Machiavellianism in the workplace

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Machiavellianism in the workplace is the employment of cunning and duplicity in a business setting. The term Machiavellianism is from the book The Prince by Machiavelli which lays out advice to rulers how to govern his or her subjects. Machiavellianism has been studied extensively over the past 40 years as a personality characteristic that shares features with manipulative leadership tactics. It has in recent times been adapted and applied to the context of the workplace and organizations by many writers and academics. The Machiavellian typically only manipulates on occasions where it is necessary to achieve the required objectives.[1]

Oliver James identifies Machiavellianism as one of the dark triadic personality traits in the workplace, the others being narcissism and psychopathy.[2]

A new model of Machiavellianism based in organizational settings consists of three factors:[1]

  • maintaining power
  • harsh management tactics
  • manipulative behaviors.

The presence of Machiavellianism in an organisation has been positively correlated with counterproductive workplace behaviour and workplace deviance.[1]

Workplace bullying overlap

According to Namie, Machiavellians manipulate and exploit others to advance their perceived personal agendas but he emphasizes that they are not mentally ill. They do not have a personality disorder, schizophrenia and neither are they psychopaths. Machiavellianism represents the core of workplace bullying.[3]

The following are the guiding principles of Machiavellianism:[4]

  • Never show humility
  • Arrogance is far more effective when dealing with others.
  • Morality and ethics are for the weak: Powerful people feel free to lie, cheat and deceive others when it suits them.
  • It is much better to be feared than loved.

High Machiavellians may be expected to do the following:[4]

  • Neglect to share important information.
  • Find subtle ways of making another person look bad to management.
  • Fail to meet their obligations.
  • Spread false rumors about another person.

In studies there was a positive correlation between Machiavellianism and workplace bullying. Machiavellianism predicted involvement in bullying others. The groups of bullies and bully-victims had a higher Machiavellianism level compared to the groups of victims and persons non-involved in bullying. The results showed that being bullied was negatively related to the perceptions of clan and adhocracy cultures and positively related to the perceptions of hierarchy culture. The results of a moderated regression analysis demonstrated that Machiavellianism was a significant moderator of the relationships between the perceptions of adhocracy and hierarchy cultures and being bullied.[5][clarification needed]

In research, Machiavellianism was positively associated with subordinate perceptions of abusive supervision (an overlapping concept with workplace bullying).[6]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kessler, SR; Bandeiii, AC; Spector, PE; Borman, WC; Nelson,CE; and Penney, LM 2010. Reexamining Machiavelli: A three dimensional model of Machiavellianism in the workplace. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 1868–1896
  2. James O Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks (2013)
  3. Namie, G. (2006). Why Bullies Bully? A Complete Explanation.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Greenberg J, Baron RA Behavior in Organizations: Understanding and Managing the Human Side of Work (2003)
  5. Irena Pilch, Elżbieta Turska Journal of Business Ethics February 2014 Relationships Between Machiavellianism, Organizational Culture, and Workplace Bullying: Emotional Abuse from the Target’s and the Perpetrator’s Perspective
  6. Kohyar Kiazada, Simon Lloyd D. Restubog, Thomas J. Zagenczyk, Christian Kiewitz, Robert L. Tang In pursuit of power: The role of authoritarian leadership in the relationship between supervisors’ Machiavellianism and subordinates’ perceptions of abusive supervisory behavior

Further reading


  • Alan F. Bartlett Profile of the Entrepreneur or Machiavellian Management (1987)
  • Malcolm Coxall, Guy Caswell Machiavellian Management - A Chief Executive's Guide (2012)
  • L. F. Gunlicks The Machiavellian Manager's Handbook for Success (2000)
  • V The Mafia Manager: A Guide to the Corporate Machiavelli (1997)
  • Gerry Griffin Machiavelli on Management: Playing and Winning the Corporate Power Game (1991)
  • Phil Harris, Andrew Lock Machiavelli, Marketing and Management (2000)

Academic papers

  • JJ Teven, JC McCroskey Communication correlates of perceived Machiavellianism of supervisors: Communication orientations and outcomes Communication Quarterly Volume 54, Issue 2, (2006) Pages 127-142
  • David Shackleton, Leyland Pitt, Amy Seidel Marks, (1990) Managerial Decision Styles and Machiavellianism: A Comparative Study, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 5 Iss: 1, pp.9 - 16
  • Jonason, P. K., Slomski, S., & Partyka, J. (2012). The Dark Triad at work: How toxic employees get their way. Personality and Individual Differences, 52(3), 449-453.

External links