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Posts Tagged ‘CORPORTIONS’

TAKING AND GIVING ADVICE

In Bureaucracy, Politics, Self-Help on May 26, 2010 at 12:20 am

Some people–like President Richard Nixon–like to make their decisions in private, consulting almost no one and then springing the surprise announcement on an often-shocked public.

Others, like President Bill Clinton, care more about what their enemies than their supporters think of them. As a result, they usually wind up alienating their supporters and winning at best only token support from their enemies.

But there is another way to reach decisions–that suggested by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his classic work, The Prince, he offers an approach that combines the private with the public.

Having served as Florentine ambassador to courts throughout Italy, Machiavelli well understood the temptations of power. He thus fashioned an approach that accepted as a given the power of flattery–and the need to guard oneself against it.

This danger is best illustrated in the famous joke about a corporate president asking his private pilot, “What altitude are we flying at?” and the suck-up pilot replies, “What altitude do you want it to be?”

And having met rulers both wise and foolish, Machiavelli realized how essential it was for those in power to keep a steady grip on the truth about people and events. So he offered the following advice:

There is no way of guarding oneself against flattery than by letting men understand that they will not offend you by speaking the truth. But when every one can tell you the truth, you lose their respect. A prudent prince must therefore take a third course, by choosing for his counsel wise men, and giving them alone full liberty to speak the truth to him, but only of those things that he asks and of nothing else.

But he must be a great asker about everything and hear their opinions, and afterwards deliberate by himself in his own way, and in these counsels and with each of these men comport himself so that every one may see that the more freely he speaks, the more he will be acceptable. Beyond these he should listen to no one, go about the matter deliberately, and be determined in his decisions.

Whoever acts otherwise either acts precipitately through flattery or else changes often through the variety of opinions, from which it follows that he will be little esteemed.

A prince, therefore, ought always to take counsel, but only when he wishes, not when others wish. On the contrary, he ought to discourage absolutely attempts to advise him unless he asks it. But he ought to be a great asker, and a patient hearer of the truth about those things of which he has inquired. Indeed, if he finds that anyone has scruples in telling him the truth he should be angry.

But what about the giving of advice? Machiavelli has some brilliant counsel on that, too. In his great work, The Discourses–which deals with how to preserve liberty within a republic–he warns:

Certainly those who counsel princes and republics are placed between two dangers. If they do not advise what seems to them for the good of the republic or the prince, regardless of the consequences to themselves, then they fail of their duty. And if they do advise it, then it is at the risk of their position and their lives, for all men are blind in this, that they judge of good or evil counsels only by the results.

In reflecting as to the means to avoid this dilemma of either disgrace or danger, I see no other course than to take things moderately, and not to undertake to advocate any enterprise with too much zeal, but to give one’s advice calmly and modestly. If either then the republic or the prince decides to follow it, they may do so, as it were, of their own will, and not as though they were drawn into it by your importunity.

In adopting this course it is not reasonable to suppose that either the prince or republic will manifest any ill will towards you on account of a resolution not taken contrary to the wishes of the many. For the danger arises when your advice has caused the many to be contravened. In that case, when the result is unfortunate, they all concur in your destruction.

And although by following the course I advise you may fail to attain that glory which is acquired by having been one against many in counseling an enterprise which success has justified, yet this is compensated for by two advantages.

The first is, you avoid all danger. And the second consists in the great credit which you will have if, after having modestly advised a certain course, your counsel is rejected, and the adoption of a different course results unfortunately.

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