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Machiavelli was part of this intellectual ferment, and thus both w finessed and participated in the birth pangs of the modem world. Being present at the creation, he was able to see with unusual clarity the fundamental rules of modem leadership, and he laid them down with brutal candor. Prior to the Renaissance, the lord of a domain could protect himself against his foreign enemies by building a castle and a wall. If he were besieged, he could hire mercenaries or find allies to lift the siege; in the meantime his walls would protect him 2 Sebastian de Grazia, Machiavelli in Hell New York, Convincing people to do this is a political task.

It requires methods of leadership unknown or, as Machiavelli would say, forgotten in the Middle Ages. That is why Machiavelli insists on national armies, not mercenaries. He understands that soldiers in such armies need to be motivated. Modem politics are born from this necessity, and we modems ignore it at our peril.

Enemies are always ready to march, or fly, or launch. Machiavelli rejects the simplistic notion that war is a drastic departure from normal behavior. Having studied history, Machiavelli knows that peace is rarer than war. We may not know who our next enemy will be, but we can be sure there will be one, and leaders who fail to prepare for the next war - on the battlefield, at the ballot box, or in the marketplace - are likely to be defeated.

Machiavelli tells us how to design and implement winning strategies. In addition to change, Machiavelli understands the role of luck.


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At the height of his powers, through no fault of his own, he is fired, imprisoned, tortured, and barred from the activities to which he has devoted nearly all his thoughts and passions. Bad luck! Licking his wounds, and turning his genius to writing, he spends the bulk of his time in a local inn, drinking, cursing, and playing backgammon and a Tuscan card game. Such games involve both luck and skill, and on any given occasion even the greatest player may be overwhelmed by a run of bad luck, even though, over time, the great player will win and the novice or duffer will be a loser.

Leadership and the Fear Factor

The board conceals nothing, and it is unnecessary to communicate with other players. In card games, most of the cards are concealed for much of each deal, and communication - whether through bidding or betting is an integral part of the contest. Where there is communication, a whole new set of problems arises: if you tell all to your partner, your enemies obtain the same information, and it may be more valuable to them than to your ally.

You may prefer to deceive them, but in so doing you risk inducing your partner to err before they do, thereby spelling ruin for your side. It is no accident that this lover of card games appreciates the importance, and risk, of communication, including secrecy and deception. Machiavelli uses codes in some of his official correspondence and is one of the first political thinkers to exploit the new technology of printing to spread his ideas. Finally, like us Machiavelli is saddened, frustrated, sometimes even enraged by the sight of mediocre leadership, more corrupt than courageous, more self-indulgent than great of spirit.

He knows from his study of history that men and women are often like that, but he also knows what greatness is and how it can be achieved by the best of us. He is not optimistic about the course of human affairs, but he does not shirk the challenge to engage it, and to educate and perhaps inspire a new breed of leader. He calls for those who care about their nation to risk everything, even their immortal souls, to achieve power and lift their people out of the moral slime into which they have fallen.

The purpose of Machiavelli on Modern Leadership is the same as his own: to present the basic principles of the proper and successful use of power in language that contemporary leaders can understand, the better to advance the common good. Like Machiavelli, we live at a moment of profound change in all areas of human endeavor. Just as he did, we see corruption reaching deep into Western societies at the very moment we have soundly defeated many of our most dangerous enemies.

Success, it turns out, carries its own risks, and being top dog makes us more vulnerable to self-indulgence and less attentive to the requirements of virtue that underlie any enduring enterprise. Machiavelli is commonly thought of as the ultimate cynic, as an apologist for dictators. It may therefore be surprising to discover that Machiavelli prefers free institutions to authoritarian ones, and reserves his greatest scorn for tyrants. Machiavelli also has a great deal to say about the importance of religious faith and of virtue.

He believes that, along with good soldiers and good laws, the best state - the one that rests upon the free activity of its citizens - requires good religion. He considers Moses to be the greatest leader because he created a new religion and a new state, and conversed with God.

He believes fear of God underlies respect for men. To be sure, his concept of Christianity is much at odds with the prevailing theology and practice of his day. He considers the Roman Catholic church too corrupt and too soft. He wants a tougher, more virile version of the faith, which will inspire men to tight for the glory of their country, and he wants a more spartan church, devoted to the glory of the spirit rather than the tangible wealth of the papal court. But he condemns leaders who make cynical opportunism a trademark of their careers.

He wants his leaders to be virtuous and to transmit virtuous standards to their followers. In his play The Ass he writes: Not in one place did my hand stay; But running over her limbs, the lost virtue came back firm. But he also uses it in the traditional sense of valor, worth, merit, moral perfection. That is very different from current usage, and. But that is a different problem, and does not occupy us here. Machiavelli is of the old school, and he counts virtue, in its traditional sense, an essential ingredient - indeed, the highest possible achievement - of good leadership.

This is its meaning in the pages that follow. The corruption and disintegration of great enterprises is neither new nor shocking, after all. It is our history and our destiny. Even the most glorious human achievements, the creations of the most virtuous leaders, were usually short-lived. They have all fallen, more often than not because of internal decay.

