My Transformation from being a Machiavellian Leader to an Antigone Leader

Learning, integrity, leadership, benefit, excellence, and value, these are the values of my Fraternity.  As a member of my Fraternity we are expected to live by these values every single day, but sometimes these values fall by the wayside when it comes to Fraternity politics and elections for new leaders.  When people think of politics, I am fairly sure that people will not think of Fraternities and the internal issues that prelude elections.  In order to fully understand Fraternities and how they work they should understand how Fraternities build leadership,  the article “4 Ways Fraternities Foster Leadership Skills For a Lifetime” helps describe this.

As I went on through my journey in the chapter, I did not know if I wanted to be President of my Chapter.  One day I realized that me being President was the difference between my chapter moving forward and succeeding or failing and getting kicked off campus.  In September of 2014, I made an agreement with my friend that I would run for Vice President and he would run for President, but I knew this was not the best decision.  In this time I realized that I was having a dilemma, and I decided to take on the role of the moral politician.  I was willing to do whatever it took to ensure that my chapter could thrive.  At this moment I started to devise a plan to win the Presidency and to ensure that my chapter would turn around.  I started to engage in what some would think of as dirty politics.  I convinced our closest friends to all support me for President, and convincing my friend to run for the Vice President spot.  In the end, my friend did not really have the choice, I would be able to win no matter what, but I wanted to avoid as much conflict as possible.  The whole time I had an internal dilemma about if i was being a bad person or if I was being a good person.  I was able to sleep at night because I told myself because I was doing what was best for my chapter, just like how Machiavelli thought that a Prince should do what is best for his people no matter how bad the actions to get there are.

I won the election and became President.  I did not feel bad at this point and I was willing to do whatever else it took to ensure my Chapter’s success.  We were on probation, so we had to turn ourselves around.  First, I made an example of certain members to prove that I was not going to be taking this year lightly.  Within the first two weeks I kicked two men out in order to show that certain actions would not be tolerated, and this started with people being mad at me, but then led to them respecting me and fearing me.  I took another Machiavellian principle and realized that being fear was far better than being loved.  My chapter shaped up, and some of my tactics for kicking the men out of my chapter were not necessarily the best ways, but they had to be done.  Finally,  I cared about my people.  I sought out the guys in my chapter that could be great leaders, and I empowered them.  This gave me the best support network to be able to have loyal followers.  I began to love my time as chapter President, and I felt that I was actually making a difference.

A few months into it, I began to feel empty as Chapter President.  I did not feel happy with my choices and I went to a National Leadership Conference for my Fraternity and realized that I was not living by my Chapter’s principles.  I was not valuing my brothers, I was not acting with integrity, and I am not completely sure I was acting with integrity.  I started to realize that I have to live by the ideals of my Fraternity in order to best serve my Chapter.  This led to me changing the ways in how I acted in my chapter, how I interacted with my fellow executive board, and how I made decisions.  I started to go against many of the people I worked with because I did not think what we were doing were within our values.  I started to have some people turn against me and I started to become more isolated.  In the end, I think I started to prove Machiavelli’s point.  I began to act like Antigone and followed our principles so closely that I started to become negatively affected.  I began to lose my power within the chapter, so me acting within our principles and following a morale code made me lose power.  In the end, I had to step down from the Presidency because i did not make grades.  There was not a rule at the time about a President and his grades, but I felt that I was doing my chapter a disservice.  I knew that I was not representing my Chapter’s principles in the best way and I knew that as President I had to exceed these principles.  In the end of the day, I chose to step down.  I lived so closely to principles and this caused me to lose my power.  I did not mind this though, just like how Antigone did not care that she would die in the end for following her principles, I did not mind stepping down.  I was proud of my actions and I knew that I was making the best choice.

So in the end, I am not sure what is better.  Being a Machiavellian leader ensured that I got a lot done, but being a leader like Antigone made me feel better at the end of the day.  I felt that I was a better person, and I still made a huge difference in my chapter.  Neither is wrong, but I think I prefer living by my values and leading by those also.

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6 Responses to My Transformation from being a Machiavellian Leader to an Antigone Leader

  1. Nick Karler says:

    This is an incredibly interesting post. In class we spend a great deal of time debating the coherence and value of various approaches to politics, but your post serves as an illuminating example of how these approaches actually take shape in practice during the course of one’s life. I would imagine that your experience struggling with fraternity politics is one that many politicians and people in power or in the pursuit of power often encounter. I hope that I do not sound like a pretentious spectator who makes a judgement with regards to a particular situation I know nothing about, but I have great respect for your decision to relieve yourself from the Chapter’s leadership. In the case of a fraternity or any other social organization which is founded on specific moral principles or values, I think that it is especially important for leaders to exemplify those principles/values as best they can. Even in cases like the one you experienced where you seized an opportunity to gain power within the fraternity, I think the moral values/principles of the fraternity run the risk of being compromised in the process.

  2. ijmiller23 says:

    Your journey as a chapter president appears to be a very formative one, which I must commend. Further, I must acknowledge the difficulty you must have gone through by coming into your position of authority and dealing with cases of discipline within the fraternity.

    That said, I find that there is always a way to prioritize moral principles over Machiavellian practicality. When you assume that there is always such a way, you will find it to be true. And when you fail to recognize such a truth, you will be held back from having more. What if you had acquired the Presidency without that tension you had with your friend? Then you would have a moral peace about your actions AND a position of authority. And to have the latter but lack the former compromises your ability to lead well–something that you identified at your national conference when you found that you fell short of the moral code implemented by your fraternity.

