Napoleonic Leadership: A Study in Power


Stephanie Jones & Jonathan Gosling

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    About This Book

    Napoleon was a complex and contradictory character, a challenge for us to understand, despite hundreds of studies over the 200 years since his defeat at Waterloo. He had outstanding ability as a General; often his mere presence amongst the troops seemed to ensure victory. Yet his ultimate failure was on the battlefield, against an enemy provoked by his own belligerence. His charisma, energy and pragmatism won him many supporters in his military and political ambitions, but few stuck with him when things turned sour. His public appeal was gloriously affirmed in a series of plebiscites electing him to positions as Life Consul and then Emperor of the French; but the masses were to tire of his constant demands for sacrifice.

    Napoleon established his own systems of patronage and reward, supposedly on post-revolutionary meritocratic ideals, but in the process he encouraged an attitude of entitlement and greed, rather than of loyalty. His attempts to temper this with fear of reprisals did not always work. His ability to manipulate, bargain and be conniving was actually surpassed by some of his closest intimates. He could suddenly seize power, but he could just as rapidly lose it. He was not concerned so much with his own lineage, but above all he wanted to create a legitimate dynasty in which his son could inherit. Always the parvenu, the adventurer, the usurper, the respect of and acceptance by the crowned heads of Europe eluded him.

    Napoleon's approach to leadership provides colourful examples of how to gain and use power on the battlefield, in domestic politics, in the international scene – and in the workplace. He provides examples that are applicable to our own less turbulent times, because now the demands on leaders are just as complex and multifaceted. Strengths of Napoleonic leadership can include brilliance in a chosen field, charisma, fearlessness, adventurousness, confidence, energy, determination, passion, being visionary, and having excellent planning and organizing skills. But these can have a shadow side, such as his need for constant acclaim, demanding adulation, callously wasting resources, being too egotistical and narcissistic, being overly controlling and autocratic, manipulative, obsessive, naïve, demanding unconditional loyalty and support and focusing on self-preserving behaviours. But more important than these personal traits are the ideologies that he and others turned to in order to legitimize his power: patronage, meritocracy, charisma, force, manipulation, fear, populism and inheritance.

    This book illuminates these ideologies and shows how they remain influential today. We suggest that Napoleon's attitude to these modes of operating at different times in his life helps define his leadership style and helps explain aspects of his success and ultimate failure – so in these chapters we have illustrated the manifestations of these power modes with eight episodes from Napoleon's career. There are implications here for our practical understanding of leadership, power, politics and conflict in our daily lives in our modern organizations.

    How to Use This Book

    This book is written for people interested in power. Leadership is fundamentally about influence, which is an effect of power. It is fine to say this in theory – this book shows how it's done in practice, through the example of a maestro, Napoleon Bonaparte. We have first provided an overview of his life and career, and then more detailed case studies of eight episodes, each of which illustrates a specific way in which power is mobilised and directed. The case studies give enough detail to show what actually happened, and a sense of the human motives and responses involved. But our aim is to explain the modes of power, how they work, how they are derailed or diverted, and the inherent limits. The book is not just a collection of stories about Napoleon; it is a handbook for those concerned with leadership and power.

    Each chapter works in the following way:

    • A collection of quotations from Napoleon, his contemporaries and historians.
    • A very brief summary of the themes of the chapter.
    • An episode from the life and career of Napoleon.
    • Reflections on leadership and power arising from this episode. If studying this in class or in a training course, these could be a good starting point for group discussions.
    • An essay on the mode of power that is illustrated by this episode, pointing out implications for modern organisational and political life.
    • Questions on leadership and power, to clarify the implications for people seeking greater influence in today's world.

    At the end of the book, there is a short chapter called ‘Executive Reflections on Leadership and Power’, where experienced leaders from business and politics share their answers to some of the questions we pose.

    About the Authors

    Dr Stephanie Jones is Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Maastricht School of Management, having graduated with a PhD from University College London, and a Bachelor's degree (in History) from the London School of Economics. Dr Jones has authored over 25 full-length internationally published books on business and management – three of them with Professor Jonathan Gosling. She teaches MBA students across the world, especially courses on leadership, culture and change. Her teaching locations include Kuwait, Egypt, Yemen, China, Vietnam, Peru, Surinam, Kazakhstan and several African countries. With a background managing businesses in recruitment, consulting, and training operations in China, India, the Middle East and Australia, Dr Jones gained extensive experience in the corporate sector before returning to academe a decade ago. She is still active in consulting and training. Dr Jones also supervises student theses, at Doctoral, Masters and Diploma level, assessing and evaluating theses around the world. Napoleonic Leadership: a study in power is her third book with Professor Gosling, the others being Nelson's Way: leadership lessons from the great commander (2005, published by Nicholas Brealey) and Key Concepts in Leadership (2012, also published by SAGE). Both authors are keen cruising and sometimes racing sailors, both in UK and across the world.

    Professor Jonathan Gosling is Professor of Leadership at the Centre for Leadership Studies, University of Exeter, specializing in studying the leadership challenges of culturally diverse and boundary spanning organizations. His work is published in journals such as Leadership, Harvard Business Review, Organization, Studies in Higher Education and Social Epistemology. His most recent book is Fictional Leaders: heroes, villains and absent friends (2013, published by Palgrave Macmillan), which also includes a chapter by Dr Jones. Professor Gosling, a graduate of the Universities of East Anglia and the Cass Business School, plays a significant role in the ‘greening’ of management education worldwide and is co-founder of the ‘One Planet MBA’ at Exeter. He worked for many years as a community mediator and on other interventions inspired by psychodynamic perspectives on power and organizing. He is currently researching the leadership of malaria elimination programmes, of sustainable supply chains in China, and of professional organizations (universities, healthcare, accountancy and consultancy firms, etc.). He served as Distinguished Visiting Professor at INSEAD, France and similar roles in Canada, New Zealand and Sweden; is currently a Visiting Professor at Copenhagen Business School, a Fellow of the International Management Academy, the Windsor Leadership Trust and of the Singapore Civil Service College. He is co-founder of and is a sailor, spouse and parent.

