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Leadership Resource Group

Napoleon Bonaparte and Servant Leadership

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Emotional Intelligence
Leadership Qualities
Managing Change
Situational Leadership Theory
Servant Leadership Theory


Napoleon ‘Unmasked’


Napoleon was arguably the greatest military leader in history. He rose from obscurity to conquer Europe, become the Emperor of France and a symbol of French glory (Dean, P., 2007). His clever handling of his armies, intellectual ability and work capacity was his driver for success.


Napoleon was born in Ajccio Consica, 1769 unaware that he was going to rise to become one the greatest military geniuses in history (World Book, 1974). He was only 26 when he showed up from France to command just outside of northern Italy. On his arrival he noticed that the troops where poorly feed and clothed. After noticing these poor conditions Napoleon vowed to make a difference (Childcraft, 1990). Napoleon used clever battle plans and strategies to push the Austrians out of the scenario and then move his victorious army into northern Italy. It was in this environment and during the revolutionary period that Napoleons leadership qualities were first noticed (Childcraft, 1990). His crafty plans, strategies and leadership made him famous with the French people.


In 1799 the French government became unpopular and was thrown out and Napoleon was declared consul of France (soon change his title to emperor). His success in government and battles continued for an extensive period of time (nearly 20 years) as he soon conquered an empire (Childcraft, 1990). Napoleons leadership characteristics were influentional to the people of France.


Napoleons reign of success soon came to an end when he tried to extend his empire too far. He failed to defeat Spain and England and suffered a terrible defeat in Russia (Childcraft, 1990). 


There are many theories and models that can be related to Napoleon to exploit his success as a leader. The focus for this paper is the servant leadership model and it's connection to Napoleon.


Leadership can be defined in many ways, depending upon the type of analyses that the viewpoint is taken from. For example; the different ways in which leadership can be analysed is by personality, physical traits, behavior and the relationship between the leader and followers. More generally leadership is said to mean “the process of influencing an organized group towards accomplishing its goals” (Huges, et. al., 2002 pg7).



Napoleon’s first battle against the Austrians provided a lot for what was to come. When he arrived he noticed the poor condition of his soldiers and told them that things were going to change. His relationship with the soldiers was described as open, close and honest (Chan Kim W, et. al., 2002). In Napoleon’s first campaign (against the Austrians) he led soldier’s that were not fully equipped, clothed or fed properly through blazes of battles to conquer a superior army (Chan Kim W, et. al., 2002). This showed that Napoleon was able to get the best out of his soldiers with limited resources at his disposal.


Napoleon had the up most respect for his soldiers. He let them know the importance of his them to him and France. Napoleon used all soldiers that he could get from the simplest to more advance and incorporated them into his plans by demanding what was expected from them. In one of Napoleon’s battles he rode up and down his ranks for miles, tiring out horses and staff to inform them of the next days battle plans (Chan Kim W, et. al., 2002). Taking his troops into his confidence and giving them the confidence in him and the battle plan raised their morale and provided them with a clear understanding (Chan Kim W, et. al., 2002).


Napoleon would explain to his troop’s things about himself such as his rank and file, the aim and purpose to each campaign, why tactics were and were not used and its importance to France (Chan Kim W, et. al., 2002). He often liked engaging with his senior ranks about strategic plans that he had thought of to gain reactions and responses to them (Chan Kim W, et. al., 2002).


There were times when on the eve of a battle Napoleon would spend the night on the battle ground amongst his soldiers (Chan Kim W, et. al., 2002). This shows that Napoleon was also a team player and empathised with his troops and understood the situations that they were in. Napoleon devised his plans with unique strategies that were unheard of that time. The cleverness of his plans and speed of attacks gave his troops the edge in battles. From 1796 onwards Napoleon had huge success in conquering opposing armies by the simple strategic and tactical handling of his armies.


A model that reflects napoleon in his time is the servant leadership model. A servant leader wishes to lead because they want to be a servant of the people. Followers will have considerable trust in servant leaders because they are doing what’s best for them (Durbin et. al., 2006). Below are the ten characteristics for a servant leader which have been associated to Napoleon:


Listening: servant leaders maintain communication by listening carefully to others (Durbin et. al., 2006). Napoleon listened comprehensively to his generals as well as his troops when creating battle plans to gain a sense of concurrence and to get the best effective results.