Eight must-read books on leadership

Machiavelli understands the pathology of this oft-fatal disease of the body politic. His diagnosis helps us better understand our own problems and the qualities required of leaders capable of restoring virtue and preserving free institutions. Although he is not optimistic about the final outcome, he has a cure. The bloody-mindedness derives from ambition, and human ambition is unlimited, that of both individuals and the institutions they create.

The struggle for power begins with the attempt to carve out a zone of freedom from others and continues with the extension of domination over others. Heroic anti-Communists like Lech Walesa rather quickly developed a passion for power and continued to light, no longer for a cause, but for their personal advancement.

After defeating the Czech Communist dictatorship, Vaclav Havel became an international hero in part because he was a playwright who vowed to return to his literary endeavors after a brief period in government - but he is still in the Prague Castle. Power over others is an addictive drug that stimulates the desire for more of it. But that desire can 3 Discourses, I, Source used throughout: Niccolo Machiavelli. Corrado Vivanti. Machiavelli does not believe that the haves are intrinsically different from the have-nots, nor innately superior.

The drive to expand is therefore built into all human institutions. You cannot opt out of this game. Machiavelli lectures us. For even if she does not molest others, others will molest her, and from being thus molested will spring the desire and the necessity of conquests, and even if she has no foreign foes, she will find domestic enemies amongst her own citizens. Machiavelli tells a story of the origins of political systems that is all about constant turmoil. But after a while larger groups formed, and each chose the strongest, bravest man as its leader.

In that condition of rudimentary government - a primitive form of enlightened despotism, or the Good Czar - men 5 Discourses, II. Hence to prevent evil of this kind they took to making laws and to assigning punishments to those who contravened them. The notion of justice thus came into being. Once the laws were in place, we no longer needed a warrior in charge: indeed, it was better to have a more prudent leader, one primarily concerned with preserving justice.

That was the first Good State, its goodness guaranteed by laws rather than by the qualities of a single leader. The people hated the corrupt new leaders, and the leaders, fearful of the righteous indignation of the people, created a tyranny. This was a Bad State, and thankfully it did not last either. Once the tyrant was overthrown, the leaders of the revolution were determined to avoid the concentration of power in the hands of a single leader, and so organized a virtuous aristocracy that took care to reassert the primacy of the old, good laws.

Another Good Stale - it, too, destined to fall in short order. They sank into degeneracy, just like the descendants of the Good Czar. Power became hereditary, greed and licentiousness became widespread, civic rights were disregarded, and an evil oligarchy took over. In time, the people came to hate the oligarchs, and, inspired by a suitable leader, destroyed them.

And since they had by now learned that the Good Czar became a tyrant, and the noble aristocrats became corrupt oligarchs, the people created a democracy, with safeguards against the accumulation of power by either a strong individual or a limited group. Within a generation, democracy degenerated into anarchy, and a new strong leader emerged to restore order, thus starting the cycle all over again. If there were no foreign enemies, the cycle might go on forever, but in practice, very few states survive long enough to return to Go. During one of its moments of degeneracy, weakness, or chaos, a stronger neighbor takes it over or wipes it out.

Machiavelli reminds us that all political systems are fragile and can be toppled from either within or without. Given the history of the race, it should surprise no one when rulers fall, or when one country is conquered by another, or even when mass uprisings lake place. Such events are in the nature of politics, because each type of government is fundamentally defective.

The good ones - the Good Czar, the noble aristocracy, and the pure democracy - tend to be short-lived, while the bad ones - the Bad Czar and the oligarchy - are hateful and vicious, provoking violent opposition that eventually leads to their ruin. Anarchy simply opens the door to a new tyranny. As nations and empires come and go, so do the other ambitious human enterprises. Eastern Airlines is gone, along with Pan Am, once the greatest airline in the world.

Packard automobiles are gone, along with the gorgeous Bugattis, Studebakers. Fokker is gone, along with Curtis Wright, Douglas, Grumman, McDonnell, Sud Aviation, Vickers and De Havilland, all glorious successes in bygone days of aviation, all either vanished entirely or gobbled up by their enemies. Royal families are gone to their graves, like the Romanovs, or into exile, like the Italian House of Savoy and its counterparts from Greece. Libya, Bulgaria. Albania, Iran, and Romania.

George Bush, at one time the most popular president in the history of the United States, was defeated a few months later by Bill Clinton, an obscure governor of the inconsequential state of Arkansas. The tempo may vary from moment to moment, but stability exists only in the grave, not in this life. It therefore behooves the man or woman of action Machiavelli is well aw are of the greatness of women , and especially those who would lead great enterprises, to be ready at all times to change strategies and tactics. Wellington was flabbergasted by the question.

Successful leaders have to be ready to change their methods, because conditions are very difficult to predict in the first place, and even if you get it right at the beginning, things are going to keep on changing. The imperative for leaders is absolute: get ready to change. How many times have you seen a football or basketball game turn around dramatically at halftime?