    Visit the authors’ website at: for a Diagnostic Exercise, Power Questions and Chronology of Leadership.


    We would like to thank our long-suffering other-halves for their patience and support and we hope they are enjoying this current hiatus of us being between books. As with all authors, we thank our publishers – a group of enthusiastic and upbeat ladies who were thrilled that we finished on time. We would also like to thank our employers – the Maastricht School of Management and University of Exeter, and latterly the Copenhagen Business School, scene of our final authors’ collaborative meeting, supported by the Otto Mønsted Foundation. We are grateful to the Napoleon experts we consulted, both in print and face-to-face, especially Luca Lacitignola, an avid reader of sources in French as well as his native Italian. Getting to know Napoleon for two Brits has been a process of unlearning as well as learning, but we feel he has made a unique contribution to the study of leadership down the centuries, although that obviously was not his first intention …

    SJ, The Happy Return

    JG, Exeter, Devon

    July 2014

    Sources of Quotations from Napoleon and His Contemporaries

    Quotations from Napoleon and other commentators from his era appear in very many biographies and histories. We took our Napoleonic quotations (except for those cited as coming from another source) from:

    Cronin, 1971, pages 88, 92, 143, 144, 264, 300

    Gallo, 1997a, frontispiece and pages 1, 6, 45, 84, 85, 175, 219, 247, 279

    Geyl, 1949, page 339

    Markham, 1963, pages 26, 41, 42, 71, 75, 105, 111, 112, 113, 132, 133, 153, 154, 201, 202, 210 265

    Praise for Napoleonic Leadership

    ‘The authors have fully capitalised on their opportunity to study one of the world's most complex and enduring leadership subjects. They provide a clever and compelling integration of well-chosen thematic historical material with sharp contemporary leadership analysis that business executives, public sector leaders and academics alike can derive a great deal of intellectual stimulation and sound practical advice from. I strongly commend this novel and delightful book.’

    Brad Jackson, Head of School of Government at the Victoria University of Wellington

    ‘A great man once said that “class is ageless”. Thanks to Jones and Gosling, the leadership study that is Napoleon is ageless. Any student of leadership will come to understand the role of power, of politics, of personal charisma and of the needs of the people. Whether you are studying leadership, or doing leadership, this is a rollicking good read, and a fabulously rich text book.’

    Ken Parry, Professor of Leadership Studies and co-Director of the Deakin Leadership Centre, Australia

  • Executive Reflections on Leadership and Power

    Comments by readers asked about the eight manifestations of power and how they have used these or been affected by these in their careers

    1. Patronage

    As an expatriate running a factory in China I was the ‘patron’ for many of my local staff, and even when they wanted to leave the company I still helped them – especially because after they left us they soon realized that ‘the grass wasn't greener’ and came back to our company.

    Patronage is very big in China, everyone has their higher-level supporters who look after them, they always surround themselves with people they know and trust, and there's little criticism of those in power by their followers. As a result, in China when there is a change of leadership, everyone is worried and nothing happens until there is a reshuffling. By contrast, in the Netherlands, this practice is uncommon. Manager of manufacturing plant from the Netherlands

    I had a ‘patron’ to join the Royal Navy in so far that my father was a naval officer and encouraged me, and when I joined up, more senior officers took me under their wing. Now I'm captain of a large yacht I'm a sort of ‘patron’ of my younger crew members, supporting them to gain promotion. They know I'm trying to help them and are very willing and loyal as a result. Former Royal Navy officer

    I tried to be ‘patron’ for a young chap so that he could learn my business and then become my partner and help me out, as I was too busy to do it all by myself. But never again, as he stole my customers and set up in competition against me. Technical surveyor, Shipping Industry

    I worked for a well-known and very rich family in the USA. The second generation, although benefiting from the patronage of the first generation, were too much in their shadow, and lost touch with the realities of the business. Interior designer, New York

    I work for a family-owned business, founded by the father, and the son lives in his shadow – but he just doesn't have the personality for the opportunities his father wants to give him. Yet his father, acting as his ‘patron’ as it were, wants to keep giving him more and more chances in the company. Sometimes, the father will disrupt the work of ten people to give his son a task, and he's useless at it so it just wastes everyone's time. Administrator in defence industry, UK

    A student of mine was conducting research on the hiring practices of leading accounting firms and discovered that the majority went to the same few universities. This gave them an instant network and the older and more experienced ones could be patrons of the younger ones, a bit like the practice of mentoring that they already had at their university. To a certain extent it happens on a national scale, in politics, and has attracted criticism for being a ‘closed shop’ and evidence of cronyism.

    University professor

    Some professionals in niche professions deliberately try to reserve the top places for themselves and the younger people they like to whom they bestow ‘patronage’ and keep out anyone else from joining their ‘club’. They create ridiculous barriers to entry and find fault with anyone on ridiculous grounds who wants to join their ‘club’ but whom they don't like or don't think is good enough. They also want to keep out anyone who apparently threatens their position. Some of these professionals are lazy and don't move with the times, so their system of ‘patronage’ keeps out new ideas and new techniques which they haven't bothered to learn, and they try to discredit them to preserve their own dominance in their professions. So they become less and less competitive and more and more behind the times, and the young people they ‘patronize’ perpetuate the system and don't rock the boat, because they are in the ‘club’. Former young banker, now in consulting, from South America

    I live in a small country where politics are sharply divided between two political parties. Many people work as volunteers for one or the other parties. When one party is kicked out of power and another comes in, the successful party wants to reward its loyal followers. So they are given jobs in the public sector. Some of them are completely incompetent in these jobs, and they are replacing someone who was quite good and who had several years of experience (depending on how long the previous party was in power). But the people want these positions and the party wants to reward them. I guess this is a form of patronage. Retired expatriate

    2. Merit

    I always relied on my own skill-set, my ability and hard work and application to progress my career and develop my expertise as a manager and a consultant. But I came to realize that ability is not enough, and is less highly regarded depending on the type of organization where a person is employed. Intellectual and specialist ability is less rewarded in the government sector, for instance. Consultant, originally from the USA, working in the Middle East

    I have always tried to succeed on the basis of my individual knowledge and expertise because I don't do fear and manipulation as leadership techniques. I'm a straightforward technical guy who has been promoted for running projects and units and delivering results and saving money for my company by putting businesses back on their feet, just that. Manager of manufacturing plant from the Netherlands

    Merit has opened many doors in my career and company. The main advantage is that it works as an introduction card. But this kind of ‘publicity’ is very slow, and it is not good as a marketing strategy. So merit is good to start with. Team leader, private sector business, South America

    It seems to me that even if you are very good at your job, that won't help you if your bosses want to get rid of you for some reason. Having huge ability and being an over-achiever can be seen as threatening.

