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What Are the Characteristics of a Machiavellian Leader?


Shooner has read Machiavelli's The Prince and wants to help educate readers on this philosopher's perspective.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli

Machiavelli Believed Great Leaders Had These 5 Qualities

A successful Machiavellian leader consists of five crucial characteristics and traits. These traits are the deciding factors in whether or not the leader will be successful. These necessary characteristics include being feared or loved (but not hated), having the people’s support, convincingly displaying virtues, using one’s own arms, and having intelligence. Without these five qualities, a leader has no hope of becoming a successful Machiavellian leader.

1. Being Feared

In medieval times it was much safer for a person to be feared than loved because people who feared their leaders were much less likely to revolt, as Machiavelli describes on page 65 of The Prince. However, in today’s society the type of government affects whether a leader would rather be feared than loved. The president of the United States needs to be loved rather than feared because in a democracy the people decide how long you can be leader, but in communist China or Russia being feared is more helpful because your citizens are less likely to rebel and revolt against you. If you are going to choose to be feared than it is crucial that the citizens of your country do not hate you, for as Machiavelli states on page 72 hatred leads to people scheming and ultimately executing an assassination.

2. Having the Support of the Governed

The second important quality for a leader is the support of the people because without the people supporting your decisions no actions can be made. The importance of the people’s support is explained in almost every chapter of The Prince because without the people’s will behind you, military action is not possible without auxiliary or mercenary units, holding your position as leader is not possible, and territory expansion is also not possible without help from the people. If the people do not believe in the cause you are fighting for they will not join you in battle. If you are not satisfying your people’s basic needs they will rebel and either kill you or banish you from their lands.

3. Displaying Virtue

The third important trait to have or pretend to have is virtue, as described on page 62 because with virtues, it is easier to gain the people's support, and as I said above, without the people's support military action, expansion, and staying in power are not possible. Having good virtues can, in some instances, limit your ability to rule, so a more viable option is to show good virtues in public, but do what has to be done to succeed in the privacy of your fortress.

4. Using One's Own Arms

The fourth trait necessary to be a successful Machiavellian leader is not a trait, but more of a decision. This decision is to use your own arms in battle as opposed to auxiliary or mercenary units as described in chapters 12 and 13. If you use your own citizens, they are willing to die for your cause and will support you no matter what your tactical decision, but hiring soldiers has the opposite affect because they will often flee the battle to avoid death. Auxiliary units are also a bad decision because they will not be willing to die for your cause and this will lead to you being weaker if you win the battle because you will not have your own men to occupy the territory.

5. Having Intelligence

The fifth and possibly the most important of the traits of a Machiavellian leader is intelligence. Without intelligence a prince or king could not gain the support of his people, be able to find the perfect balance of fear or love, or know to use your own arms in battle. Intelligence allows a prince to rule his territory with confidence and pride because he knows that the decisions are his and not a minister's or assistant's.

Who's an Example of a Machiavellian Leader?

The modern man who I believe falls under the category of all five of these traits is Ronald Reagan because he was loved by the American people, he had the people's support, he showed his virtues, he used his own arms, and above all he was intelligent. Ronald Reagan was not evil as the name Machiavellian suggests, but a good kindhearted man who led America out of some of our toughest times.


Pegasus on July 26, 2020:


lil drop on October 02, 2018:

You spelled thank wrong

steven otai on May 11, 2018:

...right, thanck you for the help it's realy helped me for my exam preperations.

jackson on January 23, 2018:

I love the comments that say "too much words." They are probably drooling on their keyboard as they use their poor grammar.

Junna raju yadav on November 23, 2016:

Thank you sir.........

Johna578 on September 14, 2014:

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Jack on November 15, 2013:

I liked the article until it got to Regan. Regan had no intelligence whatsoever. He was just an actor - and a third rate at that.

bobobabobo on October 28, 2013:

good source of information

Ally on February 06, 2013:

This wesite was very useful. It helped explain what I needed to know. Thank you!

nelis on June 08, 2012:

Obama is a Machiavellian type of leader. He leads by deception. This is the only means in our day that he can use. He is loved by his own constituency. They are willing to be deceived for a whole list of reasons. (color, ideology, free health care, food stamps, etc. etc.) That is why this president has been wildly successful at his game of leadership up to this point. I call it a "game" because that is what it is to him. He is not a serious leader who cares about his people. He loves the power and the accolade. He loves the "perks" of the position. His ego demands it. Arrogance is his primary character trait. Pride will be his downfall. Machiavellian traits of leadership can be adopted by a conscionable leader and be for the good. However when a power-hungry, low-esteem, ideological leader adopts the traits, they are for selfish ends and therefore are evil in its substance.

Princess D on May 14, 2012:

Very useful clear and concise!!

Nice chosen references from Machiavelli's book to reflect the five traits.

A big thank you!!

VOMIT IN YO FACE on April 06, 2012:


poopinginsideyourmouth on April 06, 2012:

i didn't read the the thing u wrote. too much words

leah on January 05, 2012:

Thanks, great help for homework!!!:)

euro student #65 on November 22, 2011:

I strongly disagree with you John. you really stink.

euro student #64 on November 22, 2011:

i strongly agree with euro student #1.

euro student #1 on November 07, 2011:

mwah xoxox

euro student #1 on November 04, 2011:

Thank you :)

Joe on October 16, 2011:

Thank you for adding in the Ronald Reagan part, it really helped me on my homework.

Euro Student on September 25, 2011:

Thank you so much for this! It is very helpful. The part about Reagen fits well, and gives a good example of a machiavellian!

I don't want to do this on July 30, 2011:

Arigato gozaimasu!!!!

Explain on May 31, 2011:

...I'm confused. How does Reagan fit into this?. You kind of just threw his name in there without any sort of explanation, and it really does weaken the article.

Kris on February 28, 2011:

I have been told I have these traits and it is because I am not the typical 'middle management' of corporate America which just responds to management with 'yes' or the the common 'buzz' words of the industry you/they are in. It is important to stand for what you believe in, especially if it is right and gain support in that before doing battle. Regarding those who don't follow the rules, they immediately become a target. It is important that we all do 'right' so we can make the world a better place than how we entered it. As for 'John' who sees the traits as evil, he should read/learn the traits from a positive way. That is how you make an impact in life.

John on January 21, 2011:

Great article! Begin crazy rant -

People with machiavellian traits are below human scum. "It's ok to backstab and kill because it's machiavellian intelligence" fuk off and die people who think that way. And don't even euphemize what machiavellism is, it's straight up deceit, backstab, and murder. From their point of view it's "killed or be killed" so it's ok to use cunning deceit to gain through backstab and murder.

It's too bad our society promotes this sort of behavior at every turn through "corporate mentality".

- End crazy rant

OSCARSS10 on December 06, 2010:


Phoenix Lilly on November 17, 2010:

This was perfect!

Straight to the point(s), with a brief, yet precise description in each.

Thank You

trdude9614 on November 07, 2010:

Thanks helped me big time!

Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on March 23, 2010:

Thankyou for an interesting and well written hub. I find myself in agreement with you over Ronald Reagan. He also had charm which is important for a leader as well.

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