Some coaches have been able to change their methods in accordance with the players under their guidance. For example, the basketball coach Pat Riley has produced winning teams with radically different styles, each suited to the talent on the team. His championship teams in Los Angeles featured razzle-dazzle ball handling and fast breaks. In New York, the Knicks were a slow, deliberate team whose personality rested on tough defense.

Then, in Miami, Riley showed he could win even with mediocre talent that had been decimated by injury and demoralized by the loss of two star players. We can count them on our fingers. George Washington was first a political figure, then a military leader, then a great president. Charles de Gaulle and Dwight Eisenhower, distinguished military leaders, became outstanding presidents.

Napoleon was a military genius whose contributions to politics and the rule of law - the Napoleonic Code - will long outlast the effects of his military prowess. Colin Powell was a successful military leader who has become a political figure and would like to become president. The success of these select few shows how rare are those who excel in more than one kind of endeavor - individuals known as Renaissance men. Of the current generation of global business leaders, no one embodies the flexibility Machiavelli writes about as well as Bill Gates of Microsoft.

Unlike some of their early competitors, who hitched their wagons to specific products or concepts, Gates and Allen set out to please the customer - all the customers they could reach. Gates and Allen created the programming language, Basic, for the first really popular microcomputer, the Altair. Basic was produced in as many versions as there were separate microprocessors and separate operating systems.

Gates wanted his language in all computers, whatever they were like, and wherever they were operating. This strategy required considerable flexibility, as Gates would have to be able to adjust to rapid changes in three very different markets with three very different cultures. The success of Basic was the result of hard work and a sound fundamental insight into the emerging computer market. For the most part, leaders do not change with the times, for two very good reasons.

Leadership lessons from Machiavelli: The ends only justify the means when the goal is a good one

Having succeeded in the past, they assume that the same methods that got them there will keep them on top. There are even some areas of competitive activity, such as the real estate business, in which failure to change, and hence the ruin of the leader, seems almost an integral part of the thing. Investors who fail to protect against future declines in value can be severely damaged. This has been said over and over again by both analysts and practitioners, yet real estate tycoons continue to fall prey to the should-have-been-expected deflationary swings.

They are encouraged in their folly by the tax laws, which almost everywhere take a substantial bite out of capital gains. Not wanting to pay the taxes, the real estate magnates seek to recycle their profits. The typical real estate empire is therefore highly leveraged, as profits are constantly plowed back into new, bigger investments, thereby making it even more difficult to cash out in time. Immigrants to Canada in the mid-fifties, they started a tile importing business, did very well, and invested their profits in Toronto land.

By the late seventies they had become a force in the United States and England as well. To finance Canary Wharf they borrowed heavily against the paper value of their other holdings and the value of their reputation as infallible investors. The West Germans, forced to absorb the enormous costs associated with the integration of East Germany and obsessed as always with the fear of runaway inflation, raised interest rates on the deutschmark.

Even great leaders can easily fall victim to a dramatic change in circumstance. Winston Churchill was a demigod during the Second World War, but once the fascists were defeated he was voted out of office. George Bush was judged unsuited to handle the post-Gulf War issues facing America. In part such failures derive from the ingratitude of the people, a subject to which Machiavelli devotes a rhyme: So it happens that often one toils in serving, and then for good service brings back miserable life and violent death. Therefore, Ingratitude not being dead, everyone must flee the courts and states: for there is no shorter road to lead man to weep over what he wished for, once he got it.

This century began with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires and ended with the implosion of the Soviet Empire, and in between the end of colonialism and the defeat of the fascists thrown in for extras. In the past quarter century alone, so many tyrants have fallen all over the world that nobody can remember their names anymore can you name the last Communist dictators of East Germany and Hungary? The United States has won three world wars, culminating with the amazing, virtually bloodless victory over the Soviet Empire at the end of the Cold War.

You might have thought that this most bloody and turbulent century would have taught us that peace is not normal, and that it is best to prepare for the next war, to be sure of w inning it at the least cost. Peace is not the normal condition of mankind. War and the preparation for war are the themes of human history. Centuries like the nineteenth - when Europe experienced a rare interregnum of relative tranquility between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the outbreak of the First World War - are rare.

Any leader who believes otherwise will go to his ruin, or at least risk it. Conflict is not the consequence of the rational pursuit of self-interest, either by states or by individuals; it flows straight from the deepest wellsprings of human nature. It is not an aberration, nor does it come from a failure of understanding; it is an integral, inescapable part of what we are. It applies to all human activities, foreign and domestic, scholarly and athletic, in enterprise as in the pursuits of people of faith.

Woe betides us if we are unprepared for war, either on the battlefield itself or in other forms: domestic uprisings or terrorism, ruthless business or athletic competition. Our challengers, whether new teams in the league or Japanese companies making cheaper and better automobiles, will not be charmed by sweet reasonableness, for they seek domination over us.

They are far more dangerous than those who, understanding human nature, prepare for war. Turner said in a medal ceremony. Nations are no less aggressive than entrepreneurs. Kagan echoes the thought: What works best, even though imperfectly, is the possession by those states who wish to preserve the peace of the preponderant power and of the will to accept the burdens and responsibilities required to achieve that purpose.

