Learning Strategic Leadership Skills From Napoleon

Strategic Leadership

by Rod Dunne on February 22, 2011

in Creative, Entrepreneurial

Strategic leadership skills have derived from how wars have been waged in previous centuries. The commanders of these battles have used different strategies in order to defeat their enemy. For this reason, it is worth looking at some of the great leaders to see what key elements they used and how they can apply to modern business.

In this article I’ll show you some of the key strategic concepts that Napoleon Bonaparte used to defeat most of Europe.

Understanding your enemy

One of the key elements of Napoleon’s success was his ability to plan out months in advance. One of his strategic leadership skills was to understand how his opposition were going to react to the way he waged war.

In some instances he had spies and soldiers feeding back vast amounts of information relating to his enemy. He wanted to know what exactly were their weaknesses and strengths (in a way, this was his own business intelligence strategy). He used this information to predict how they would react.

In business: SWOT analysis is a key part of any company plans. However, strategic leadership skills need to take this a step further and understand that the attitude and direction of the competition often feeds directly from the attitude and personality of its leaders.

Understanding how they have acted in the past will help you predict how they will react in the future to your product lines or strategic decisions. My post detailing Colin Powells list of leadership skills for effective managers goes into more details about how information is key to commanding and leading.


A key method that Napoleon used to beat opposing armies was to encircle them completely from all directions. This provided them with no option but to surrender. This allowed Napoleons soldiers to fight fewer battles and so were better able to perform in the long-term in other wars.

In business: Don’t leave any gaps in your strategic plans which the opposition could take advantage of. Make sure that every eventuality has been considered and that you have mitigated for all eventualities. This will encircle your opposition with absolutely no competitive options except surrendering the competitive market.

Presenting a false front

Napoleon realized that many battles are fought reactively. One battalion makes one strategic decision and the opposition will react appropriately (or inappropriately depending on the personality of their leader – as mentioned above). In knowing this, Napoleon was able to dupe his opposition into dead ends using false fronts and encirclement strategies.

In business: Strategic leadership skills are principally about defining what objectives you have in mind for the company. However, your goals will not be achieved in isolation and external factors need to be considered. You need to protect your company from the threat that opposition and competition will pose.

If a false front will lead them down a false path then this type of ruse can help disguise your real strategies. Even something as simple as a leaked false press release can give your opposition the impression of a strategic long-term goal, distracting them from your real objectives.

Author Rod Dunne...

Blog owner and sole writer Rod DunneI am the owner and sole writer on Product-ivity.com. This is my personal blog detailing troubleshooting tips for small businesses. Posts are based upon 2 decades in consultancy & innovation management within startups/maturing companies.

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