Machiavellian Personality Types Part I: Justifying the Means
“Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are…and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result. For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody.” – Niccolò Machiavelli, Chapter XVIII, The Prince
Published in 1532, during the Italian Renaissance and the Medici family’s reign in Florence, The Prince is Niccolò Machiavelli’s infamous treatise on how a prince should seize, establish, and retain absolute control of a political state, without regard for traditional concerns like honor or morality. The work and its author continue to influence the world today, from the study of political philosophy to pop culture. Take, for instance, the scheming ruthlessness that drives hit series like Game of Thrones and House of Cards, which are often described as Machiavellian.
Scholars have long debated whether Machiavelli intended The Prince as serious political advice or as a satirical critique of the political structures and tactics of his time. Whatever his original intentions, Machiavelli has, for better or worse, come to be associated with the behavior of the treacherous and the power-hungry. In fact, Merriam-Webster defines “Machiavellian” as anything that is “marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith.”
In this two-part series, we investigate which personality types may find themselves most aligned with two major themes that run through The Prince: ruling with an iron fist and justifying your actions. We begin with the latter.
The End Justifies the Means
Although the popular saying “The end justifies the means” is frequently attributed to Machiavelli, he never actually says this in The Prince. The closest he gets to articulating this idea is in the passage quoted at the beginning of this article. Nevertheless, the notion that it’s the results of your actions that matter most is central to the work.
At various points in The Prince, Machiavelli advocates for such extreme tactics as manipulating the truth, buying people’s loyalties, stirring up hostility among citizens, engaging in acts of betrayal, and even committing murder, arguing that these measures are acceptable when necessary for a prince to seize or maintain power – and, ultimately, to achieve order and security for the people. That end, essentially, justifies pretty much any action, no matter how nefarious.
While we doubt any of our 16Personalities readers find themselves in a position akin to Machiavelli’s 16th-century monarch (at least we hope not!), it’s not uncommon for people today to take the view that the end justifies the means – especially in a society that is so often driven by results. We may sometimes approach big decisions with this mind-set, but more often, it sneaks into our everyday lives in small ways. And it might not necessarily be a bad thing. But if you find yourself saying, “Hey, whatever it takes to make this happen,” chances are there’s something questionable or less than ideal (whether in someone else’s eyes or your own) about what you are doing.
To explore this idea as it relates to personality type, we asked our readers to agree or disagree with the statement, “The end results matter more than how you get there.” A modest majority (59%) agreed overall, suggesting a certain degree of pragmatism in how we approach life’s tasks and challenges. Here’s how the responses broke down by personality type:
Which personalities tend to take a Machiavellian approach to justifying their actions? (Hint: It’s not all about Analysts!) Let’s dig into the data below.
Analysts (71% agreeing)
Would you lie on your résumé to land your dream job, even at the risk of being exposed later as unqualified for the demands of the position? Would you make promises in a political campaign to get elected, even if you don’t intend to keep your word? According to our research, if you’re an Analyst, you probably would – as long as the ultimate goal (like the power to create a product or implement a plan that would benefit millions of people) is important enough to justify such actions.
The Thinking trait was by far the most influential personality trait in this study, with 70% of Thinking types agreeing overall (which was 19% higher than Feeling types’ agreement rate of 51%). The Thinking trait is marked by logical, objective patterns of thought, and there is a certain logic embedded in the concept that the end results matter more than how you get there: if you have achieved the desired outcome, then your method worked, making it justifiable.
Analysts couple this rational approach with their interest in new possibilities. As Intuitive personalities, Analysts like to explore and discover. They can get caught up in their own creative vision and, as a result, prioritize the achievement of that vision over the specific methods used to do so.
Of all the personality types, Debaters (ENTP) were the most likely to agree that the end results matter more than how you get there (75%). Often, justifying your actions (or those of other people) involves a lot of persuasion, something at which Debaters excel. Because they’re constantly questioning things, rules can seem unimportant and the line separating “right” from “wrong” can get fuzzy. And since Debaters like to immerse themselves in big ideas but loathe little details, they’re naturally going to be more focused on outcomes than methods.
Explorers demonstrated the next highest agreement, although it was significantly lower than Analysts’. Explorers are known for their pragmatism, thanks to their Observant trait. Guided by their Prospecting personality trait, Explorers also believe in making the most of opportunities as they arise, an approach that can sometimes lead to opportunism – acting without regard for principles or consequences and believing that the end results are worth it.
These natural improvisers are less likely than other Roles to spend a lot of time planning and strategizing, and as such they sometimes opt to use a shortcut or take a risk in order to achieve a result faster. Explorers are even less likely than other personalities to spend time reflecting on the effectiveness, fairness, or morality of their actions after the fact.
Entrepreneurs (ESTP) (71%) were the Explorers most likely to agree with our statement, and they weren’t far behind Debaters. These energetic personalities like to live on the edge and tend to leap before they look. They prefer to rely on their own moral compass rather than someone else’s rules, so it makes sense that certain tactics or behaviors that others would question often seem perfectly acceptable to Entrepreneurs, provided that they accomplish the intended goal.
