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Barbara Kellerman

Barbara Kellerman

Barbara Kellerman is on the faculty of at the Harvard Kennedy School and the author, most recently, of Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, and Why It Matters and Followership: How Followers are Creating Change and Changing Leaders.

Machiavelli's Advice

What would Machiavelli have said? How would he have advised "The Prince" to handle malfeasance or illegal behavior that washed up at his door? Recall that Machiavelli was not "Machiavellian" in the conventional sense. He was not dour and dark or prone to be mean. Rather he was the ultimate pragmatist, with a canny and clever conception of the human condition. So were he whispering in Obama's ear, what would he say?

First, given his pragmatism, he would recommend the prince, here Barack Obama, come as clean as he can as fast as he can. Being accurate and complete is more important in this instance than being swift. But speed is not inconsequential - the longer Blagojevich is allowed to linger by the president-elect, the longer will the president-elect be distracted from the nation's business.

Second, Machiavelli, who was interested above all in preserving the prince's power, would remind Obama that he could do nothing so foolish as to squander his good name or good will before even moving into the White House. The president-elect's approval ratings currently exceed 65 percent. Machiavelli would make clear he should not risk even a smidgen of this support by allowing scandal to darken his door. Machiavelli would further make clear that in order to avoid this pitfall, Obama should do what he must. If this should require that he sever ties with any of even his closest aides, so be it.

Finally, on the question of whether it was better to be feared or loved, Machiavelli was unambivalent. To be sure, he did venture that, ideally, "One would want to be both the one and the other." But, in this world, in the real world, it is impossible to be both or, at the least, as he wrote, "It is difficult to put them together."

Therefore since he has no choice but to choose, the prince "is much safer to be feared than loved." The implication of this for Obama is clear: In the matter of Blagojevich, as in every other matter that crosses his desk, particularly at this early stage, he "should make himself feared in such a mode that if he does not acquire love, he escapes hatred, because being feared and not being hated can go together very well."

By Barbara Kellerman

 |  December 15, 2008; 10:45 AM ET
Category:  Politics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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