    Further, you don’t have to be an Antigone in order to be principled; you could be an Ismene, especially under Dr. Kirkpatrick’s theory if Ismene’s implicit actions that the text may imply. You could have strategically stuck to your principles in a way that would have precluded your fraternity brothers from disliking you and from losing power. So, you could have walked in greater virtue in a fruitful way, such that you would have been more constructive to your fraternity than both your unfruitful though seemingly well-intended “Antigone” approach and your former tactics of which the “Prince” would have approved.

  3. WJ says:

    I noticed that this sort of conversion occurred only once you were ensconced in the presidency of the fraternity chapter and consolidating authority and power. If I may so, perhaps the decline in support resulted in just that. You had already followed a classically familiar pattern of rising to the top of an organization including purges of individuals for unspecified violations and the construction of what appeared to resemble a patronage network of loyal supporters. Once a leader in an organization, small or large, consequential or trivial, has already steeped themselves in a certain pattern involving “dirty hands” like this, it becomes increasingly more improbable than one can suddenly backtrack and not see one’s plans or networks start to unravel. That’s the dangerous thing about politics – it is very hard to undo the momentum one’s sets by a sustained course of action without compromising oneself. That being said, resigning was probably the best decision to undertake in these circumstances before matters got out of hand.

    Still, I would take issue with the notion that Machiavellianism somehow represents an opposition to moral principles. Raymond Aron, who was influenced by Machiavelli and Clausewitz among others, made a clear distinction between what he called the “ethics of conviction” and the “ethics of responsibility,” loosely related to the professor’s mention of the “ethics of duty.” Apathy about personal consequences is one thing. Apathy about consequences for others is another. The former is noble and heroic. The latter seems selfish and irresponsible. It would be far too simplistic to dismiss political realists as simply amoral pragmatists. Political realism, rather, is often conceived by its advocates and adherents as simply a more sober morality than that proposed by idealists. Indeed, it may even be said that there is something immoral about striving after what “should” be done if that means eschewing what “could” be done. Perhaps a better way to framing the dialogue would be to acknowledge a diversity in the moralities among the realist-idealist spectrum rather than claim one side as a moral monopoly and the other is lacking.

  4. This story is certainly an interesting one, but I think you could have worked both under the paradigm of Machiavelli and Antigone. Contrary to most class discussion, and perhaps common sense, I do not believe these two theories to be mutually exclusive. Machiavelli states, when he is discussing the qualities of a prince, that a prince that is too generous or good, ought to attempt to hide that fact. While he does state one needs to be willing to do bad things to retain power, I would assert that few of these things need to be performed in a fraternity to retain power. What is more important, as your story seems to dictate, is appearances.

    If you truly wanted to live by the morality of Antigone, so be it, but perhaps attempt to smooth over that coarse and unsavory morality with some tempered fear, even if it is artificial. An excellent example of this would be Ismene, who we discussed in class as potentially having buried her brother in secret. If you must satisfy your moral principles in a leadership position, as many of us desire, do so in quiet.

    On another note, to bring Walzer, you seem to be symptomatic of Weber’s concept of dirty hands, in which your capacity to rule is limited by your capacity for suffering. As a leader myself within many organizations, I understand the deep pressures and fear of failure that comes with authority (particularly in the intimacy of a fraternity). However, one must find outlets by which you can maintain stability, whether this is justification (as Walzer did not like), atonement, or some other method. Festering in one’s own “emptiness” as you put it is a dangerous thing to do. Others will notice unless you take considerable care to conceal this fact, but when they do notice, well, weakness tends to encourage challenge. Being deposed myself during my sophomore year in a national organization, I sympathize with your plight and I would encourage you to heed this lesson of Machiavelli: FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT.

  5. jorronb says:

    I think this is a great example of the dilemma with “dirty hands.” If you had not acted in a Machiavellian fashion, your chapter (it seems) was on its way to getting kicked out. You acted in interest of the greater problem. You may not have felt great at the end of the day, but you kept your chapter intact. I think that’s one of the major problems with being in a position of power that most people don’t realize.

  6. grayleekin says:

    Alright, so, this is just something that I’ve noticed over the last few months. I work as a training manager at my job working with the university foundation to raise funds for ASU. While it was a relevantly recent promotion, I’m already feeling the burden of having to lecture, and reprimand others for not following procedures. As such, I’ve tried adopting both tactics, one in the more Machiavellian sense, and the other in the moral absolutist, or Antigone in this case. Firstly, I attempted to use the more Antigone approach, be nice, treat them as I would treat myself, and keep to my moral values, or at least what I believed to be the proper moral values of someone in a management position. But, overtime, I began to notice, there was no change. Nothing was changing in the behavior of the employees that I talked to, and so, I began a little… different approach. Threats of write-ups, notices that I’m basically always able to watch them whenever I wanted to, and overall, just not being a nice guy, and honestly, avoiding smiling when talking. Everything that I said I wouldn’t do, I’ve come to find has been the most effective in a leadership position. So yeah, while being loved by most is a nice thing that helps you sleep at night, it’s also good to note that more gets done, especially in terms of productivity, if fear is your solution.

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