Explorers with the Feeling trait, like Entertainers (ESFP) (52%), were much less likely to agree with our statement. Empathy and sensitivity matter much more to Feeling personalities than the logical conclusions that Thinking personalities rely on, which we discuss in more detail below.
Sentinels, although still agreeing in a slight majority, were more skeptical about the idea that the end results matter most. For these Judging personalities, the plan, process, and method by which you progress toward a goal matter a great deal. Their fact-oriented Observant trait, which keeps them focused on what’s going on around them, makes it harder to overlook the potential pitfalls or negative consequences of their actions.
Of all the Roles, Sentinels are the most concerned with law, order, and traditional ethics and the most likely to believe that there is a right (and a wrong) way to do things. Even so, they also recognize the importance of efficiency and closure, and more often than not, they may feel that, realistically, getting the job done is the most important thing.
We should note, though, that Sentinels were the most divided Role on this topic. Executives (ESTJ) agreed at a high rate of 71%. This might seem surprising, given Executives’ reputation as model citizens who scorn dishonesty, cheating, corner-cutting, and anyone who doesn’t do things the “right” way. But Executives are also managers, and managers make sure things get done. These personalities finish the tasks they set out to do and, at the end of the day, living up to their responsibilities matters above all.
If, for instance, an Executive had to work overtime for a week, sacrifice sleep and exercise, and miss a special occasion with a loved one in order to finish a project on a tough deadline, they would probably believe that the end result of successfully producing high-quality, on-time work justified those not-so-healthy means.
Defenders (ISFJ), on the other hand, were the least likely of all personality types to agree, and the only type to agree in a minority (46%). As Feeling types, Defenders are altruists who are committed to making a positive difference in people’s lives – an end goal that is often intangible. Meticulous, patient, and humble, Defenders hold themselves to extremely high standards and would be hesitant to take any action that could potentially hurt someone else, however worthy the cause. Otherwise, the guilt may be too much for Defenders (and other Feeling personalities) to bear.
It’s interesting that, as the personality types most committed to making compromises in order to achieve harmony and progress, Diplomats were the least likely to agree that the end results matter more than how you get there. It would seem that the end result would have to be very significant – like a peaceful resolution to a volatile conflict – for a Diplomat to feel this way.
We must keep in mind that Intuitive Diplomats are often guided by ideals and principles, and thus are the most reluctant Role to depart from them. Given their core Feeling personality trait, Diplomats are going to be especially concerned with how their actions and methods affect others – with the human, emotional impacts of what they do. And as much as they value compromise, there are certain things that most Diplomats simply won’t concede, like honesty and personal integrity.
Protagonists (ENFJ) (54%) were the most likely Diplomats to agree, no doubt because of their dedication to effecting change. Protagonists recognize that sometimes you have to get creative to inspire others and achieve goals, and they never lose sight of their first priority: changing the world for the better. But across the board, Diplomats agreed at relatively neutral rates.
Social Engagement, People Mastery, Constant Improvement, and Confident Individualism (60%, 58%, 57%, and 54% agreeing)
There was not much variation in the responses of each Strategy, indicating that Roles played a more important part in this study. Extraverts were slightly more likely than Introverts to agree that the end results matter more than how you get there (59% vs. 56%, respectively), and Turbulent personalities were slightly more likely than Assertive personalities to agree (58% vs. 56%).
Extraverted, Turbulent Social Engagers agreed the most. Social Engagers tend to be ambitious personalities, both in terms of improving their social status and improving themselves. Ambition can be a good thing, but in extreme cases, it can also be the foundation of a Machiavellian approach to life. Excited by new possibilities, Extraverts may be more open to trying questionable tactics to achieve goals. Turbulent personalities, whose confidence in their own abilities can be shaky, may wish to focus on outcomes and achievements rather than dwell too much on their own uncomfortable actions.
Introverted, Assertive Confident Individualists agreed the least, although still in a slight majority. Introverts generally like to do their own thing, but for Confident Individualists, self-reliance is indispensable. They may believe that in order to make their own way, they have to be able trust in their own integrity, avoiding compromises or dubious tactics as much as possible. At the same time, their Assertive personality trait gives them the confidence to focus on positive outcomes and believe that, even if their actions are sometimes less than ideal, things will work out in the end.
When it comes to the ends justifying the means, it may help to keep the big picture in mind. Even if we don’t like the actions we’re sometimes compelled to take to get things done (whether it’s a broken promise, a shortcut, a personal sacrifice, a compromise, or something else), if it’s truly for a good cause, it can be acceptable to prioritize the end results. Sometimes, the benefits simply outweigh the costs.
Personalities with the Thinking trait are especially likely to see things this way. For many people, whether or not the results matter most may depend heavily on the specific circumstances of a situation.
But we should also bear in mind that using the end to justify the means can be a slippery slope, no matter how good our intentions may be. If we’re not careful, a one-time exception can quickly turn into a pattern of behavior with long-lasting consequences for ourselves and others. Machiavelli may not say so in The Prince, but taking the time to do something right, to stick to our principles, to learn from hard work and from failure, and to enjoy the journey can be more important than any superficial result.
In our next article, we’ll explore another of Machiavelli’s key themes: authoritarian rule. Coming soon!
Do you believe that the end justifies the means? Share your thoughts in the comments below!