3 Lessons from the Emperor

Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the most dichotomous leaders in world history. Rising from extremely humble roots in Corsica, he was ridiculed for his inability to speak proper French. His rise in the military was marked not only by skill but also by ties to the Revolution.  The French people’s adoration eventually turned upon his coronation as Emperor of France and his conquest of Europe revealed his true ambition to be the supreme leader.  For example,  Beethoven dedicated his Third Symphony ( Eroica) to Napoleon only to rescind it in light of later acts of ruthless despotism.

Despite all of the criticism, Napoleon was, obviously, one of the greatest military geniuses and leaders  in history.  While his great victories ( e.g. Spain and Austerlitz) were ultimately overshadowed by his great defeats in Russia and ultimately at Waterloo, Napoleon had a record of conquest rivaled only by Alexander. Like Alexander, he maintained the loyalty of his troops until the end.   There are many quotations attributed to Napoleon, but I’d like to point out 3 here for their insight regarding the nature of leadership and their continued relevance over 200 years later.

1. “Take time to deliberate but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.”

Obvious, yes- but so very true nonetheless. Leaders need to evaluate all of their options, get input from trusted advisors and calculate the most cost-effective means of obtaining their goals. But once the decision is made, it is critical not to second-guess.  Shift focus to the excellent execution of the decided plan and spend no time on reservations or a less than forthright approach to getting the job done.

2. “Soldiers generally win battles; generals get credit for them.”

Learn to be comfortable in the knowledge that while the leader gets the credit for team success, it is the team, not the leader, who do the necessary blocking and tackling that achieves victory. One must put aside one’s ego and recognize those who get the work done for what they are— dedicated team members who have put their own egos for the greater good.  Recognition is the best incentive for loyalty.

3. “Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.”

Encourage your team; don’t let them be dissuaded by the obstacles that fall in front of all of us.  Incent them to search for new and untried solutions.  Unleash their ingenuity and let them make a mistake now and then as they pursue a new stream of logic on the way to a victorious result.

While they may seem obvious, take a moment to think about these reflections from the Emperor.  Do you act accordingly when dealing with your own teams?  Are you decisive? Do you recognize others and give them freedom to find new paths and solutions?

I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!  What traits do you see common with great leaders?  What attributes from those in history are still relevant for us today?  And what do you really think of Napoleon Bonaparte?  Seriously.  We’d love to hear from you.  Please leave your comments below.
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