    Many people who are like this are also naïve and don't realize that they are on the list of people not having their contracts renewed. Maybe they are too busy doing their work! Management consultant and trainer

    I have always tried to do things for the long-term strategic good of the business, and not for personal gain, but have faced severe criticism by those who don't see it this way and are convinced I'm doing it for personal motives – but they can't work out what these motives are!

    Consultant, originally from the USA, working in the Middle East

    I think it's nice to be good at what you do and of course, if you are a perfectionist you want to be as good as you possibly can be, but I've come to realize that it's much more effective to be a sycophant and be liked by the most important people who will then help you. Former young banker, now in consulting, from South America

    3. Charisma

    I have met very few charismatic people in my life, but when I do meet one, there is a huge ‘wow’ factor. This person walks into the room and everyone notices and is somehow awed and stops talking and looks. It's indefinable but electric. University professor

    Charisma is a tool that works fine in our teams. It motivates everybody and ensures the communication of goals and strategies. But when the context in which we're operating becomes tough, it is not sufficient to maintain self-motivation in all the different kinds of team members. For some of those, another kind of motivation must be applied. Charisma is definitely a ‘better to have’ skill but is not enough for an all-round leader in all situations. Team leader, private sector business, South America

    I've had many bosses who were good at passing off as their own work the efforts of others, especially when they were charismatic and came over as convincing to others. Former Royal Navy officer

    I had a very charming and charismatic research assistant who was very pleasant to have around and everyone liked her, but she didn't really use her charisma for a higher purpose, just to get other people to do her work for her. She was always being offered high-powered and well-paid jobs but was not ambitious, so in a way she wasted this ‘gift’. Management consultant and trainer

    I wouldn't say I was charismatic but I do have referent power, at least people seem to like to work with me because I'm ‘nice’ or at best reasonable and fair, which I think goes a long way. Manager of manufacturing plant from the Netherlands

    I don't rate the importance of charisma on its own, unless it's backed by an ability to make sound, evidence-based logical arguments. I'm not drawn to charismatic leaders because they are likeable or inspirational – but this ability needs to be combined with tough decision making to be influential to me personally. Consultant, originally from the USA, working in the Middle East

    4. Coup D'etat

    I have always ‘seized power’ by taking opportunities whenever they came up, and put my hand up to manage the company's subsidiary in China, at a time when most other people in the company didn't want to go, and thought it was impossible to do much, as it was too difficult. But I never give up on difficult tasks, and did well volunteering for difficult assignments. Manager of manufacturing plant from the Netherlands

    I always seized opportunities when I could but I did them because I thought I could make a useful contribution to the business or organization, but others questioned my motives and wondered why I was doing it and were very suspicious. I can quite see why some people never volunteer for anything. Consultant, originally from the USA, working in the Middle East

    My background is as a project manager, so I must suddenly take responsibility when I get the chance. When ‘seizing’ an opportunity you need to respond to the needs of the stakeholders, and offer them a sense of security (or the idea that someone is taking care of reducing their risks), and the creation of a leader for all the team members. I think that the only disadvantage in taking opportunities when you can is the high levels of stress that the person assumes for him/herself. Team leader, private sector business, South America

    Seizing power the way that Napoleon did it is not just taking advantage of opportunities as they come up, it's more like staging a boardroom coup, or leading a takeover bid by one company of another. Many of the most famous corporate leaders have done it, or had it done to them. It also can happen to politicians, when the members of the inner sanctum gang-up and force someone out, then push their favoured candidate in. There is often a feeling of mutiny about it, and the person on the receiving end feels abandoned, cheated, let-down and booted-out. University professor

    5. Manipulation

    You can survive in a manipulative business culture if you don't leave yourself exposed to others’ influences and if you retain a superficially sound and amicable working relationship with others. But astute colleagues will notice the signs and withdraw their trust from you, and you may gain the reputation for not being a good team-player. Some colleagues may withhold information from you (especially for their benefit) which might make it difficult for you to do your job. Consultant, originally from the USA, working in the Middle East

    I have used ‘accomplishment bonuses’ in order to motivate good performance from our team members. It had good results, but I recognize that it implies some risks like promoting selfishness instead of team work or leadership. So it's manipulating behaviour, basically. Team Leader, private sector business, South America

    Others were promoted ahead of me as I didn't have the ability to play politics as much as they did. I was too busy doing my job, and other people's jobs. I didn't know how to play the game, and if I did know I didn't want to. I was always too much of a team-player, and too transparent, not willing to compromise – too honest, basically. Former Royal Navy officer

    There are organizational cultures where manipulation is not seen in a negative way – it is a way of avoiding confrontation with others, it can include withholding negative or difficult news, and it can mean pleasing others. But it's not healthy in a competitive business environment and can damage the business in the long term if there is no real substance. Consultant, originally from the USA, working in the Middle East

    I applied for an internal position in my company but one of the senior managers to whom I would have reported just didn't want me to get the job. So he said that if I applied for the job I would have to move to another country, which was much more expensive and meant paying a much higher rate of tax. But the pay was the same. So it was a no-brainer and I was forced to withdraw. Management consultant and trainer

