The word Machiavellianism, one of the three “dark triad” personality traits, often conjures up images of someone who is unethical and shrewd – who makes decisions without regard for others and engages in corrupt, even illegal practices and emotional manipulation in order to get ahead. While this view is popular with the media there are in fact a number of ways in which the machiavellian personality actually benefits individuals and the corporations for which they work.
Machiavellianism was first researched by psychologists in the 1950s, when Richard Christie and his colleague Florence Geis developed the MACH-IV personality test based on the work of the 14th century writer Niccolo Machiavelli, whose titles often depicted unscrupulous politicians willing to do anything to get ahead.
From this tool they discovered individuals who are high in the machiavellian personality trait will more often agree with statements like, “Never tell anyone the real reason you did something unless it is useful to do so” and “It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there.”
Given the apparent downsides of this trait, why is it that individuals who are considered machiavellian are so often present at the top of the corporate ladder? The reason lies in their ability to do whatever it takes to succeed and to not be pulled down by others; what some people call emotional manipulation can instead be viewed as making decisions that benefit themselves rather than hurting themselves to prevent hurt to others.
A machiavellian personality would rather be the only one to escape a sinking ship than to drown with the rest. They see the world as a game and understand that they need to pay attention to their place on the board in order to survive and thrive.
One area Machiavellian personalities excel is leadership. People who are Machiavellian are especially skilled at recognizing the motivation of others and how it overlaps with their own, which can ensure their own survival where others will fall.
As an person, you are constantly faced with decisions that affect you and those around you. You have the opportunity to make decisions that would benefit you all a little, or yourself a lot. In a world where everyone else is looking out for themselves, does it not make sense to look out for yourself too?
Research has demonstrated that people who are high in the machiavellian trait also concern themselves with reputation or image management much more than someone with a low machiavellian score. What this means is that they focus on how others see them and work to keep this image as clean as possible. Who is better suited to manage the public image of a company than its CEO, especially when that CEO has shown themselves adept at managing their own image?
Image management can mean the difference between getting a promotion and staying at your current level, or the difference between getting a job offer and staying at your current employer. Those who move up the corporate ladder are those who can present the best version of themselves to others, and the best version of their employers to the public.
Machiavellianism makes people competitive. Without competition, groupthink and complacency sets in to anyone. The tough decisions that keep others up at night are made without a thought by a strategic, calculating machiavellian personality.
Emotional detachment is another common quality in those with the machiavellian trait. Sometimes emotions cause us to make poor decisions. Machiavellian personalities are less concerned with their impact on others and more concerned with their own survival, which ensures that their companies survive.
Is it emotional manipulation to tell someone something when it benefits you, to pay less attention to the needs of strangers than to your own and to strategize decisions so you get the best benefit possible? Or is it simply looking out for yourself, like everyone should. Machiavellian personalities remember that their only loyalty is to themselves — and that’s why they ascend to the top.
If you’ve enjoyed this then be sure to check out the other two dark triad personalities:
You can also start from the beginning if you haven’t taken the exam yet.
How do you feel this related to Machiavellian behavior? Let us know in the comments below!