Machiavellian Personality Types Part II: Ruling with an Iron Fist
“Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved... Love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.” – Niccolò Machiavelli, Chapter XVII, The Prince
In the first part of our series on Machiavellian personality types, we offered a brief introduction to Niccolò Machiavelli’s 16th-century treatise The Prince and our modern understanding of Machiavellianism, and we explored one of the work’s most important underlying arguments: that the end justifies the means. In this second article in our two-part series, we consider another of Machiavelli’s major themes: ruling with an iron fist.
Once a prince has attained power (by any means necessary), Machiavelli argues that he must govern as a ruthless, omnipotent ruler (while being careful to avoid being hated by the people). This is the only way for a prince to maintain his position of power. At least that’s what Machiavelli says on the surface. As mentioned in Part I of this series, many scholars believe that The Prince was intended as satire and that Machiavelli actually wanted to warn readers about the dangers of monarchs, despots, and tyrants, those who, as he puts it, “exercise absolute authority” over the people.
What is one of the trademarks of a tyrant? Rule by fear – the passage quoted above claiming that it is better to be feared than loved is perhaps Machiavelli’s most famous.
Authoritarianism vs. Democracy
The most common type of authoritarian government that we see today is dictatorship, where an individual or a small group holds all power – including control over the military, the press, and other aspects of society – and individuals’ freedoms are restricted. Merriam-Webster offers a broad definition of authoritarian: “of, relating to, or favoring blind submission to authority.”
In day-to-day life, we might casually apply the term “authoritarian” to anyone who seems to prefer this sort of submission – the control-freak boss at work who expects their team to follow every missive to the letter, for example. (We might call that boss “Machiavellian” too, especially if they sometimes resort to shady tactics to get ahead.)
By contrast, democracy is government by the people and is marked by things like systems of representation, free elections, checks and balances on power, and constitutional freedoms. (In his other writings, Machiavelli often advocates for self-government.) In everyday life, we might think of the boss who develops a process collaboratively with their team and seeks feedback as a more democratic manager.
Are certain personality types more inclined toward one of these systems of government or styles of leadership than the other? To find out, we asked our 16Personalities community to think hypothetically and agree or disagree with the statement, “As a leader, you would be more authoritarian than democratic.” Here’s how their answers played out:
With 43% of readers agreeing overall, it’s apparent that most of our community is not interested in an authoritarian approach to leadership. But some individual personality types are. Read on to learn which personalities are most attracted to the prospect of absolute authority.
Analysts (60% agreeing)
Analysts were the only Role where every personality type agreed in a majority that, as a leader, they would be more authoritarian than democratic. As with our earlier article on the Machiavellian idea that the end justifies the means, the Thinking trait was the most important factor in this study – in fact, the 28-point gap between Thinking personalities (60% agreeing) and Feeling personalities (32%) was even wider in this survey.
Because they are so logical and rigorous in their thinking and problem-solving, Thinking personalities like Analysts tend to believe that their way is the best way, and they can become very frustrated when others don’t see eye-to-eye with them. On a purely pragmatic level, authoritarianism is simpler than democracy – it’s a lot easier to lead by doing whatever you want than it is by involving others in the process or adhering to established rules. Of course, we’re not insinuating that Analysts believe in all-out dictatorial authoritarianism, just that, if they were to lean one way or the other, they’d prefer to have more control over the people and circumstances in their lives.
Furthermore, because of their Intuitive interest in innovation, we often think of Analysts as visionaries who break new ground. But sometimes the hardest thing about being a visionary is ceding enough control over your vision to allow others to help you achieve it – and that difficulty can spark a tendency toward more authoritarian leadership.
Commanders (ENTJ) are an excellent example of this, and they were also the personality type to agree with our statement the most, at 68%. Bold and determined, Commanders have a reputation for turning big ideas into reality, even if they have to push things forward through the sheer force of their will. Many view an authoritarian style as a necessity. But at their best, Commanders also excel at team-building and inspiring others.
Since Sentinels are a Role comprised of both Thinking and Feeling personality types, they were strongly divided in their responses. Executives (ESTJ) (65%) and Logisticians (ISTJ) (58%) both agreed in a majority, but Consuls (ESFJ) (33%) and Defenders (ISFJ) (28%) strongly disagreed.