    I was trying to get citizenship of a country where I had worked for many years and I scrupulously followed all the requirements, including attending courses and filling out every kind of form imaginable, and attending the office for applicants every week, sometimes twice a week. After nearly a year I was finally given the documents. My friends said I should have got to know the right people, paid bribes etc. etc. but I just couldn't do this. Orchestral musician

    Developing your power and influence through your reputation for intellectual application only works in less political environments. In some organizations other factors are equally important or more so. Political allegiances, manipulation, interpersonal relationships, the deliberate withholding of information and a focus on pleasing people – these activities can be much more important than the provision of evidence-based assessment of an issue. Consultant, originally from the USA, working in the Middle East

    Being more interested in manipulation and political intrigue means you lose the common touch. If you are not in contact with the fairly ordinary people at the sharp end of your business you run the risk of being out of touch with what really matters. Interior designer, New York

    There can be an increasing level of manipulation as a person rises in an organization and is forced to become part of the intrigue, and I for one become more uncertain and more uncomfortable when this happens. I don't have a secret agenda for myself but I find myself working hard behind the scenes to find out the secret agendas of others so I can find out what's going on and why. Consultant, originally from the USA, working in the Middle East

    As I travel around the world, I notice that politicking seems to be a feature of people from the ‘old world’ rather than the ‘new world’. For example, I went to work in a branch of a UK company in New Zealand. The culture of this branch was completely different from branches where I've worked in the UK. The teamwork was much stronger in New Zealand, perhaps due to people playing sports much more. Playing politics in the office was definitely not tolerated. Insurance company manager, New Zealand

    The leader of a group of enthusiast/hobbyists of which I'm a member is very competent and helpful, and is very generous with his time, and really manages much of the administration of the group. But he only likes and will help people who agree with him. I bought some supplies for the group, but he found an article that said these supplies were not useful, and then criticized me and anyone else who bought these supplies, enjoying crowing over people he regarded as wrong. To keep him happy most people are quite subservient to him as they don't want to do the work, but he is laughed at and not respected for his bossy manner. Member of hobby group

    I really dislike this kind of power and if I find any of my staff in China doing deals behind my back I would sack them on the spot. My sales guys were sometimes doing deals with purchasing managers of clients, and my purchasing manager was also making private arrangements with external sales people, and I just won't tolerate it. The Dutch way is to be very straight, and although I'm willing to make cultural adaptations, this is non-negotiable. Manager of manufacturing plant from the Netherlands

    Developing your emotional and cognitive intelligence is an important step in determining when and where to apply your ‘cleverness’ for its best impact. I have found that applying your diplomatic skills and trying to read the demeanour and motives of others can help with delivering a message to get results. It's all about surviving in a manipulative environment, even if you are trying not to be manipulative yourself – but you do end up being a bit like those around you. Consultant, originally from the USA, working in the Middle East

    When you are far away from HQ – as when I was in China – it's important to have someone back in HQ who can tell you what is really happening and can support your interests when you are not there. I had a problem with politicking behind my back at HQ and the only way I could deal with this was to go above the head of my immediate boss and try to find out the real story. Manager of manufacturing plant from Netherlands

    6. Fear

    I had a boss who was going through my performance appraisal with me and was picking on one tiny piece of negative feedback I'd got and ignoring all the efforts I had made beyond the call of duty. I tried to defend myself and he threatened me with a C grade when I'd had a B+ before. So I was forced to accept a B grade, when I was definitely not worse than I had been before. I later found out that he'd been told by the Chairman to not increase anyone's performance scores as the company had no money to give pay rises. I was intimidated to accept something I thought wasn't fair. Management consultant and trainer

    I worked in an office where the manager ruled through fear – the fear of losing your job, when you had a mortgage and children at expensive schools. As a result the people being terrorized didn't do their best work, they think negatively about the concept of loyalty and really want to leave, but dare not, until they can get another job. Personally, this pushed me into setting up my own business. Interior designer, New York

    The use of intimidation as a resource to achieve goals is just a type of management style that should be used only in special cases. Usually my team is composed of very proactive and dynamic people. This kind of team member needs a less coercive approach, and a more ‘coaching and promoting’ style of management from his or her leader. I think that the use of intimidation is not good, because it doesn't create a sense of belonging in the teams, and it erodes the relationships between team members, so it has to be used carefully. Team leader, private sector business, South America

    Intimidation is used extensively by leaders to push their agendas. This leadership style is rewarded where status and the ‘chain of command’ is the leadership style of choice. I have used it in the past when others have tried to use it on me. It's not effective unless you can back it up with substance and outcomes. Perhaps it's best used in moderation and combined with merit-based authority. The advantage for a leader is that it will make things happen quickly, and you can leave your personal mark. The disadvantages are that you can cause alienation; resentment in others leading to low morale; lack of initiative; and no feedback from others when things are going wrong. Consultant, originally from the USA, working in the Middle East

    7. Election

    We have a works council at our organization, and regularly people working there stand for election. If the employees like someone and respect them, they will vote for them. If they don't, they get almost no votes at all. It's very personal and subjective, and almost has nothing to do with the role or tasks expected of them as office-holders if they are elected. Management consultant and trainer

    The chairman of a network of volunteer groups who was elected by the members enjoys the position of power this gives him. An ex-banker, he likes wearing a suit, having his picture taken shaking hands with people who have won awards, writing the welcome section in the newsletter, and generally being a figurehead. He's fairly harmless as he lets the groups get on with whatever they like, but he is a bit of a ‘stuffed shirt’ and could do more to help, so he's a bit of a joke.

