“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”

– Niccolò Machiavelli

Meaning of the quote

The above quotation is a variant translation of its original Italian. The full quotation is as follows (bold emphasis added):

The first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of his understanding, is by observing the men he has around him; and when they are capable and faithful he may always be considered wise, because he has known how to recognize the capable and to keep them faithful. But when they are otherwise one cannot form a good opinion of him, for the prime error which he made was in choosing them.”

– Niccolò Machiavelli

Some leaders surround themselves with advisors who are loyal, but not necessarily competent. Sometimes leaders, and returning a favor, surround themselves with those who helped them get elected or rise to power. But again these men may not be competent, and some may even be corrupt.

In addition, there is another variation of this that has been observed in all countries around the world. Some rulers will surround themselves with so-called “yes-men,” those who placate their leaders, being ever agreeable.

Men who truly serve their leaders best with wise advice will challenge their leader’s decisions when necessary.

A leader or ruler leader or ruler might start with some of the best men and wisest counsel available, but when one sees a revolving door of advisors, a constantly changing group of men surrounding that leader, it is a sign of a leader who prefers yes-men.

The origin of the quote

This quote comes from Machiavelli’s best-known work, The Prince (1513), chapter 22.

Modern words/terms derived from Machiavelli

It is also from Machiavelli’s works that two language terms or words have been derived, based upon his last name.

The first is Machiavellianism which is popularly used as a negative term to characterize unscrupulous politicians of the type Machiavelli most famously described in The Prince.

The second is Machiavellian, which is used to describe political deceit, deviousness, and realpolitik (politics or diplomacy based primarily on considerations of given circumstances and factors, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral and ethical premises).

About Niccolò Machiavelli

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469-1527) was an Italian diplomat, politician, political philosopher, historian, humanist, writer, playwright and poet of the Renaissance. He is often referred to as the father of modern political science.