Those prepared to learn from Machiavelli never make this mistake. The winners get all the fun, and all the glory. Jordan got special respect because he was a great leader. He earned his glory by his remarkable string of championships, unique in the history of basketball. Movie stars rarely lead exemplary lives, but their beauty and elegance - Machiavelli would call it grandeur - and their great wealth make them heroes. These are mild examples of the overwhelming popularity of the victors; the more important cases are political, of which the most dramatic are surely the greatest mass murderers of this century of mass murder, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

Hitler was revered by his people, and there was no effective resistance to Nazism until the Germans were defeated on the battlefield. When Stalin died, millions of Russians - the overwhelming majority simple souls, not politically active or ambitious people - stood hour after hour in line to parade past the cadaver lying in state in the Kremlin.

Rivers of tears were shed, and the chorus of sobs was incessant. Yet Stalin had ordered the murder of tens of millions of innocents. A similar scene followed the death of Mao, who caused even more to be murdered in the most ghastly ways, even including cannibalism, during the Cultural Revolution a mere thirty years ago. Yet we know from firsthand accounts, many of them from men and women who rebelled against the Communist tyrannies, that the grief was genuine, as was the reverence felt for the tyrants during their years of grandeur.

Not at all. He has created militias, gone to war, and organized both victorious and losing campaigns. Machiavelli is not an armchair general; he knows full well how terrible war is. But he also knows that there can be no satisfactory escape from the tight.


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  • When starting out in this genre, I believed that if the world could be informed of the truths of combat, future generations might be deterred from it. Experience has disabused me. Telling does not deter and knowing docs not inoculate. War will always find men to light it. In the early eighties, Israel discovered that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. Instead of postponing conflict with Iraq, to a time when Saddam Hussein could attack Israel with atomic bombs, the Israelis struck first, and destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osiris. Knowing they would have to fight America sooner or later, the Japanese chose to attack when they were strong, and we were weak.

    Our declarations of neutrality were not believed, and would not have helped us even if they had been. The Japanese, driven by the urge to dominate, showed no mercy. Your enemies never do. When he was just nine years old there was a failed coup attempt, aimed against the ruling family, the Medicis, by the other great merchant bankers of the period, the Pazzi. The plot was well conceived and had powerful backing from none other than the pope, and the archbishop of Florence was one of the principal conspirators. The vengeance that was delivered on the Pazzi was of biblical ferocity.

    The archbishop was seized and hung in his robes from a window high in the governmental palace there is a sketch by Leonardo to document the details. Many Pazzi were killed in the streets, some literally tom limb from limb, and the unrestrained assault against the Pazzi and their allies continued for weeks. Others were captured and subjected to every imaginable form of torture, including being roasted, feet first, over an open fire. Each time one of the leaders was executed. Botticelli decorated the wall of the Bargello Palace with a small painting of the event, and Lorenzo would frequently add a caption in verse, describing the moral shortcomings of the unfortunate man and giving an account of his death.

    Even this was not enough to slake the thirst for revenge; the body of the ringleader was torn from his grave and burned to ash, and the ashes were scattered in the Amo River, so that the soil of the city would not be polluted by the flesh of the villain. The Medici systematically eliminated all evidence of the existence of the Pazzi. Their names were erased from the facades of their palaces, references to them were expunged from lists of praiseworthy citizens past and present, paintings and frescoes with their images were destroyed or covered up.

    Had the Medici been better prepared, they would have struck first. But they were well prepared to fight once the Pazzi attacked, gave no quarter in the struggle, and achieved a glorious victory. Leaders must constantly be on a war fooling, soldiers at the ready, weapons loaded. Any businessman or spoils leader who permits himself to be surprised by his competition will soon he looking for another job, and the shareholders or fans will celebrate his departure. Paradoxically - Machiavelli often exposes paradoxes where we least expect them - it is political and military leaders who most often seem uncomfortable with their own armies and with the use of force in any but the most desperate circumstances.

    Having lost domestic political support and been forced to abandon the battlefield, and then having been derided and humiliated upon their return to America, the generation of military leaders who rose to the highest ranks of the armed forces in the late seventies and eighties determined never again to risk American lives in combat unless they were certain of a strong domestic consensus. We cannot fight a battle with the Congress at home while asking our troops to win a war overseas, or, as in the case of Vietnam, in effect asking our troops not to win but just to be there.

    Machiavelli rejects the presumption that original expectations will be 15 George P. Things will not work out as you expect. Steve Jobs assumed that the Mac and the Lisa would have the same euphoric market reception as the Apple, and refused to change his game plan, even when it should have been obvious that the world had changed. Machiavelli proclaimed such a notion to be nonsense, because consensus goes to the victor alone.

    The people will despise a defeated leader, no matter how great their initial enthusiasm. Public opinion turned against the war only when it became clear that we were not going to win. But when they took the president seriously and started shooting. American military support was nowhere to be seen, and they were slaughtered. As a conscience-balm, we and some of our allies created a safe zone in the north of Iraq, where the Kurdish and Shiite refugees could survive, and we parachuted food and cold-weather gear to them as w inter set in.

