Machiavellian intelligence: the new emotional intelligence?

Last Friday I ran one of my Practical Emotional Intelligence Workshops for Managers.  One of my key messages is that if you are a manager and want to rise up the corporate ladder and you do not have a high level of the Hustler/GoGetter trait in your temperament you will need to change your behaviour.  For example, many of these managers have been successful through school and university by working hard and they continue to believe that working hard is a key to success in an organisation.  Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Recently I came across an interesting article Machiavellian intelligence: the new emotional intelligence? by Dr Mark Powell and Jonathan Gifford.  In the article Powell and Gifford argue that to rise to the top of the corporate ladder you not only need intelligence and emotional intelligence, but you also need political skills which they define as Machiavellian intelligence.  They have written a new book Machiavellian Intelligence: How to survive and rise in the modern corporation where they elaborate their model and you can listen to a 23 minute podcast about the book.

One key message in the book that I totally endorse is that life for a middle manager has become much more dangerous.  Organisations are far less loyal than they were in the past and the tenure of managers has shortened dramatically.  Consequently, you need to shed the idea that working hard will automatically bring rewards.  Instead you need to focus on what is going on around you and realise that your business colleagues are your competitors and not friends.  You need to build coalitions particularly by networking with more senior people, indulge in self-promotion, and if you are stuck in a dead-end project not to be afraid to jump ship.  Your mind set has to be to never forget that every time someone else succeeds a little part of me dies.

Outsiders tend to assume that organisations are rational meritocracies in which the most able and talented executives are drawn inexorably to the top of the organisation by a rigorously fair-minded selection process.  But the majority of modern organisations are hierarchical; there are relatively few senior roles and competition for these roles is fierce. The race to the top is a very real power struggle much like Game of Thrones.

The unusual status of corporations also plays a part: corporations are like individuals – potentially immortal individuals: legal entities that survive the people who founded them and many several generations of future executives. It is the executives’ duty to serve the corporation, which drives executives to behave more ruthlessly in the service of the corporation than they would in a normal community.

In the 7MTF/Humm model all these behaviours are subsumed in the Hustler/GoGetter trait.  I remember at one of my workshops a participant complaining that her boss was corporate psychopath.  She worked in customer service and had been a loyal employee for some seven years.  Her boss joined the company a year ago and one of her first actions was to terminate the participant’s employment.  Unfortunately for the boss, the major client of the business informed her that if the participant did not return it would take its business elsewhere.  So the participant was re-hired but her boss was treating her like dirt.

I asked her what were the annual sales made to the client and she said it was around $2 million.  I then said assuming a gross margin of 30% the gross margin would be around $600.000.  I then suggested that she suggest to her boss that if she held the client for 12 months she be paid a bonus of 10% of the gross margin of $60,000.  I would assume she was earning an annual wage of around $80,000 so this was a significant bonus.  She looked at me as if I was insane.

The next day she came in announced that she had not slept all night but had decided she was going to follow my advice.  She said she realised that if she lost the client she would be fired immediately.  A week later she emailed me saying they had agreed on a bonus percentage of 7.5%.  (Hustlers love to negotiate).  A month later I received another email.  Her boss was now her best friend forever.  They were having lunch once a week and getting along famously.  She could not believe the change in behaviour but realised it was because she was now talking the language of her boss.

This is Practical Emotional Intelligence (or Machiavellian Intelligence if you wish) in action.

This blog was first posted on my LinkedIn page



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Chris Golis - Author


"Put in a sales perspective, I loved your presentation! I got a lot from what you talked about and I will read your book."

Peter Morris, Executive Officer, Lomax Financial Group

Your presentation on 'Lifting your Level of Emotional Intelligence" to 10 CEOs scored an average 8.9 out of 10 for the topic and 8.5 for the presentation which is great. A couple of the attendees gave you a 10 out of 10, and the comments were:

- Great presentation. Very informative.

- Excellent presentation.

- made me think.

Christi Spring CEO Institute. - web