    Member of hobby group

    When I have been elected to positions of power in the past, it's a lottery as to what works and how you might get in. I've appealed to the common good showing how most people could benefit from my leadership. The use of strong rhetoric and some emotion and compelling arguments has worked. When you have the support of the majority, at least in the short term, you can achieve some quick wins, because you have the legitimacy of your position. But once a difficult decision is needed the collateral goodwill dissipates very soon, all the others think that decisions will be made by election, and you can alienate a power base quite quickly if you aren't willing to compromise. Consultant, originally from the USA, working in the Middle East

    I stood for election to a chamber of commerce position but I didn't get voted in. I think it was because I was the only one who was a consultant (and a woman) and the others were captains of industry. They were going to use the chamber as a chaps’ drinking club and could swap yarns about their problems and successes. They were afraid I would keep trying to sell them consulting services and probably that I would keep pushing the chamber to organize prestigious events (also to sell more consulting). I actually just wanted to be part of the community as we were all expatriates, but they were looking for other motives in me which weren't there, and they didn't trust me because I wasn't one of them. Management consultant

    As Napoleon said when seeking election as Emperor, ‘men need simple words, strong and clear ideas, and dazzling ceremonies’. As Lenin said, coming to power in war-torn Russia, ‘peace, bread, land’. Churchill is famous for his ‘blood, sweat and tears’ speech. Simplicity in an elector message to try to drum up popular support would seem to be a basic requirement. University lecturer

    8. Inheritance

    I had a client who was the descendant of a very wealthy family. You got the feeling that when you were with him, every minute of his time was worth about half a million bucks. But he was good at hiring people who were capable and letting them get on with it. The trouble was that he inherited a business on the downhill slide. His forebears had been feudal. He inherited huge union/labour relations problems which his ancestors had ignored. Interior designer, New York

    My boss, the founder of a family-owned business, keeps wanting his son to take over from him, or at least play a key role in the company, but the younger man lacks the confidence, is full of doubt of his abilities, and every project he tackles just fizzles out. The hierarchy is very flat, the leadership is laissez-faire style, and everyone is very polite and indirect. So, as the son doesn't get much feedback, he doesn't get much better at his job, so this ‘dynasty’ is unlikely to carry on for the long term. Administrator in defence industry, UK

    I worked for a company chairman who was the grandson of the founder. It was no fun for him trying to keep up with the image of the founder. My boss had many of his grandfather's weaknesses – being mean, dour, negative and insular – without many of his positives of being entrepreneurial, risk-taking and go-getting. It wasn't really his fault – the world economy and foreign exchange rates were against him. But it made it worse that he presided over the demise of his inheritance. Management consultant and trainer

    The very rich family in the USA whom I worked for tried to create a dynasty, but the second generation was not really up for it, although they tried. Life was too easy as they didn't have to work hard to make the money as the first generation had done. Interior designer, New York

    I worked for a wealthy entrepreneur who owned an expensive super yacht and who was a real gentleman. He didn't trust me at first but I gained his trust over time, and even though we came from totally different backgrounds we enjoyed each other's company and had mutual respect. When, sadly, he passed away and his son took over, I had to start from scratch building trust. And I realized his son was starting from scratch too, as his father had not really shared the real insights into the business with him. The son insisted on learning everything the hard way, by making mistakes, and he was the same with the yacht as with the business. So being unprepared and inheriting an empire can be quite challenging, and is not the free gift that some people see it as being. Former Royal Navy officer


    I am a soldier who has come from the people and risen by my own efforts.

    Napoleon, 1 February 1801

    It was only on the evening after Lodi that I realized I was a superior being and conceived the ambition of performing great things, which hitherto had filled my thoughts only as a fantastic dream.

    Napoleon, in his memoirs

    In war as in politics, wasted opportunities never present themselves a second time.

    Napoleon, 1803

    My sword is at my side, and with it I shall go far.

    Napoleon, 1794

    Follow me, I am the god of the hour.

    Napoleon, just before Brumaire, 1799

    Soldiers, consider that from the summit of these pyramids, forty centuries look down upon you.

    Napoleon's speech before Battle of Pyramids, 1798

    Every French soldier carries in his cartridge-pouch the baton of a marshal of France.

    Napoleon, 1802

    Soldiers, I am satisfied with you.

    Napoleon, 1805

    Probably he was beginning to realize the hold which unbroken victory was giving him over his troops, and the demands he could make on them when he had their confidence … with the Italian campaigns Napoleon steps on to the stage as a figure of European importance… as public opinion assumed and was encouraged to think [his victories were], simply due to the personality of the commander and to the elan of the Republican soldiers.

    Markham, 1963, p34
    Analysing Napoleonic Leadership

    We see Napoleon, like all leaders, as pulled in many directions, but emerging as authoritarian (even tyrannical), reluctant to accommodate differing views, and many would fear to challenge him. He would not tolerate people who resisted his grasp on power, but he envied the legitimacy enjoyed by the traditional, established crowned heads of Europe and wished he could achieve it. This was to lead to an egotistical obsession with autocracy. He was highly competitive, sought centralized leadership and dominated strategic decision making, and he made decisions quickly and determinedly.

    Although taking a broad strategic view, attacking feudalism and pursuing the possibility of a united Europe, Napoleon was good at detail. Enormously energetic, he was involved in most details of his military and governmental activities. He usually took the credit for everything, although respecting the contribution of an increasingly small inner-circle of advisers and comrades-at-arms. He rewarded his supporters generously, though often they simply wanted more rewards and focused on protecting their wealth, refusing to put it at risk by following him to war again. They were to drop him like a stone when the going got tough.

    Napoleon was highly visible and proactive as the leader – no quiet or behind-the-scenes leadership here. Addicted to power, he was directive, autocratic and hard-driving. He assumed that his top-down approach was the only way, expecting others to go along with his domineering leadership style and buy in to his values and vision for post-revolutionary France. His inspirational, even charismatic approach enabled him to attract a huge loyal following, even though, spendthrift with human lives, he abandoned two enormous armies at massive cost in life and materiel. Even soldiers who had been unpaid for months and lacked uniforms and equipment – practically volunteers – would follow him.

    As a migrant himself, and coming from a poor family, Napoleon had no problem with managing a diverse group with huge variations in social class and nationality. He came to love France but he could operate anywhere, exploring new territories with a keen eye for terrain and different national characteristics; but like others, he famously underestimated the challenges of invading Russia, and ruthlessly abandoned half a million men there. He sought co-operation from other rulers, and was intensely annoyed and angry by rejection from the crowned heads of Europe and their ministers. He wanted to build relationships, and was upset when his friendly overtures were turned down, although sometimes he seems not to have noticed the face-saving opportunities they offered him.