    But the crucial fact remains: Saddam survived with his military sufficiently intact to stay in power and massacre his enemies. A perilous lesson had been 16 My thanks to Ms. Natalie Hayes for the neat turn of phrase. Even if events on the battlefield are ruinous for you, you will live to fight another day. When the next fighting day arrived for Saddam Hussein, Bill Clinton dumbed down victory even further. In the summer of , Saddam challenged the safe haven in the north, sending hundreds of tanks against the Kurds and Shiites there after some of them had assembled resistance groups to challenge his rule.

    We watched Saddam assemble his armored column, composed of virtually every operational tank in Iraq, more than three hundred in all. We watched him advance slowly northward, and we sent him warnings of dire consequences. We had plenty of time to send attacking planes from bases in Turkey or from carriers in the Persian Gulf. In open country, with no problems of weather or terrain, the Iraqi tanks would have been sitting ducks for our lighter-bombers. If we had attacked the Iraqi tank column, it would have been a real blow to Saddam, would have sent a much-needed morale boost to his opponents, and would have made it clear to everyone in the region that the United States was serious about defending our friends and advancing our interests.

    Instead, Bill Clinton told his foreign policy people that his top priority was to avoid American casualties of any sort: no body bags delivered to weeping families back home, no planes shot down over hostile territory, no hostages dragged behind jeeps through dusty streets. Therefore, no risk, and therefore no serious action. In the end, the United States Air Force flew more than two thousand Kurdish and Iraqi chauffeurs, secretaries, janitors, bottle washers, and their dependents - all supporters of the anti-Saddam resistance - to safety on the island of Guam.

    Nearly two years later. Saddam once again challenged the United States by expelling American inspectors from Iraq. Once again, Clinton dithered and delayed, sent troops to the Gulf region, threatened harsh action, but in the end did nothing except sign on to an ineffective agreement negotiated by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, that gave Saddam time to relocate his weapons of mass destruction from the sites the Americans wanted to look at. Clinton ordered three days of bombing, after Saddam reneged on the latest agreement. By then it was clear to most everyone that Clinton had no serious strategy to deal with Iraq.

    Leaders who tell their soldiers that the avoidance of injury is the most important thing are doomed. Nations that spurn victory in the name of safety end in death and defeat. Our institutions are not only targets from without; we have to be ready to combat evil in our own midst just as vigorously as we fight foreign invaders. Machiavelli is also talking about the selflessness required of all those who serve the common interest. He is alarmed whenever he sees leaders putting their personal desires before the goals of the institutions they command.

    A good soldier is willing to sacrifice his life for victor , and a good leader must be willing to sacrifice his own personal ambition for the success of die institution he commands. To achieve victory, the first step is to see the world plain, to accept the facts about human nature, and to act vigorously to dominate, lest we be dominated by others.

    The second step is an act of humility: to recognize that there are forces we cannot always control. We may win without merit and lose without shame. Sometimes Fortune destroys the best-laid plans of even the greatest leaders. Machiavelli is an avid player of games. Game players spend a lot of time courting Fortune, for, with the exception of a couple of board games Go and chess are the clearest cases , where the outcome depends almost entirely on skill, most games contain a significant element of luck, and it may well be decisive. Napoleon preferred a lucky general to a brilliant one. Machiavelli very badly wants to believe that a great leader can almost always be confident about his ability to win, provided that he has studied history carefully and has mastered the lessons of brilliant advisers like Machiavelli himself.

    But he knows, from his own careful studies and brilliant analyses of history, and of course his experience both in government and at the card table, that some events are determined entirely by luck, not by either blunder or brilliance. Like all men of action, he goes through Houdini-like contortions to try, on the one hand, to escape this fatalistic conclusion and.

    Sometimes he acts as if Luck can be wooed and won, other times he calls for virile leaders to dominate her forcibly, bending her will to their own, and during unfortunate moments, including his own personal travails, he just shrugs his shoulders. Her powers, and her mystery, are so great that she is capable of grand design and historic vision.

    She is what Darth Vadar has in mind when he implores Luke Skywalker to join him to fulfill his Listen to Victor Niederhoffer, a big-time currency trader, as he shorts the dollar against the yen and then watches the markets determine his destiny. Niederhoffer prides himself on his rationality, but he avidly courts Fortune when the going gets tough: The dollar takes my selling like I am a minnow. The dollar is pulling my house along with it. I am afraid. I have gone too far. The Japanese trend followers will all jump in if the dollar goes above The bubble will drown me.

    The Japanese The nail that sticks out gets hammered. If the dollar sticks up any higher, the entire Japanese trading community will jump in to buy it. A higher dollar will become an ever rising bubble … Please, I beg of you. I pray: Slow down, then go down. Shame on me. How can one who has no superstition pray? But the priests do not die older than others. All my praying will not make the dollar go down … The yen is my friend, and there is a full moon out.

    The trends often change when the moon is full. The moon affects the markets just as it affects women, crops, crime, and the tides. I am afraid I have as much chance of killing the dollar as of killing the moon. I will not fail for lack of effort or preparation. By the end of the day, his company, Niederhoffer Global Systems, was wiped out. Had he been able to hang on for another day, he would have survived to fight on, as the market surged back some points.

