July 31, 2014

How Machiavelli Can Save Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods' chances of competing in the Fed Ex playoffs and being picked for this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team depend on how he plays in the next two weeks. What will it take to succeed? Talent, confidence, poise under pressure, and mental toughness and clarity are key.

For this, Tiger might be well-advised to take advice not from coaches but from the great sixteenth-century political strategist, Niccolò Machiavelli. Sounds strange, perhaps, but some of the same strategies of warfare and statecraft that Machiavelli prescribes can be successfully applied on the course.

Divide and Conquer

In The Prince and his other political works, Machiavelli offers concrete advice on how to wage a successful war. On this, he says that “A Captain ought…[to] endeavor with every art to divide the forces of the enemy, either by making him suspicious of his men…or by giving him cause…to separate his forces and, because of this, become weaker.”

Machiavelli’s talking about external enemies here. But in Tiger’s case, his worst enemy of course is himself, and to reclaim his former greatness as a player, he would be well-advised to focus not on fundamentals but his own inner weaknesses and demons. And to overcome them, as Machiavelli might advise, he must separate -- or divide -- any regrets and shame he might have about his moral failings as a man from his physical strengths as a player.

Bottom line: by “dividing” the mental from the physical, he might thereby weaken and “conquer" those inner forces that are his most formidable and mentally debilitating enemies on the course.

Machiavelli’s Concept of Virtú.

Unlike the modern term "virtue" that connotes moral goodness, virtú, for Machiavelli, is the essential quality, the touchstone, of political and military success. In particular, the concept entails the idea of a "tremendous inner fortitude” to overcome even the most formidable opposition and embraces such traits as boldness, bravery, foresight, flexibility, ingenuity, action, and decisiveness. And these very same traits, as Machiavelli might say, are also critical for success on the course.

Here again, Tiger’s most formidable opposition is himself, and rather than focusing on the fundamentals or physicality of the game, he should cultivate those behaviors and traits that he lacks to achieve the kind of Machiavellian “virtu” that is essential for both princes and players to succeed.

Study the Actions of Illustrious Men

In The Prince, Machiavelli says that to succeed on the battlefield “men ought to study…the actions of illustrious men to see how they have borne themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former.”

Similarly, Tiger ought to study the actions of past champions to see how they have conducted themselves on the course and to examine the causes of their victories and defeats. On this, he would do well to study the actions of Rory McIlroy, who, after clinching this year’s British Open title, told reporters that he focused on two words: “process" and “spot”.

What did he mean by this?

"With my long shots, I just wanted to stick to my process and stick to making good decisions, making good swings," he said. "The process of making a good swing, if I had any sort of little swing thoughts, just keeping that so I wasn't thinking about the end result, basically.”

And the "spot” was all about his putting.

"I was just picking a spot on the green and trying to roll it over my spot," he explained. "I wasn't thinking about holing it. I wasn't thinking about what it would mean or how many further clear it would get me. I just wanted to roll that ball over that spot. If that went in, then great. If it didn't, then I'd try it the next hole."

Bottom line: if Tiger can “divide and conquer” his inner demons, cultivate virtú and implement a simple but effective new strategy to increase his mental toughness and clarity, he might have a chance to reclaim his former greatness as a player — and for THAT he'll have Machiavelli to thank!

April 22, 2013

On Parenting, Politics, and Machiavelli's Intent in Writing "The Prince"

SOME SCHOLARS argue that Machiavelli's intent in writing The Prince was driven by his desire to trap Lorenzo de’Medici by offering carefully crafted advice designed to undo the ruler if taken seriously and followed. Others claim that it's a cautionary tale intended to warn men of what tyrants could be and do. Still others posit that Machiavelli was a supremely passionate and pragmatic patriot who loved his city more than his own soul. And others still yet think that the author of The Prince wrote a satire for "he surely could not have literally meant what he wrote.”

Despite these benign scholarly interpretations, Machiavelli’s name today is a byword for treachery, mendacity, and a cunning and ruthless disregard for moral standards. The Oxford Dictionary defines a “Machiavellian” as an outrageously unscrupulous schemer. The term is also used to describe a personality characterized by dishonesty, cynicism and manipulation -- all of which, though understandable, don’t fully or fairly represent who Machiavelli was as a man or what his intent was in writing The Prince.

So, for the sake of debate, let me ask: to what, precisely, does Machiavelli owe his sinister reputation?

To this, you might cite such maxims as: If you must commit a crime do not advertise it beforehand since otherwise your enemies may destroy you before you destroy them. Men should either be caressed or annihilated. A wise ruler cannot and should not keep his word when it would be to his disadvantage. It is better to be feared than loved. And that infamous phrase that has been grossly mistranslated for centuries: The ends justify the means.

And you’re right: these and other similarly shocking statements help explain how Machiavelli earned his sinister reputation. But they also help prove the point that for some five hundred years this guy has gotten a bad rap.


Because they all have one thing in common: “they’ll all designed,” as Isaiah Berlin observed, “to create or resurrect or maintain an order that will satisfy what the author conceives as men’s most permanent interests." And,” Berlin adds, the “end is always the same: a state conceived after the analogy of Periclean Athens, or Sparta, but above all the Roman Republic.” Such an end, then, which men naturally desire, “excuses” any means.

So what does this have to do with parenting? Quite a bit, I would submit, because when it comes to imposing order and stability in our homes and ensuring the happiness and well-being of our subjects (or kids) the achievement of this "end" justifies or excuses any means.

Let me back this up with a quick example. Say your little prince or princess wakes up with the flu. Your ends, then, is caring for your child, right? But here's the thing: you have to go to work and you’re out of vacation days. So what do you do?

Well, some moms might call in and say that they're sick in order to stay home with their child. Is it morally right to deceive their boss? No. But if in judging the means (deceit) you look only at the ends (a well-cared for child), then I would submit, and I think other moms might agree, it’s excusable. Right?

Either way, it's important to note that Machiavelli never actually wrote "the ends justify the means" in The Prince. What he wrote was more along the lines of "in considering the actions of men...one must consider the final result."

To learn more click here

April 2, 2013

On Machiavelli, Justin Bieber and George Clooney

So you might not think that Machiavelli and Justin Bieber could be mentioned in the same book but they are in Machiavelli for Moms, along with many others, including:

Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Jim Hensen, Harry Houdini, Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, Vince Lombardy, Steve Martin, John Quincy Adams, Lorenzo de'Medici, Jopseh Camobell and James Madison. And that's not all. Also mentioned are Cicero, Thucydides, Richard Nixon, Steve Martin, Gene Wilder, Erma Bombeck, Dr. Spock, Emile Zola, Sir Issac Newton, Bobby Jones and Machiavelli's literary hero, Dante!

To learn more about Machiavelli for Moms click here.