Machiavellian Leader Effectiveness: the Moderating Role of Political Skill

Hanna A. Genau, Universität Bonn
Gerhard Blickle, Universität Bonn
Nora Schütte, Universität Bonn
James A. Meurs, Kennesaw State University


Research on the effectiveness of Machiavellian leaders has found contradictory results. By linking socioanalytic and trait activation theory to the Machiavellianism and leadership literature, we argue that political skill may explain these findings by moderating the relation between Machiavellianism and leadership effectiveness. Using a multisource design and moderated mediation analyses with 153 leaders, 287 subordinates, and 153 superiors, we show that leaders who are both strongly politically skilled and high on Machiavellianism successfully enact transformational leadership, mediating improved leader effectiveness. However, when leader political skill is low, high Machiavellianism is negatively associated with (subordinate-rated) transformational leadership, resulting in lower leader effectiveness ratings by superiors. We discuss these results in light of current research on Machiavellianism in leadership and work contexts.