    But it was not to be; he had wagered all on the blessings of Fortune, and she rejected him. Even Winston Churchill, who might have been forgiven for believing that his own remarkable tenacity and courage had enabled him to lead his country to glory in its finest hour, knew that it would not have been possible without Fortune.

    I realized with awful force that no exercise of my own feeble wit and strength could save me from my enemies, and that without the assistance of that High Power which interferes in the eternal sequence of causes and effects more often than we are always prone to admit. I could never succeed. Other countries have threatening neighbors; America has Mexicans and Canadians, whose greatest threats consist of cheap labor and porous borders. Fortune gives great enterprises a significant competitive advantage.

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    Bill Gates probably agrees. Like Machiavelli, he loves card games, and he loves bridge above all others. Love of bridge is common in such quarters; two of the leading bridge teams in the United States are captained by the New York investment bankers Nick Nickell and Jimmy Cayne. Malcolm Forbes was a bridge addict.

    And Ross Johnson, the former CEO of RJR Nabisco, who initiated the sequence of events that led to the leveraged buyout of his company by a group hostile to him, fought tooth and nail to get onto the posh club car that left New Canaan, Connecticut, for Manhattan every weekday morning at , so that he could play bridge with the elite of the New York business community.

    In the most famous bridge game in history, Generals Eisenhower and Grunther played with two other officers on a battleship in the Mediterranean, waiting for the fog to lift, so that the invasion of North Africa could begin. Until recently, in fact, the Department of State conducted an annual worldwide bridge tournament, a legacy of that generation of great leaders. The reason such men love bridge - or poker, for many of the same reasons - is not only that it enables them to test their luck and skill against their peers; card games, and bridge above all others, resemble real-life competition far more than board games.

    In the greatest board games - chess and Go all the pieces are seen, the balance of power is equal at the outset, and the player who best maneuvers his forces comes out the winner. In card games, each player sees only a small percentage of the cards around the table; he must discover the balance of power by listening carefully to the communications from the other players and watching their moves. Then, during the play of the hand, defenders can provide information by their choice of card.

    This is why bridge is the game closest to real life. Communication is the most important part of the game, symbolizing all the options available to statesmen, diplomats, businessmen, and even lovers. Promises are made and broken, and wild lies and cunning deceptions are launched.

    Vital information is often withheld, while on other occasions specific information is provided with mathematical precision. And it must have been greatly enhanced by the way in which Microsoft became the most powerful software company in the world. IBM reps were sent to Seattle to get signed agreements and nondisclosure statements signed by both Digital Research and Microsoft for the operating systems.

    IBM was annoyed, and soon became even angrier. He said he could, and the deal was his. By the time the new Digital system was ready. He was prepared to accept short-term losses to dominate the market in the long run. Gates was blessed by Fortune, and then exploited his opportunity with every ounce of energy he possessed.

    Machiavelli says that Fortune favors the man who acts aggressively, and Gates certainly did that. But even such Machiavellian leaders as Gates may fail to notice when new forces appear on the battlefield. Triumphant against his commercial challengers, Gates was dealt a blow by the United States government at the end of , when the Justice Department declared he had illegally violated antitrust law by making his Internet browser an inseparable part of Windows.

    The attack was clearly unexpected, as demonstrated by the weakness of his Washington forces. The mistake is unlikely to be repeated. The hallmark of successful leaders is that they aggressively exploit the chances granted them by Fortune. In mid-May , the soccer star Roberto Baggio was put into the lineup of the Italian national team for the first time in nineteen months. Once rated among the greatest players in the world, Baggio had slid into the limbo reserved for declining heroes.

    Now he had a chance to demonstrate he could still compete among the best. Five other players who were rated above him on the national charts were injured or unavailable, and there he was. Fortune then granted him an additional favor: a great pass, with two defenders and the goalie to beat. Another contemporary tycoon, the flamboyant Englishman Sir James Goldsmith, was also embraced by Lady Luck at an early turning point in his career. Young Jimmy easily and enthusiastically grew accustomed to the finer things, and along the way picked up the expected tastes for high-stakes gambling and beautiful women.

    With his enviable background, Goldsmith fils was sent to Eton for polishing. There he distinguished himself by taking no exams beyond the one required for entrance, and winning an astonishing amount of money at the race track. He graduated from Eton, and, admissions standards to the great British universities being quite flexible for candidates from families of a certain standing, he went on to Oxford for a couple of years.

    There he ran up a big gambling debt and had to be rescued by his father, who in desperation sent the boy into the army. This had the desired effect, and when Jimmy was discharged he was rather more disciplined, having learned to focus his ambitions on the task at hand. He fell madly in love with Isabel, a daughter of the Bolivian multimillionaire Antenor Patino. Don Antenor was dead set against the match, for this Catholic tycoon had no intention of permitting his daughter to marry a Jewish playboy. Goldsmith managed to spirit the girl away to Scotland, where they hid for nearly a month awaiting the passage of the required time before their civil marriage could take place.

