted Woman
with Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

Do You Have a Machiavellian Boss?

Morgan had not noticed the book, The Prince, sitting predominately on her bosses’ credenza.

Perhaps she hadn’t previously been in the office long enough to look around, but now seeing the book, everything became clear. Her boss had a common saying during meetings, “The end always justifies the means,” and expected everyone to operate on that philosophy.

“The end,” for her boss, was all about the bottom line and making the deal whatever the cost. While she didn’t directly encourage lying, cheating, stealing, and manipulating, it was clear from the team meetings that those who did were rewarded.

It had been a while since Morgan read the book. She recalled being mortified by it but decided to give it a try again. One quote from Prince Machiavelli stood out, “Anyone compelled to choose will find far greater security in being feared than in being loved.” This is one of the guiding principles of Machiavellians. Now Morgan could see why her boss treasured the book, her dominating, intimidating, overbearing, and sometimes scary demeanor made sense considering the book’s philosophy.

What is Machiavellianism? It is a personality construct and not a personality disorder such as narcissism or anti-social (sociopath and psychopath). It is a way of looking at the world that influences behaviors, feelings, and thoughts. Those who follow this philosophy do it willfully as it is not an inherited or even developed as the result of abuse, trauma, or poor environmental influences.

What are the principles of Machiavellianism? Prince Nicolo Machiavelli wrote the Italian book The Prince in the 1500s. It outlines a political philosophy on how rulers are to govern their subjects. He explains how being cynical, unprincipled, and interpersonally manipulative, are the keys to success as a ruler. A ruler is not bound by traditional norms and should only be concerned with maintaining and achieving power. The book argues pragmatism over morality with a focus on power over happiness.

Some other guiding principles include never showing humility, rather arrogance is a more effective way of dealing with subjects or subordinates. Morality and ethics are for the weak; powerful people are free to lie, cheat, and deceive others when it benefits them. Manipulation is a useful tool for keeping subjects in check.

What are the characteristics of Machiavellians? The dominate ones are people who appear to be trustworthy and wise but have no inward desire to be either. They prefer courage and decisiveness over kindness, miserliness over generosity, and malice over benevolence. They openly break promises when the advantage of them has disappeared. And they are not concerned with the immediate approval of others but focus on the long-term gain.

Machiavellians examine the lives of others and strive to emulate their victories, even claiming them for their own. They may consult other’s advice but rely on their own intellect even if it is lacking. They believe that cruelty is sometimes necessary for maintaining order. And they value bad characteristics such as vindictiveness, stubbornness, and miserliness in order to stay in power.

What are Machiavellians like in the workplace? The guiding belief is to maintain personal power at all costs. They justify pitting one person against others, neglect to share important information, spread false rumors, backstab, and use other manipulative behaviors to get what they want. Generosity in moderation is good (especially in exchange for something they want) but having a reputation for it can be destructive because it uses up their resources. They use the fear of punishment as a motivating factor for subordinates and their harshness, rudeness, or inappropriateness is acceptable (even if it is not for others). However, they do limit the use of fear so as not incite others to hatred; hatred is avoided but bullying is common.

What are the worst extremes of Machiavellianism? Sometimes, The Dark Triad is apparent. This groups narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy together creating malevolent qualities. Narcissists are grandiose, prideful, self-centered, and lack empathy. Machiavellians are manipulative, exploitative of others, cynical, and deceptive. Psychopaths are impulsive, calculating, callous, without conscience, and dangerous. The combination of the three together is called The Dark Triad.

How did they become Machiavellians? Some Machiavellians study the book The Prince and intentionally emulate its principles. It becomes their bible of sorts as the dominate source of advice. Others are merely emulating the behavior of those they highly esteem without knowing exactly where these concepts originate. Unfortunately, society rewards these behaviors in certain occupations (such as politicians), and therefore reinforces this almost 500-year-old philosophy.

Understanding her boss’s philosophy affirmed for Morgan that she needed to seek employment elsewhere. She could already see how some of her co-workers were becoming more like her boss through reinforcement of manipulative behavior and she wanted nothing to do with it.

Do You Have a Machiavellian Boss?

 


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APA Reference
Hammond, C. (2019). Do You Have a Machiavellian Boss?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 18, 2019, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2019/01/do-you-have-a-machiavellian-boss/