jason atchley

Machiavelli’s Six Insights for General Counsel


Michael P. Maslanka, Texas Lawyer

February 25, 2014    |0 Comments

Image: Clipart
Last year, we celebrated (well, some of us did), the 500th anniversary of “The Prince,” Niccolò Machiavelli’s work of enduring genius. Contrary to his bad rap, Machiavelli is not a Dr. Evil, and “The Prince” is not a version of “Evil for Dummies.” Its lessons for GCs and for the executives they counsel are timeless.
No. 1: Heed selected advice from selected advisers. While the prince is the boss, he still needs advisers. But he drives the agenda, not them. So, Machiavelli writes that the prince decides from whom and about what he wants counsel, plus when he wants the advisers to offer it.
The group of advisers should be small; if not, the surfeit of advice amounts to no advice at all, with the good counsel lost in the cacophony.
Finally, the prince’s demeanor must encourage truth telling. This creates a virtuous circle from which “everyone may see that the more freely he speaks, the more he will be accepted.”
No. 2: Niccolò is not Tony. Machiavelli is no Tony Soprano. The mob boss from the HBO series lives in a universe that is self-contained and self-justifying. Its inhabitants brag that “I did XYZ because I could do XYZ,” which is a truly evil rationale.
Not so Machiavelli. Yes, he writes that parties can break a treaty but only “when the reasons for the original undertaking no longer pertain.” And because people are generally bad and conniving, they will, sooner or later, break their word and the prince will have “legitimate” reasons to abandon his promises in the treaty. As law professor Philip Bobbitt observes in “The Garments of Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World He Made,” this reasoning undergirds international law, allowing the aggrieved party to disavow its obligations because the reasons for entering into the agreement initially have evaporated.
No. 3: If you treat others well, they will treat you well. Machiavelli invented human resources. Listen to his words from 500 years ago: “A prince must … show himself a lover of merit, give preferment to the able, and those who excel in every act.” That’s today’s Human Resources 101.
Who invented the suggestion box (aka incentivized ideas)? That’s right: Niccolò. “The prince should offer rewards to whoever … seeks in any way to improve his city or state.”
Is the company thinking of conducting a reduction-in-force after a merger? Follow Machiavelli’s advice on what a prince should do after taking over a city or a state: “[C]ommit all … cruelties at once, so as not to have them recur … whoever acts otherwise, either through timidity, or bad counsels, is always obliged to stand with knife in hand, and can never depend on the subjects, because they, owing to continually fresh injuries are unable to depend upon him.” Today’s translation: lawsuit after lawsuit.
Finally, he understood—just as today’s psychologists—that money is a weak and unreliable relative, resulting in temporary loyalty when times are good, but no loyalty when times turn bad. That’s Machiavelli, vice president of people development.
No 4: People are bad. Work with it. Not only are they bad but they “are ungrateful, fickle, desolators, apt to flee peril, covetous of gain.”
There is a before and after in the history of ideas. Pre-Machiavelli: Trust to innate goodness. It was a one-trick-pony strategy. Post-Machiavelli: Ditch the naïveté and embrace a complex world. Use a one/two punch: Yes, we must have good laws, but we also must have “good arms.” Yes, be a lion (it’s good for dismaying wolves) but also be a fox (that’s good for recognizing traps).
Today’s translation: Seek principled resolution of a lawsuit, but be willing to go to trial; work toward common ground on a deal, but never shy away from saying “no” to a proposal that is tempting but harmful in the long term.
And, here is Machiavelli’s bonus room: Creating the illusion that people perceive you in the way you desire is just as effective as if they actually perceived you that way.

Read more: http://www.texaslawyer.com/id=1202644475267/Machiavelli%27s-Six-Insights-for-General-Counsel#ixzz2uSwk7WBH

Posted by at 3:29 PM 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s