    Antenor fought almost to the end, until his daughter told him she was pregnant. Antenor disinherited her, and the wedding went ahead without him. It was a short-lived triumph for Goldsmith; eight months later Isabel lapsed into a coma. Goldsmith now had a baby daughter - and a struggling pharmaceutical business he had taken over from his brother. He threw himself into the business with the same unrestrained passion that characterized all his activities, and within months he had built it up into a very promising enterprise.

    The company was generating a lot of business but was constantly short of cash. His competitors threatened anyone who signed exclusive contracts with Goldsmith, and potential partners, sensing his weakness, offered humiliating deals to save the company. Early in July He could not pay his bills and would have to declare bankruptcy. On a Monday morning he left his house to inform his bankers. Walking down the street he stopped at a newspaper kiosk to peruse the headlines, and saw the miraculous words bank strike. It was the first such strike in two decades, and it saved Jimmy Goldsmith from ruin.

    It lasted more than a week, which gave him enough time to negotiate the sale of the pharmaceutical business to his main competitor. The proceeds gave him a comfortable financial cushion, which he subsequently exploited to the utmost. But he never forgot the lesson, which Machiavelli spells out in his usual pitiless way in the Discourses: It certainly is the course of Fortune, when she wishes to effect some great result, to select for her instrument a man of such spirit and ability that he will recognize the opportunity which is afforded him.

    And thus, in the same way, when she wishes to effect the ruin and destruction of states, she places men at the head who contribute to and hasten such ruin. Gorbachev was just such a man; he had no intention of bringing about the fall of communism, let alone the destruction of the Soviet Empire.

    He believed that the failure of the Soviet system was not due to the folly of central planning and the demoralization of the Soviet peoples after nearly a century of tyranny; he thought the system could be revived by giving limited political freedom, cracking down on alcoholism, and replacing the old, gray Soviet elite with more attractive and inspirational personalities like himself and his wife.

    Soviet communism could not be reformed. It could only be preserved by the ruthless use of terror, the method that had created it in the first place and had maintained it throughout the century. If Gorbachev was not prepared to do that, the system was doomed. But he did not understand the consequences of his actions.

    Indeed, as late as the failed coup in Fortune does not restrict her meddling to the affairs of great men and women, and she seems to take special delight in destroying the best-laid plans of lesser lights during the course of major events. At last, they hit upon some small islands off the Atlantic coast of Argentina, a place so obscure and of such little value to anyone that it would be left untouched by any imaginable conflict. They sold their home, cashed in their other assets, and moved to the Falkland Islands just a few months before the Argentines invaded, kicking off the war with England.

    Perhaps the most amusing example of Fortune playing practical jokes on ordinary people is the celebrated story of Major Wilmer McLean, a successful grocer from northern Virginia who found a lovely estate in Bull Run, to which he retired in It took only four years for Fortune to track him down again. As the shooting stopped on the Sunday morning of April 9, , McLean was approached by a Confederate officer who was looking for a good place for Generals Lee and Grant to arrange the terms of the Confederate surrender.

    Some officers, chiefly of cavalry, tried to buy chairs used by Lee and Grant, and when they were refused, took them off on horseback. Chairs with cane bottoms were cut up for mementoes, and the strips of cane handed out to Federals in the yard. Upholstery was cut to ribbons. The backers were annoyed with Baruch and tried to scare him off. The key moment came in September.

    On Thursday the nineteenth the stock exchange closed for the funeral of President William McKinley, who had been assassinated on the sixth. In those days, the stock exchange held an abbreviated session on Saturdays, and on Saturday Amalgamated dropped 7 points, closing a little above Baruch could not take any business decisions during that day. He told one broker to continue to short Amalgamated and took out insurance by instructing another to start buying it if it rose above a certain level. He gave instructions to all that they were not to try to reach him on Monday, whatever happened.

    As it turned out, Monday, September 23, was a wild day for Amalgamated shares. The stock opened at and dropped 2 points in the first hour of trading.

    It dropped further, then rallied to about 97 at midday, only to turn around again and dropped below 94 by the close. Baruch only learned of these events after sundown. Looking back, he said he would have gone ahead and taken his profits when the stock rallied to 97 if he had been trading that day. Instead, he now had a big profit, and considerable room for maneuver. He kept on shorting Amalgamated until it reached 60 in December. The very rich usually get that way because of some terrific stroke of luck, which, to be sure, they exploited, but the opportunity came from Fortune, not as a result of their own efforts.

    That is why great praise would be out of place. If luck is so important, then what good is flexibility, or for that matter any of the other skills that Machiavelli will tell you must be mastered if you are to triumph? Lady Luck can simply wipe you out, for reasons - if reasons there be that are beyond our ken. But Machiavelli is adamant that you should not become fatalistic. First, Luck favors the intrepid, and if you master the game and pursue the proper goals with all your powers, you are more likely to gam the support of Fortune than is the lazy lout who just waits for something good to happen.

    Second, you will never find out your destiny until it actually befalls you. So you will have to act as if your fate is in your own hands, even though, deep down, you know that it might not be so. Machiavelli hates whiners. More often than not, the conditions under which leaders will make their life-and-death decisions are determined by human activity, and human activity can often he successfully controlled.

