Choose your staff, and the councillors who will work closely with you, wisely. Make sure the people who represent your council and the municipality on important boards, or as your delegates, are up to the task, and will express your message – not promote their own agendas. Make sure your senior staff are people you trust to implement your decisions and won’t undermine them when you’re not watching.
“Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit. Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause.”
Robert Greene, 48 Laws of Power: 7
The people who are in close orbit around you will often be the main conduit to you for the public. They will be who the public meets before they get to you, and how these people represent you will shape your reputation and public image. They reflect the outward manifestation of your personal judgment. Their appearance will affect yours.
“Men can acquire reputation with the multitude of the company of wise men who have good habits, for there can be no better measure of a man than the company he keeps; and therefore one who keeps the company of the wise acquires a name for wisdom, and one who keeps the company of the virtuous is thought to be good, since it is impossible that he should not bear some resemblance to his companions.”
Bishop Stephen Gardiner, 1555, quoted in A Machiavellian Treatise
Chapter XXII is titled: Concerning the Secretaries of Princes. In Machiavelli’s day, secretaries were more powerful. Some were like today’s administrative assistants, while others, like Machiavelli, were diplomats. Some were even ministers of state. Today they are your administrative professionals: the executive assistant, communications officer, CAO or city manager, and your department heads.
“The choice of servants is very important to a prince… the first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of his wisdom, is by observing the men he has around him. If they are capable and loyal he will be considered wise, because he knows how to recognize their ability and to keep them faithful. But when they are lacking in those qualities, one forms a bad opinion of the prince, for his first error was in choosing them.”
Therefore it makes sense to surround yourself with smart, capable and wise people.
Their talents will reflect well on you. If you don’t really understand an issue, an intelligent advisor will be able to clarify it for you. They will be loyal because you give them position, respect, honour and, of course, power. They will fall on the sword for you, too.
“The wisest princes need not think it any diminution to their greatness, or derogation to their sufficiency to rely upon counsel.”
Francis Bacon: Essays – Of Counsel
But know who to select for your inner circle:
“There are three classes of intellects… one which understands things by itself; the second which appreciates what others can understand; and a third which neither understands for itself nor through others; the first kind is excellent, the second is good enough, the third is useless.”
Which means: there are smart people, then there are people who know others are smart, and finally there are those who are stupid and can’t see that others are smarter than they. Try to attract the first; if you can’t, settle for the second. Ignore the third.
But of course Machiavelli throws in caveats. The first is make sure you can recognize how smart your advisors really are, and tell they are not merely flatterers, sycophants or fools. The ruler who can recognize the,
“…good and the bad in his advisor, can praise the good and punish the bad; thus the advisor cannot hope to deceive him, and is kept honest.”
Rewards and Punishment
Recognize the talent and the flaws in your closest staff and supporters, and react appropriately to them. Give them raises, or prestigious job titles. Sometimes just changing the title of a job works wonders for building loyalty and securing obligation. A mayor’s secretary gets no respect, but her executive assistant is a powerful person in city hall. A manager of roads and sewers doesn’t sound half as posh as a director of public works and infrastructure.
Reward and punish as necessary, otherwise they will lead you astray.
“The ruler must not reveal his desires; for if he reveals his desires, the ministers will put on the mask that pleases him.”
Han Fei Tzu: Sec. 5: The Way of the Ruler
If you can’t recognize the bad among your staff and their opinions, then you’re bound for ruin and will go willingly to it, believing it’s for your own good. At least until someone puts you wise to your folly:
“People, often deceived by an illusive good, desire their own ruin, and, unless they are made sensible of the evil of the one and the benefit of the other course by someone in whom they have confidence…”
The Discourses: I, 53
If you want to see just how “astray” an ambitious, cunning, and determined advisor can lead you, and how close to ruin you can be led, read about Sejanus and Tiberius. But I digress.
The second caveat is to watch for your advisors’ self-interest raising its head as it most likely will at some time along your journey together. When it does, ditch the advisor(s) and find someone else because you will never regain your trust in him or her again:
“When you see your advisor thinking more of his own interests than of yours, and seeking to further his own goals, such a man will never make a good advisor. You will never be able to trust him. Anyone who has the affairs of state in his hands should never to think of himself, but always of his prince, and never concern himself in matters in which the prince is not involved.”
Machiavelli advises rulers to be attentive to their advisors and reward them where possible, which will discourage them from pursuing their own interests over yours. Give them bonuses, raise and subordinates to boss. Give them fancy titles. Assign them authority. Keep them busy doing special projects for you. You don’t want someone attending to their own career when they should be focused on yours:
“To keep his servant honest the prince should be considerate to him, honour him, enrich him, doing him kindnesses, sharing with him the honours and responsibilities so he is obligated to the prince.”
Delegating your responsibilities is a huge sign of trust and respect. It’s also a huge burden of obligation on the recipient.
“Rank is widely distributed and … one’s happiness and welfare are intimately connected with the acquisition of rank. … bestowal of rank implies influence and power.”
The Muqaddimah (306), by Ibn Khaldun, 1377
Just don’t give them enough power or authority that they can turn it against you.
“He causes the worthy to display their talents, and he employs them accordingly; hence his own worth never comes to an end. Where there are accomplishments, the ruler takes credit for their worth; where there are errors, the ministers are held responsible for the blame; hence the ruler’s name never suffers. Thus, though the ruler is not worthy himself, he is the leader of the worthy; though he is not wise himself, he is the corrector of the wise. The ministers have the labour; the ruler enjoys the success. This is called the maxim of the worthy ruler.”
Han Fei Tzu: Sec. 5: The Way of the Ruler
Make sure your advisors know at every step that they are dependent on you for their benefits and position, and that they rise and fall with you. Give them so much they won’t want anything else, and instead will worry about changes that might cause them to lose what you have already given them:
“Let your advisor see he cannot maintain his position without you. The prince should give him so many honours that he does not want more, so many riches he cannot wish to be richer, and so many responsibilities and offices that he dreads changes to the government. When advisors and princes are thus satisfied, they can trust each other, but if not, the end will always be disastrous for one or the other.”
Machiavelli knows that bought loyalty is insecure, but also realized that to keep your advisors from looking elsewhere or being lured away by outsiders, you need to make sure they are satisfied with what they get from you.
Previous Chapter – Next Chapter
- Machiavelli and Sejanus - October 14, 2022
- A Meeting of the Minds? - July 3, 2021
- Machiavelli’s Prince as satire - June 8, 2017
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