    In his early military career Napoleon liked those around him to show initiative and to be themselves, and although many of his fellow-generals would probably have liked more autonomy and freedom of action, the exciting speed of his campaigns provided opportunity for the most flamboyant of warriors. But Napoleon respected the values of his more straightforward military men and, by contrast, despised most politicians. Keen on analysis and planning, he would make extensive preparations before a battle. Sometimes he could be impulsive, and he was certainly very impatient. When the government coffers were empty and raising armies and rewarding supporters had consumed all available funds, he would still want to go on fighting; practical, financial considerations rarely stopped him. Often he spent his own money. He always thought, in a traditional way, that land and territories were most important, whilst his arch-enemy, England, focused on extending their colonial markets, promoting an industrial revolution and controlling global trade.

    When, as Emperor, Napoleon became increasingly controlling, nervous about opposition and insecure in his ability to hang on to power, those around him – even the generals who had worked with him for years – also became nervous about doing something of which he might not approve. Aspirations for the greater good become confused with whatever would please the Emperor. He ran two sets of secret police to check on each other, and challenges to his authority were met with brutal reprisals. But there were always some of the mature diplomats and politicians around, who were alert to the fragility of his reign and working on their options as they emerged in the volatile geo-politics of Europe. Amongst them was double-agent Talleyrand, who might be described as a behind-the-scenes leader with a long-lasting influence on the Napoleonic legacy.

    For over a decade and a half Napoleon dominated all aspects of the French Republic, personifying the nation, overshadowing his ministers and all around him; only Talleyrand thrived in the vacuum of power left after his first and second abdications. Napoleon leveraged his military career to gain political power at an early age. Transparent and naïve, he never sought to hide his ambition, and even his most loyal followers began to doubt his commitment to France rather than his pursuit of personal glory.

    As Napoleon consolidated his power, he became unapproachable and self-absorbed. His relentlessly ambitious military strategy, at one time so inspiring, came to obscure any concern for the people who fought and suffered. Nearly half a million men perished in the snows of Russia, and as many as four million died in battle and the side-effects of war across Europe. But it was none of these factors that brought about his eventual downfall: because he had no idea how to negotiate on any basis other than military victory, the European powers had no choice but to defeat him in battle.

    Insights from the Career of Napoleon

    The career of Napoleon, with its ups and downs, gives us unique practical insights into the advantages and disadvantages of his approach to leadership and the background and context in which different modes of power were employed. What did he show us?