Empathy: servant leaders aim to understand others by putting themselves in their shoes (Durbin et. al., 2006). Previously discussed, Napoleon would sometimes spend the eve nights of battle sleeping along side his troops. This shows that Napoleon was not a man that just stood back and gave orders; he was a man that empathised with people.


Healing: a servant leader being able to heal oneself as well others is a unique characteristic (Durbin et. al., 2006). Napoleon made sure his soldiers were well feed and treated so he could get the best possible results out of them.


Awareness: recognising your own self is a great strength to possess (Durbin et. al., 2006). Napoleon had a high sense of self-awareness. His intellectual ability was exceptional, his concentration and memory for detail where immense (Chan Kim W, et. al., 2002). Napoleon was able to remember detailed information about his plans, positions of troops, location etc.


Persuasion: servant leaders have the ability to persuade (Durbin et. al., 2006). Napoleon had sense of morale towards his ideas. He was able to gain the respect and nobility from his army’s trough his all-embracing communication skills. Once the respect was granted to him there was no real need for persuasion, the French adored him and his ideas.


Conceptualisation: the ability to see beyond the day to day forecasts (Durbin et. al., 2006). Napoleon tended to look into the future and strategically plan for upcoming events or battles. He was always aware of his next steps and how to approach them best to give his army the fighting edge.


Foresight: the knowledge to learn from the past, understand the present and be aware of the likely outcomes for decision in the future (Durbin et. al., 2006). As in most operations you learn form your experiences in past events. Napoleon applied different battle plans to different situations. His knowledge came from his clever ideas and tactical handling of his armies. As he engaged in more battles he knew which plans where most effective for different situations and if needed alterations were done with intelligence. 


Stewardship: “holding something in trust for another” (Durbin et. al., 2006, pg129). Napoleon was at the throne of France. He was a leader of the country and a leader of the people which enabled him to be holding the lives and futures of the French people.


Commitment to growth of people: servant leaders believe that their workers have an intrinsic value that extent to their contributions. These outcome in servant leaders seek to apply growth to their workers being it personal or professional (Durbin et. al., 2006). It was generally noted that during Napoleons time in superiority he promoted members in his army that proved themselves in a number of areas. For example solders with experience, excellence and intelligence were promoted to higher ranks.


Building community: servant leaders seek for a means to build a community (Durbin et. al., 2006). At the beginning of Napoleons reign to fame in 1976 France was going through what’s known as the French revolution. Napoleon was a major success for the people through these tough times helped to rebuild France and establish a sense of decorum.


Napoleon’s leadership skills were second to none during his twenty years at the throne of France. The question that poses some is how did his empire fall apart? Napoleon soon began to emerge a weakness which can be put down his laziness to new forms of communication, deterioration of his personality and strategic planning.


During the decline of Napoleons reign there where several actions that Napoleon had changed in his position as the emperor of France. The daily chats with his generals started to become distant and then became almost non existence. Napoleon appointed a chief of staff and communicated indirectly through this individual to his generals about various situations and issues (Chan Kim W, et. al., 2002). Napoleon also gave no leeway to his generals implying that he had to have his stamp of approval on everything (Chan Kim W, et. al., 2002).

The ignoring of his generals and chief of staff when he went into battles from 1807 onwards caused great concern for the people. Trust, disputes and awareness are all issues that began to happen between Napoleon and his generals. Napoleon also started to criticise advice from the people that supplied him with it in the past (Chan Kim W, et. al., 2002). His formalities and strategies were not consistent, expressed thoroughly and had no real mean or definition to his generals. Whilst some generals followed one plan, others followed another (Chan Kim W, et. al., 2002). These concerns are what assisted Napoleon to his defeats and caused the fall in his empire.

Considering the information portrayed earlier in his paper it convincing to say that Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the greatest military leaders in the history of warfare. Through Napoleons prime time (1796 – 1815), it was through his actions and personal influence that he brought a revolution to warfare. Napoleons change, inspiration, motivation and influence to his armies and the people of France will not be forgotten as it has had a major impact not only in history but in the course of leadership.