Machiavellian leaders are leaders who scheme to hold and maintain power using what some consider amoral or unscrupulous methods. The adjective "Machiavellian" comes from the political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli, who advocated such actions in his seminal work, "The Prince."
According to Machiavelli, a truly great leader must develop his military, retain the respect of the masses and the elites and take a clear-eyed, rational approach to affairs of state. Though his work shocked the deeply Christian society of Europe when it debuted in 1513, many leaders have taken its lessons to heart. Historians sometimes refer to leaders such as Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini and Napoleon Bonaparte as Machiavellian leaders.