Napoleon Bonaparte also known as Napoleon I, was a French military leader and emperor who conquered much of Europe in the early 19th century. Napoleon rapidly rose through the ranks of the military during the French Revolution. After seizing political power in France in a 1799 coup d’état, he crowned himself emperor in 1804. Shrewd, ambitious and a skilled military strategist, Napoleon successfully waged war against various coalitions of European nations. Napoleon is regarded as one of the greatest military commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. His political and cultural legacy has made him one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history. Napoleon revolutionized military organization and training and is arguably the architect of modern warfare strategy. His Napoleonic Code remains a model for governments worldwide. So, what can we learn from his leadership?
Breaking convention and defying expectations was something that Napoleon did again and again. That’s what made him such a brilliant strategist. He was never afraid to try something new and actively looked for ways to disrupt the way things have always been done. Napoleon refused to stick to what was the norm, even in the way he and his men fought. Napoleon turned traditional warfare on its head repeatedly breaking his forces up in to smaller, more agile groups who could engage at multiple locations unexpectedly. The norm was for two armies to gather and fight in the way we envisage war in the old days, cavalry charges, lines of formation etc.
As long as he saw an advantageous position for his troops, he seized it regardless of what convention said he should do. He came up with tricks on battle formations that even bewildered his generals, but they turned out to be excellent moves, as evidenced by his victory during the Battle of the Pyramids in Egypt, when his 20,000-strong French army systematically defeated the Mamluk warriors, who had 60,000 men.
As a leader, you have to always be on the lookout for other, newer, ways to perform a task. It’s not a good idea to stick to only one method of dealing with one situation, especially in a competitive environment such as business, where there are competitors at every turn. By doing things in the same way over and over again, you are in danger of being predictable, so they will be able to anticipate your moves better, and you lose any advantage you may have over them. This is why so many businesses today are struggling to adapt to digital disruption.
Respect your people
Respect is earned even by leaders. It is not something that just automatically happens because someone is given a leadership role. More importantly, respect is earned, by giving respect to others. Napoleon was able to command the respect of his soldiers by showing that he, too, had respect for them and their abilities and contributions. It did not matter if it was the lowest-ranked foot soldier, Napoleon respected them as human beings not solely for their position in the hierarchy. Napoleon was able to build an unstoppable army, mainly because of the devotion and loyalty that he was able to instil in his soldiers as a result of this.
He also went to great lengths to get to know his people and understand how they felt. Planning and strategizing became easier because Napoleon knew his people, so he knew where to put resources in the field. Leaders should not silence their people or surround themselves with people who just agree with them. They should let their people speak their minds. By getting their thoughts, ideas, and opinions; you will be surprised at how much you can learn just by letting your people talk openly and hearing what they have to say. You should also pay attention to what your people think about you as a leader. After all, they are in the best position to say whether you are doing a good job or not.
Say what you mean and mean what you say
There is a reason honest and integrity are consistently ranked among the best traits of a leader. Empty promises and false hope are not tools in a good leader’s arsenal. Napoleon strongly supported delivering on what had been promised. He never promised what he could not deliver and was very candid in managing his people’s expectations. This inspired confidence and trust in his people, and they were willing to follow him wherever he went. Because if he said he was going to do something, or that they would get some sort of reward, they knew it was true.
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