    • How to get to the top – fast.
    • How to build a network of supporters and choose acolytes – the dos and don'ts.
    • Leaders being brilliant in their chosen area is a plus – but it may not be enough, it may only take them so far.
    • Charisma, personality and constant visibility can help to secure a power base.
    • Being prepared to risk everything in a sudden takeover has to be a priority.
    • Seizing every opportunity offered to gain advancement in leadership and power is recommended to get on the ladder of progress, but there may come a time when consolidation is needed.
    • Maintaining a power base needs control of the agenda, setting the rules, influencing all the decisions – or someone else will.
    • Being intimidating and threatening – and callous of human interests – may work to a degree but can be a disaster in trying to sustain leadership and power.
    • Depending on popular support and being elected to power is dangerous, as crowds are fickle.
    • Trying to create a dynasty to leave a legacy depends on an appropriate successor and a stronger power base than most leaders might have.
    Epilogue: 20 Ways in Which Napoleon Lost Power and How His Way of Using Power Turned Sour and Could Not Be Sustained
    • Napoleon as First Consul, with the launch of the Code Napoleon, the Concordat and hundreds of economic, social and legal reforms, held out a promise of sustainable development for France – but it needed peace, and Napoleon was a soldier, and he would inevitably keep clashing with the ‘triumvirate’ of Austria, Russia and Prussia. His positives reforms frightened his reactionary neighbours, and he responded with war instead of negotiation, thus justifying his obsessive grip on power.
    • Napoleon came to confuse and inter-relate the future of France with his own longevity in power – especially after a series of assassination attempts in 1800, whilst he was First Consul. He ordered a crack-down on any suspected political opponents, ordered the assassination of a suspected rebel and clamped down on the press. His instincts for self-preservation, egotism and narcissism that had so effectively motivated his radical activism showed a darker side: an autocratic aversion to debate and disagreement.
    • Napoleon's desire to be adored by the masses drove him to an extraordinary act: to demand they declare their confidence in him by voting in a public plebiscite. Although he fiddled the results for the army (who hadn't voted as overwhelmingly as he thought they should), he basked in the fantasy that he represented the highest ideals of the French – over-arching the quibbles of the political class. He was thus elected First Consul for Life in 1802, a step towards proclaiming himself Emperor in 1804, aping the dynastic monarchies of his enemies.
    • According to Machiavelli, necessary wars need to be fought; but there was a growing feeling that not all of Napoleon's wars were necessary. His compulsion to fight England – the only country he had not beaten conclusively – was highly personalized. The English press lampooned him, and he took it as a personal vendetta. It fed his paranoia, and he became convinced that Paris was full of spies in the pay of the English, all out to kill him.
    • Napoleon's ongoing conviction that he must carry on fighting battles to stay in power undermined the ability of his regime to continue for the long-term. Although the continued expansion of the Empire was welcomed by many in France (la Gloire, l'honneur) the economic dislocation of constant war could not be sustained, especially at a time when other countries, Britain in particular, were building capital and investing in the industrial revolution. Success in war created a temporary sense of triumph, a heady enjoyment of victory which could carry people along on a tide of patriotic fervour, but this distracted them from the lack of attention to necessary social and economic development, and starved the country of the necessary funds.
    • The other crowned heads of Europe could not tolerate Napoleon indefinitely; he could never be a member of their club, and the wars he perpetrated drained their economies. More dangerously, in the early years he actively promoted bourgeois revolutions in the countries he ‘liberated’. He personified the threat of French-style revolutions in all their countries, part of the tide of rebellion that had already swept across the American colonies. Napoleon's France was not just an opponent like any other, it was toxic to the established social order across Europe.
    • Napoleon did try to make peace and said that he longed for a period of stability which could have extended his period of office, but he thought that peace for France could only be achieved if he was acknowledged as its legitimate ruler by Europe's kings and emperors. He spent huge energy and resources to make a fragile peace with Tsar Alexander I at Tilsit, and to become the son-in-law of the Austrian emperor. He expected them both to admit him as their peer, and was surprised when they did not. While all this was going on, and without Napoleon's appreciation, some of the greatest diplomatic manipulators (like Metternich) were piecing together a new Europe, made up of new states that used but transcended the old empires and princedoms.
    • Napoleon's loyalty to his family members amounted to squandering his powers of patronage. Appointing them to rule kingdoms across Europe, they often showed themselves to be incompetent or self-seeking, or both. Mostly they were no better than the often-corrupt monarchs they replaced. This was surely an occasion for meritocracy, to create a cadre of new talent inspired by revolutionary ideals and dependent on him. But he used his powers of patronage simply to reward his family, because personal loyalty had become the primary virtue.
    • When he rewarded his favourite generals with appointments to leadership roles in his over-extended Empire, they too often took this as a kind of pension rather than an appointment to the front-line of the Revolution. It seemed to be the case that the ruling elite became absorbed in preserving their own privileges.
    • Napoleon always struggled to delegate, and seemed to be a poor judge of talent and potential loyalty. His system of patronage often backfired on him and further undermined his efforts to rule a very large operation, forcing him to rely on his own prodigious personal efforts, leading to complete exhaustion. Trusting no one leads to isolation, an obsession with control, the perceived need to spy on others and being on guard 24/7.
    • The creation of new countries and borders, such as the Grand Duchy of Warsaw to replace the truncated Poland, the Confederation of the Rhine, the Cisalpine Republic, anticipated the new order of Europe half a century later, but were ahead of their time and on a collision course with the ‘triumvirate’ of Russia, Austria and Prussia. Directly confronting the most powerful usually ends with being knocked back.
    • The birth of Napoleon's son and heir, the King of Rome, in March 1811 after his marriage to Marie-Louise, Archduchess of Austria, was met with great rejoicing. Had the young man been older when Napoleon finally abdicated, had he not been an Austrian Prince, had Napoleon died in battle, then he might have had a chance to become Napoleon II. But this possibility was hardly even considered – his father's legitimacy rested too much on force. When he lost at Waterloo, it all tumbled down.
    • The invasion of Russia must be seen as one of the main turning points in Napoleon's attempts at creating a long-term tenure of leadership. How often can a leader lose nearly half a million soldiers and survive? Even though he blamed the calamity on unseasonably bad weather and appeared to survive this reversal politically, he lost a generation of loyal, able and experienced soldiers. When he fought again it was with raw young conscripts, and he struggled to replace the horses and artillery he had lost. It is remarkable that he survived the campaign himself, and that he clung onto political power for another two years is a real testament to his tenacity and grip on French politics.
    • The enormity of the disaster of the retreat from Moscow gave encouragement and inspiration to Napoleon's enemies – he was no longer unbeatable. This episode was followed by a string of military defeats that were eventually to lead to his downfall. Once the momentum of success is broken, winning becomes more of a struggle. The effect of a defeat after an almost unbroken string of victories is to admit doubt and insecurity, both of which are hard to overcome in war.
    • In January 1814, anti-French coalition armies entered France, and Paris was captured without a fight by combined enemy forces two months later. This would appear to have been the result of three factors: Napoleon's declining military prowess with the loss of his army in Russia; the growing confidence and co-ordination amongst the ‘triumvirate’ of Russia, Austria and Prussia; and the reluctance of Parisians to risk their city and their lives in a violent defence. Napoleon was removed from power and exiled to Elba. But he continued to rule there, and plotted a comeback. Maybe he was in denial of his loss: the balance of power had shifted, and France faced a new alignment of forces. Already others in Paris were looking to post-Napoleonic settlements. Only Napoleon and a few loyal friends persisted in the fantasy that the future of France was inseparable from that of ‘General Bonaparte’.
    • The political machinery supporting Napoleon's power proved inadequate at the crucial moment when occupying forces removed Napoleon's wife and son from Paris. Had his brother Joseph taken the reigns as intended, there may not have been a vacuum so readily filled by Louis XVIII, a Bourbon family member hastily restored to the French throne. The failure of Napoleon's network of patronage at the crucial moment suggests the weakness of this network all along – it could not survive adversity.
    • Some say it was pusillanimity on the part of Napoleon's ministers that enabled the Bourbon restoration. But key ministers like Talleyrand had long been playing both sides, foreseeing the growing power of the allies and their desire for stability in France. The rapid replacement of Napoleon with Louis XVII suited many interests now that Napoleon was marginalized and everyone wanted peace.
    • Exiled on the island of Elba, Napoleon hoped for a come-back, planned for it and, amazingly, pulled it off. But France was reeling under the dislocation of decades of war and desperate for peace. If the populace had wanted Napoleon to stay, they might have fought harder to keep out the Allies when they invaded. But the continuous effort of following a charismatic leader to victory in the field was suddenly too dissonant with the reality. When the charismatic leader was no longer there in person, the drive for victory evaporated with the belief in its possibility.
    • Napoleon could still make a great show of personal charisma and opportunism, and indeed was able to raise an army and force Louis XVIII to flee from Paris, but the strength of the Allies and the loss of the French army in Russia undermined Napoleon's ability to keep fighting, and fighting was the only way he knew to get his Empire back.
    • Napoleon really only got the message that he had lost everything when he was forced to abdicate for the second time to the much more distant and inhospitable island of St Helena; but there he focused on rewriting history, convincing himself that he could have carried on, if only – the loss of power can be an almost impossible burden to bear for one who lived so devotedly by it.
    Epilogue, Continued: What Napoleon Can Tell Us About How Power Works in Organizations and Society

    Organizations and societies need continuity and periods of time without constant upheaval, in order to consolidate change and achieve sustainable development. Change- and action-obsessed leaders, especially those operating opportunistically through a seizure of power, maintaining their power through fear and manipulation, cannot last indefinitely. But they can hurt a lot of people on the way.

