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“Provide a great work environment and treat each other with dignity and respect” [Starbucks mission statement].     

Some revere Nicolo Machiavelli’s teachings, particularly in U.S. culture where individualism is seen as virtuous. Recently his tenets have been resurrected in The New Machiavelli, in which Powell puts a modern spin on Machiavelli’s self-serving ideas.  

Individuals who make it “the Machiavellian way” provide a frightening glimpse into the mind of corporate mania, as Ringer explains in his book Winning through Intimidation: “Intimidation is the root to earning and receiving big money. I therefore decided that intimidation would be my first order of business; it would be the key to my usable philosophy” (Ringer, 1974). People like Ringer extol clawing as a method to obtain corporate goodies, a theme reinforced by Harmer in New Paths to God: “A motto for today is ‘look out for #1,’ that is first to think about ourselves and our interests. Our culture has spawned so much fear and anger that even the simplest acts of kindness go undone out of concern for the consequences” (Harmer, 2002).          

Machiavelli provides the curriculum for bullies in the making. Emptied of their morality, their true purpose, and their ability to connect with other people, bullies desperately claw at their co-workers to self-aggrandize. They express subconscious rage as downward denigration (if they are in a superior position) or as violence toward their peers. Bullies possess not anger turned to indignation, but rather corporate anger that has been extinguished.  When they choose anger displacement, bullies behave in ways that are harmful to their colleagues.          

If placed in a combative situation, individuals fight, crumble, or flee. It’s the innocent who are either psychologically trampled or exiled. In toxic corporate environments innocence is evidenced only in demise, with survival chances weighted in favor of the more crafty, more guileful, and more shameless corporate players. Organizational death comes through exit, corporate divorce (euphemistically known as delayering, downsizing, house cleaning, or regrouping) or through a psychological hijacking in which aspiring employees’ inner landscape is airbrushed by corporate madness. While the former are career related deaths, the latter is a much more insidious type of passing. It’s the loss of your connection to the Infinite, a multiplication of that which prevents you from experiencing paradise on earth.          

Some companies have chosen to be places in which Machiavelli is not welcome. A few firms have taken the proactive step of crafting “civility policies.” Some of these include Cisco, Starbucks, Davita, and Microsoft. Cisco has “…built a culture by consistently recruiting the right employees, setting clear expectations, training employees in civility, and role modeling appropriate, civil behavior” (Pearson & Porath, 2009, p. 124). Positive work environments include a handsome payoff, with the above mentioned companies consistently ranked as exceptional places in which to work.          

How can we be a little less Machiavellian, and a little more “civilian” in our daily rounds? And, how can we celebrate our peers in the process? The following are some tips which might lead to a kinder, gentler, more welcoming workplace:          

  1. Think before you speak. This advice is particularly salient for extroverts whose motto is “talk first, think later.” Although they’re the life of the party, their rapid fire communication style can hurt peoples’ feelings. You’ve probably heard the phrase “the less said the better.” If your modus operandi is to annihilate people who cross your path, you may end up with obsequious followers and only a handful of true friends.
  2. Develop a group orientation. Set aside your smallish self interest; consider actions that would bring benefit to the whole. When the organization expands as a result of your behavior, the trickle down effect will impact you as well.
  3. Realize that the customer is not always right. A leader bears the welts of a corporate whipping for workers falsely accused. At Southwest Airlines, managers regularly defend attendants who are accosted by abusive patrons (Freiberg & Freiberg, 1996). Kelleher (former CEO) explains that one of the biggest mistakes a manager can make is to always believe that the customer is right. Ironically, he has found that his organization could still come out ahead when the customer was second. Top leadership’s ability to suffer personal wounds (and to communicate their change of heart) instigates the process of organizational renewal, whereby leaders grow to view themselves the way that others see them.
  4. Recognize people when they achieve something spectacular. A recruiter once told me “you don’t beat your drum very loudly.” I was never trained to behave in this fashion. When our sole focus is self-promotion (sometimes at the expense of other people), we have become a less civilized society. Today find a colleague who has done something exemplary, and recognize him or her for the effort. I have personally never understood why we are so stingy with giving compliments: they’re free!



Freiberg, K., & Freiberg, J. (1996). Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ crazy recipe for business and personal success. Austin, TX: Bard Press.          

Person, C., & Porath, C. (2009). The cost of bad behavior: How incivility is damaging our business and what to do about it. New York: Penguin Group.          

Ringer, R. J. (1974). Winning through intimidation (p. 122). Los Angeles, CA:  Los Angeles Book Publishers Co.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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