    To do that, leaders require a full understanding of the enormous variety of history. First of all, you must avoid the mistake of believing that all men are the same; there are great variations from nation to nation and sometimes even from group to group within national boundaries. Techniques of leadership must be appropriate for the specific situation. Machiavelli knows that both nature and nurture are important in producing human behavior.

    Gnashing his teeth, he complains that the Italians have been repeatedly tricked, betrayed, and humiliated by the French and Germans, because the Italians failed to learn the basic, unsavory facts about the French and German national characters. A story 24 Discourses, III, But the Indians, enraged at these efforts to set them one against the other, instead threw the motivators onto the slag heap.

    The Indian story shows what can happen when leaders remain ignorant of the enormous differences in national character, but there are myriad examples of successful exploitation of the power of national character by competitors and enemies. Again in India, late in the last century, the British colonial rulers came under attack from Islamic terrorists, similar to the contemporary plague that has killed innocents from North Africa to Israel, Lebanon, and Western Europe.

    The mere execution of the terrorists was therefore not effective, but ultimately the British hit upon an effective solution: they buried the terrorist cadavers wrapped in pigskin, thereby defiling them and barring their passage through the heavenly gates. This inverted the relationship between terror and paradise: instead of guaranteeing instant entry, terrorist acts would forever prevent the terrorists from gaining the gifts of heaven. There was a dramatic drop in terrorist activity. Americans are particularly susceptible to the notion that all people are fundamentally the same, and they are often led to ruin by acting on this false assumption.

    The polygraph detects changes in body temperature, blood pressure, and other physiological factors as the sources are asked questions about themselves, on the assumption that there are involuntary physiological changes if the respondent gives false answers. The Israelis knew better and never invested the polygraph with the near-magical qualities the Americans ascribed to it. Even if leaders are knowledgeable about national and cultural differences, there is no guarantee of success, because there are problems that baffle certain kinds of leaders, no matter how well they prepare for their challenges.

    Successful leaders require profound insight into the nature of the historic moment in which they are operating. He is more of the Chinese school, holding that one should analyze historical events by studying the unique characteristics of a given moment, or period. That person is out of harmony with the moment. Steve Jobs, the eccentric creator of Apple Computers, drove the company to the verge of ruin, all the while insisting that the world would eventually realize that he had been right all along and would stop buying IBM-compatibles in favor of Apples, Lisas and Macs.

    Jobs had great talent, but he did not recognize that he was out of synch with the market. Apple was fortunate to survive. Shortly after his accession to the papacy, he explained to his close collaborators in the Vatican that there were moments when even the bravest person could have little effect on the world, because powerful forces were driving human events in a certain direction. But there were other moments when single individuals could have amazing impact, and the pope believed that his papacy was one such moment.

    He therefore undertook to inspire, cajole, and provoke people all over the world to take action. Both Reagan and the pope understood that its fall could be accomplished, and both worked to make it come about. Obviously, both were well suited to the task and were in great harmony with their times, while their critics and opponents - those who believed the Soviet Empire was destined to win the Cold War, and those who thought the Soviet system was at least as stable as the democratic West - were out of synch. Both could have saved a lot of money. Understanding the uniqueness of the moment enables you to rule effectively, not only because you will be able to grasp the opportunities at hand, but also because you will appreciate the requirements of your own enterprise.

    Each has a set of rules that work best, and the rules vary both according to the kind of organization and to its stage of life. Most of the conventional wisdom about leadership is dangerously wrong, because ii suggests that there is a set of unchanging principles which, if applied diligently, always give the best chance of success. Machiavelli rejects this. Methods that work in one set of circumstances are disastrous in another setting. Different problems, different contexts, require different methods. It all depends.

    You must understand the great variety of human nature, and fully grasp the uniqueness of the historical moment and the nature of the enterprise you command. And one more thing: know- that, should you triumph, your troubles are only just beginning. The Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote that war is the continuation of politics by other means, and the reverse is equally true. Luckily, the solution to our leadership problems is simpler than people may think. First, organizations should pay attention to the science and focus on the qualities proven to make people better leaders: competence, humility and integrity.

    Competence is a function of experience, knowledge and intelligence. Detecting it is not that hard so long as those tasked to detect it are themselves competent and have subject matter expertise in the field. Second, organizations — and especially HR leaders — must learn to distrust their instincts.

    Unlike in nuclear physics or organic chemistry, people often assume that intuition is a valid tool in the social and behavioral sciences. But there is a science to understanding and predicting human behavior, just like there is a science to nuclear physics and organic chemistry. Select on substance than style. In other words, the best approach to get more women in leadership is to follow the same approach we would follow if we wanted to improve the quality of our leaders: focus on talent rather than gender.

    Economic Calendar Tax Withholding Calculator. Retirement Planner. Sign Up Log In. The changes include a new, responsive design featuring extended-hours data and more news. Learn More. By Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. Comment icon. Text Resize Print icon. Three things. Harvard Business Review Press. MarketWatch Partner Center. Most Popular.