machiavellian leadership


one of our main seminar speakers was nasir el-rufai, former lead advisor to obasanjo. he was a wiry, smallish man in glasses and traditional hausa dress. spoke more like a scholar than a politician, though in one breath he traversed topics of nonviolent resistance, by way of gandhi, to the number of people yar'adua killed before he became president.

i'm not quite sure anyone has ever given a bitterer dose of reality than he did, and so candidly. while discussing machiavelli's the prince, i found myself to be one of the few people in the room who didn't believe that all people are inherently selfish and, when given a chance, destructive of others.

"i'm a humanist," i said, perhaps with more conviction than i've ever said anything. "i've never believed in the machiavelli's or sun tzu's of the world who believe people should be governed like children or, worse yet, animals. nobody in this room would consent to be governed that way, and i think nigerians are too bright to even merit this comparison."

el rufai stroked his chin, asked, "have you ever had to lead people?" in a steady, professorial voice that calmed my rising frustration. the room got very quiet as though it were only the two of us having a quiet conversation. and i said yes, at my former job, with a boss who had some difficulty leading people.

he smiled. "to all of you who want to lead and keep leading, i would read the prince. especially you, the humanist." he extended his hand in my direction. "i have read it at least three times and i find that whenever i have a problem in my professional life, i can find an answer buried in there."

(he also added that yar'adua had a favorite book, the rise and fall of the third reich, and a favorite historical figure in the person of adolf hitler. i rest my case.)

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  1. There's one thing intrinsic in the nature of man: the ability to choose to do 'good' or 'evil.' It's always a choice. We could be inherently selfish if we wanted to or so pleased.


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