    Heavy-handed control by a self-obsessed leader, accompanied by a crack-down on suspected rivals and any forms of dissent or disagreement, can push opposition underground; but it may then increase, and it will certainly lead to widespread discontent and explode at some point. Leaders interested only in their own personal status and obsessed with developing dynastic power tend to neglect the development of their organizations and countries in preference to actions which secure their power base.

    The tolerance of personal vendettas and acts of revenge in organizations and societies (especially perpetuated by paranoid leaders) is ultimately destructive, and people live in fear and isolation. Constant expansion by takeovers – of other companies by another, and of invasions of countries by another – can create a temporary sense of triumph, a heady enjoyment of victory which can carry the victors along on a tide of loyalty and patriotic fervour, but this distracts them from normal development processes and is often used to divert attention from deep-seated problems.

    When organizations and societies undergo revolutionary change and experience major shifts in power sources, this creates fear and discomfort in those that are more stable, whose leaders are more conservative and who are not ready for change. It can be difficult for organizations and societies that have undergone revolutionary change and shifts in power to settle down and enjoy a period of stability; they will not be trusted by their competitors and neighbours, who will always be on the look-out for new revolutions and power-grabs.

    Organizations and societies tend to develop power elites which do them no favours: they can be self-seeking, corrupt and disloyal to all but their immediate associates and do little for the organization or society itself. When the power elite idealizes itself as a meritocracy, it can lead to competition and in-fighting over who should be the next leader, over and above everyone else. Merit can be a good route to promotion, but it is seldom enough to keep hold of power.

    Leaders of organizations and societies who try to run everything by themselves, trusting no one, can become isolated, develop an obsession with control, feel the need to spy on others – and cannot last forever. Some organizations and societies are so progressive that they are ahead of their time, and therefore on a collision course with the old order who will close ranks against them. This is especially so when they throw out old ways of legitimizing power, because they implicitly question the vested interests of those who benefit from inequality. Many leaders of organizations and societies who come from unconventional origins, very different from those in the past, find that the foundations of their legitimacy can be too fragile and are forced out. How often can leaders of organizations and societies face a self-created major reversal, a huge disaster, and survive? Can they carry on if they try to blame it on outside factors? This failure eats away at the foundation of their power and they lose credibility. Leaders need to protect resources to maintain power, or can quickly lose influence along with the resources they have lost.

    A reversal suffered at the hands of a competitor or an enemy obviously not only reduces the power of the loser but increases the empowerment of the winner and gives the competitor or enemy much more confidence as a result.

    Some leaders can be removed from power as the result of a reversal, but remain in denial of this loss. They want to make a come-back, and some manage it; often they thereby become more conservative forces, preventing further change and development.

    A network of patronage needs careful maintenance, and frequent renewal. An elite group of cronies, well-entrenched, will prevent further change, unless constantly reminded of the need for loyalty and action. A complacent network, however close to power, will be loyal only when the going is good. Intransigence on the part of the leadership group as a whole can lead to chaos and collapse. One of the problems when a leader plays one side against another is that everyone has to join in the game, destroying collaboration, learning and innovation. Everything is reduced to a fight for survival.

    When enthusiasm for a charismatic leader evaporates, there can be a huge sense of relief at an opportunity to relax and realize what's going on. When the charismatic leader is no longer there in person, the drive for whatever it is he or she wants suddenly disappears.

    Some leaders have only one way of operating and one vision, and when circumstances change they are swept away; often control then reverts to canny negotiators doing one deal at a time, rather than those with the single powerful vision.

    Leaders try to rewrite history, convincing themselves that they could have carried on being leaders, if only; the loss of power can be an almost impossible burden to bear for one who lived or died by it, and they struggle to understand their own part in its loss.

    Summarising Napoleonic Leadership
    • As a supporter of the Revolution, Napoleon was seen as modern, new worldly, anti-feudal, anti-aristocratic – but ahead of his time, and he over-estimated the popularity of new ideas.
    • He was ambitious, even to the extent of going to the very top.
    • He had an underprivileged start in life and then obsessively tried to compensate for it.
    • His action was speedy, rapid, flexible, urgent, to the extent of pushing hard to overcome any resistance, and not always listening to warnings.
    • Napoleon was hands-on, even controlling.
    • Hard-working, energetic, ever present, involved in all aspects of leadership and management.
    • Well-prepared, precise and exact, to the extent of managing everything in front of as well as behind the scenes.
    • Egotistical, even narcissistic.
    • Practical, straightforward, calm and unsentimental, even to the point of being callous about human and personal issues.
    • Surprisingly naïve, to the extent of over-simplicity and overconfidence that everything is possible.
    • Eager to be liked, even to the extent of rewarding flattery and loyalty more than competence.
    • Critical of others and with an attitude of superiority, demanding respect but not willing to give it to others.
    • Wanting praise to the extent of being intolerant of criticism and not realizing the damage caused by an absence of feedback.
    • Obsessed with the need for the constant demonstration of ability, even to the detriment of the organization.

    Napoleon's approach to leadership provides colourful examples of how to gain and use power on the battlefield, in domestic politics and in the international scene – and in the workplace. He provides examples that are applicable to our own less turbulent times, because the demands on leaders are just as complex and multifaceted. Strengths of Napoleonic leadership can include brilliance in a chosen field, charisma, fearlessness, adventurousness, confidence, energy, determination, passion, being visionary, and having excellent planning and organizing skills. But these can have a shadow side, such as his need for constant acclaim, demanding adulation, callously wasting resources, being too egotistical and narcissistic, being overly-controlling and autocratic, manipulative, obsessive, naïve, assuming constant success and support and focusing on self-preserving behaviours. But more important than these personal traits are the ideologies that he and others turned to in order to legitimize his power: patronage, meritocracy, charisma, opportunism, manipulation, coercion, popularity and succession – and this has been our focus here.


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