Suppose a leader were forced to choose between studying his or her Twitter feed on a particular day and reading Niccolò Machiavelli's masterwork, The Prince. Conventional wisdom would favor Twitter by a country mile. After all, Twitter's posts are fresh and global, but Machiavelli's little handbook is stale and old, seemingly written for a different place and time.
And besides, the leader in question may have already read The Prince 20 years ago while he or she was in college. A leader can miss a day, a week, or even several months of media and be none the worse for it and in some cases even be the better for it. But missing an opportunity to read or reread Machiavelli (or any of the other supertexts we'll take note of later) could be a major loss for both the leader and his or her followers.
When we taught our undergraduate seminar on leadership each spring, we often took a little flak from some of our students for having included The Prince as one of the five required texts for the course. Remember that the 40 or 45 students in this class were handpicked from among the University of Southern California's brightest and most ambitious upperclassmen, and most of them had already demonstrated considerable leadership skills during their first few years in college.
They frequently asked, “What in the world can an obscure Florentine bureaucrat who's been dead for nearly 500 years have to say that's relevant to leadership in the ...