leadership for womenI’ve read many books on leadership for women. However, none have stuck in my mind as strongly as Harriet Rubin’s The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women.

I found this book when looking for a book on leadership. I wanted something that I could use to boost my skills and recommend to my clients.

Having studied Philosophy at University, I was intrigued by the fact that Machiavelli’s strategies could be made feminine, as the book suggests.

In the opening paragraph, Rubin starts by declaring that:

“This book is about war…it’s about the wars of intimacy, where the enemy is close enough to hurt you, betray you, oppose you, whether it be a spouse, boss, client, parent, child. It’s about war as a route to power…”

Who is a Princessa?

Rubin defines a Princessa as a “…woman among women, a canny fighter, a steely sovereign.”

Unfortunately, Princessas find themselves struggling to succeed in a male-controlled world. It’s a situation a lot of women in leadership and management encounter as they move up the corporate ladder.

Instead of fighting for control as a man would, the Princessa is urged to act like a woman and fight like a woman. She embraces her unique feminine power and uses it to win.

Rubin gives examples of real-life Princessas throughout the book and explores their unique characteristics, strategies and tactics.

3 key lessons I got from The Princessa

1. Women thrive in times of chaos 

Rubin explores the fact that women rise above societal rules when they’re “…freed from the burden of playing by the rules.”

This is best seen in times of war when women take up roles that put them in direct danger. They act as spies, feed the opposition, and spread information right under the noses of the oppressors.

2. Knowing yourself is the first step to winning

To win as a Princessa, you must know your strengths and weaknesses. It’s not enough to learn how to fight and win. What’s more important is to know how the enemy can use both your weaknesses and your strengths to defeat you.

One of the examples given in the book illustrates how easy it is for a woman to lose when she uses emotion instead of strategy. Rubin outlines what she calls the Five Why’s which help the Princessa to “…pry open the lock on who the enemy is and what his secret strategy is…”

I’ve used the Five Why’s strategy effectively since I first read the book…with amazing results!

3. A Princessa who gets drunk on her own power eventually loses

Taking on the Princessa mantle is not an easy job. It means actively taking charge of your life and refusing to settle for less than you’re worth.

However, when you allow your success to go to your head, then it’s easy to fall into Machiavellian tactics when you use force to eliminate your competition and enemies.

That is the beginning of the end as has happened to many leaders in the past.

“A princessa cannot afford to think of herself only as her ideas or her talent or her CV or a wallet for that one great suit. A princessa is a story. She is a story whether she wants to be or not.” – Harriet Rubin

Examples of Kenyan Princessas

Here are some Kenyan women who have shown unique leadership characteristics by embracing their femininity.

  • Margaret Kenyatta (our First Lady).
  • The late Prof. Wangari Maathai (Environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner).
  • Njoki Ndung’u (Lawyer and Supreme Court judge).
  • Amina Mohammed (Foreign Affairs CS).
  • Gina Din Kariuki (Entrepreneur and philanthropist).
  • Tabitha Karanja (CEO, Keroche Industries).
  • Carole Mandi (True Love magazine).
  • Sue Muraya (Real estate developer)
  • Julie Gichuru (Media personality).
  • Martha Karua (Lawyer and politician).
  • Caroline Mutoko (Media personality).

These women stand out in different ways. Some are bold and brash. Others are subtle. And others simply live their lives in a way that makes them powerful. They’ve all been through fire and have fought back and risen.

Is The Princessa a good read for everyone?

I’ve recommended this book to women in management and business. However, I do acknowledge that it’s not an easy read and it does get fuzzy in some areas.

Rubin starts on a high note, but something changes her tone as you get deeper into the book. Also, some of the tactics she recommends are outrageous. For example, her advice to use tears and breasts as weapons when dealing with men is manipulative and demeaning to modern women.

Some reviewers of the book have pointed out contradictions, historical inaccuracies and distortions. It’s also worth noting that while the title talks of Machiavelli, the content focuses more on Sun Tzu.

It’s not surprising then that 33% of the people who reviewed this book on Amazon.com gave it one star – the worst score a reviewer can give.

Would I still recommend The Princessa?

I do recommend this book as part of your collection of books on leadership for women. It has useful information, especially in the first half of the book. The last part of the book also has great advice on how to be at peace despite your circumstances.

This is a book you’ll keep coming back to from time to time. It has powerful tactics and strategies to help you improve your leadership and negotiation skills. Also, it’s a great ‘pick-me-up’ when you’ve failed or need something to boost your confidence.

(Image credit: Amazon.com)


Disclosure: This review is based on my personal experience of The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women. Your experience could be different. Please note that some of the links on this page are affiliate links. As such, I will receive a commission from the vendors when you buy the book using these links. However, I only recommend books and programs that I believe in and that have had a positive effect on my life or business.

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