Machiavelli, the French and the English…(part 2)

Continuing Emily Crews-Montès insight into Machiavelli, and Latin versus Northern European management styles. Emily worked in a number of blue-chip procurement functions (including at NatWest with me) and now lives and works in France, mainly helping UK firms in that market .

In part 1 we looked at how the northern European style is more collaborative and values obedience less than the ‘Latin’ (French) style of management, where more authority is gained by pure positional power.

Perhaps The Prince is most relevant in companies with a strong corporate culture, as the need to toe the company line has a lot in common with the conformist, “high power distance” (Hofstede 1983/1993) cultural context of this work. I have observed this in a global pharmaceutical company that I know well.

Though this company’s origins weren’t in a Latin country, this was the locus of some of its acquisitions and company bases. The key cultural factor at play, though, was the ease of fit between the proceduralised working required in a pharmaceutical company, and the company’s cultural context. The prevalence of people from more collectivist and conformist cultures eased acceptance of the need to forsake most of one’s own ideas in order to maximise team effectiveness.

In the cultural melting pot it’s often the dogmatic style, rather than the Northern European collaborative way, that prevails. The result is a strong company culture, and The Prince is an apt management model in a company such as this.

As for “the Truth” and the law, this is valued highly in the States, fairly highly in the UK, and progresses along a continuum that sees it subject to local and contextual variations in validity that become more extreme as one heads south, I would argue from my experience. Tradition takes precedence over scientific and legal “Truth”. I don’t like to imagine how far an ordinary person could have expected a leader of Renaissance Italy to keep his word! For anyone who thinks I’m being extreme, I urge you to pop over to France and try arguing a point with a “Fonctionnaire”.

And finally, for those who speak French, the radio programme below might be interesting:

L'Art de gouverner 3/4 : le Prince de Machiavel - Idées - France Culture

Jean-Louis Fournel, of Paris 8 University’s department of Languages and Foreign Cultures, discusses the context of “The Prince” and its continued relevance. Machiavelli, an experienced middle-class public sector official, set out to advise the Medici family on how to run Florence in turbulent political times.

The Prince was written at the dawn of an age of written work – and significantly in Italian, rather than in Latin. Fournel identifies two stages of Machiavellism. The first is indignation at its “less than moral” ideas, and the second identifies the protection of the people against tyranny. A point debated through history, is whether The Prince was written principally for leaders, or as a primer for the people – in some sense, to warn them how their rulers might be thinking. So perhaps Machiavelli and his work were even more subtle than they first appear.

First Voice

  1. Chabannes:

    Merci beaucoup pour ce lien. This is very interesting.
    I would raise a point. If in France, management seems to be centralized with pure position power, in fact this first look hide the reality. The reality is that central power is always discussed by the chain of command. May be the “collaborative way” of Nothern’s hides the pure power of the consensus where people do not say a word against the soft (and hard) consensus.

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