Overall, personalities with the Judging trait (43%) were more likely than their Prospecting counterparts (39%) to agree that they would be more authoritarian leaders. Judging types are all about efficiency and effectiveness and can lose patience when things aren’t moving along in an orderly fashion. Logisticians, for instance, are probably the quickest personality type to throw up their hands and exclaim, “I’ll just do it myself!” It’s understandable that such meticulous, pragmatic types feel that itch for control that makes the advantages of authoritarian leadership tempting.
As a group, though, Sentinels believe in fairness and are deeply invested in society’s traditional sources of authority – in other words, they’d rather lead in a way that upholds the status quo than act solely in their own interests.
Explorers were similarly divided in their responses. Entrepreneurs (ESTP) (61%) were the only Explorers to agree in a majority, while Adventurers (ISFP) (24%) were the least likely of any personality type to agree.
As Prospecting personalities, many Explorers may take the view that authoritarian leaders, in discouraging the ideas and self-expression of others, limit themselves in terms of what they can envision and achieve. Democracy empowers the diverse voices, ideas, and perspectives necessary to inspire new directions and opportunities.
Adventurers, as the lowest-agreeing personality type, are particularly averse to authoritarian ideas. They are most interested in personal growth fostered by flexibility and exploration – not in dictating what other people do. To Adventurers, the individual is central and freedom is paramount.
All Diplomats share the Feeling trait, and as such, every Diplomat personality type agreed with our statement in a minority. Dictators, as a rule, do not believe in diplomacy. Authoritarianism is antithetical to Diplomats’ modus operandi, which, as their name suggests, is all about building consensus, facilitating cooperation, and nurturing harmony. Empathetic and idealistic, Diplomat leaders are certainly more likely to create a democratic, collaborative environment where everyone’s voice is heard and everyone gets a chance to participate.
Mediators (INFP) (27%) were the Diplomats with the lowest agreement. Mediators are guided by their principles and prefer a leadership style that is based on shared values, mutual understanding, and fairness, all in the interest of the common good.
Social Engagement and People Mastery (46% and 43% agreeing)
Although no single Strategy agreed in a majority that they would be more authoritarian as leaders than democratic, the two Extraverted Strategies, Social Engagement and People Mastery, topped the results. Extraverted personalities on average were 7% more likely than Introverts to agree (44% vs. 37%).
Given their natural enthusiasm for social situations, many Extraverts are not shy about stepping up to lead. Perhaps they recognize that, in their excitement, they can get carried away and take charge in a more decisive, or perhaps even controlling, manner, as opposed to taking a more democratic approach. Still, most Social Engagers and People Masters rejected the idea that they would be authoritarian leaders.
Confident Individualism and Constant Improvement (38% and 37%)
The Introverted Strategies, Confident Individualism and Constant Improvement, showed even stronger disagreement. Introverts tend to be hesitant to take leadership positions because they don’t like to be in the spotlight (or the hot seat). Democratic leadership removes a lot of that pressure by involving others in the decisions that need to be made and the work that needs to be done.
It’s interesting to note that the Identity personality aspect did not influence this study. Assertive and Turbulent personalities agreed at the same average rate: 41%. It appears that neither our personal self-confidence nor our temperament (even-keeled or easily stressed) determines our preference for authoritarian or democratic leadership – or, to put it another way, our need for control.
Ultimately, when it came to both justifying actions with end results and taking a more authoritarian view of leadership and power, Thinking personality types (and especially Analysts) proved to be the most Machiavellian. A dedication to objective logic drives these perspectives, and in the case of Analysts, a desire to challenge themselves and those around them to innovate and achieve new possibilities fuels them even more.
Prioritizing expediency and exercising authority may be the simplest, most effective way to reach a goal, and sometimes you just have to go that route to get things done, whatever your personality type.
But we should also remember that Machiavelli himself may have been more complex than a literal reading of The Prince would suggest. In the most famous portrait of Machiavelli, he smiles. What might that tiny smile be saying? Is it the self-satisfied smirk of a cunning, ruthless, power-crazed political advisor? Or the wry smile of a satirist and civil servant who wanted posterity to know, “Beware the consequentialists and the despots and the excessively pragmatic. Methods matter. Ethics and diplomacy and justice matter. Society flourishes when we care about our actions and when everyone gets a say in how we move forward”?
Only Machiavelli will ever know.
What will you choose? Authoritarianism or democracy? The ends or the means? A little of both? Join the conversation below!
And don’t forget to check out our Academy content. Our Professional Development module contains tests and exercises to help you understand and develop your own leadership style!