Philosopher/writer Niccolo Machiavelli, whose name has become shorthand for "the ends justify the means," has, over the years, gotten a bad rap.
Born in Florence, Italy in 1469, Machiavelli is considered a founder of modern political science. His advice on leading and ruling, according to Tina Nunno, research vice-president, Gartner, is more relevant today than ever to the high-pressure, often war-like world of the CIO.
Nunno, who recently spoke on the issue at the CIO Association of Canada’s 2010 Peer Forum, says many of the best CIOs she has met cite Machiavelli as their inspiration.
Wait. Isn’t that a bad thing?
Not necessarily, according to Nunno.
There’s no denying Machiavelli held a somewhat dim view of humanity. Men, he said, will more quickly forget the loss of a father than the loss of their inheritance; they are infinitely wicked and fickle.
But Machiavelli, argued Nunno, who prefaced her session with the caveat that Gartner considers her research in this area "maverick," and thus not sanctioned, is often unfairly maligned and misinterpreted. "It is assumed he is unethical, but the reality is he is actually a pragmatist," she explains.
"One of his most commonly known quotes is that ‘politics has no relation to morals.’ What he meant was that politics is ethically neutral; it’s just the process people use to come to decisions and resolve conflicts, and people can either use the process for good or for evil."
CIO Canada, in an interview before the event, asked Nunno to explain how the following quotes, taken from chapters of Machiavelli’s The Prince — his treatise on acquiring and maintaining power in a principality — might apply to CIOs today.
Those dominions, which, when acquired … are either of the same country and language or are not. When they are, it is easier to hold them … because the two peoples, preserving in other things the old conditions, and not being unlike in customs, will live quietly together.
— "Concerning mixed
Business leaders have to be very conscious of the fact they are reorganizing communities when they reorganize a business, says Nunno. Good CIOs have to be quite masterful at change management.
"In a reorganization where, for example, IT has been highly localized by region or country and you centralize these functions, the CIO has to take special care to ensure that group is carefully socialized and that the key objectives are clear: Why are they a group? What are their shared goals and vision? What is it that they are now going to have in common other than they are now going to work on the same applications?" she says. "Often times you have to be very careful because otherwise, that unrest in a group that is reorganized can become a major distraction to the overall organization."