In March, 1796, a relatively unknown and inexperienced young French General became commander-in-chief of the Army of Italy, aged 27. No one could have foreseen what was to come. Napoleon Bonaparte had not even commanded a division in battle before, let alone an army.
On the day he formally took command of the army he summoned his commanders, all of whom were older, more experienced and battle-hardened veterans. They all agreed, many years later, that Bonaparte immediately imposed himself through his presence and his knowledge.
Even though Bonaparte was awkward in his posture, they found in him “an authority which he imposed on everybody”. He apparently spoke to them with such dignity, precision and knowledge that they left convinced that at last they had a “real captain”.
By October 1797, he had won a string of amazing victories against superior forces and had driven the Austrians from Italy.
What was the secret of Napoleon Bonaparte’s success?
What can we learn from him?
- Bonaparte had a very clear outcome and was focused on achieving it – firstly to break out into Lombardy and feed the army, afterwards to drive the Austrians out of Italy and occupy the great fortress of Mantua.
- He was able to build rapport with both his commanders and the common soldier very quickly, and hold people under his ‘spell’ so they wanted to serve him.
- He demonstrated amazing flexibility in both his approach to strategic problems and battlefield tactics.
- He took massive action – he was full of energy, zeal and had a passion to succeed – he enforced his will.
- He demonstrated an inner confidence and belief in his own ability – he had the mindset for success!
A Mindset for Success
By the mindset for success, we mean that there are assumptions and beliefs which, if we hold to be true, will help us behave differently and to be more successful, such as:
- There is no failure, only feedback; when you try something and it doesn’t work, change what you do and find a different way to achieve your outcome.
- The person with the most flexibility of behaviour will have the most influence; the more choices you have, the more you can change what you do to achieve your goals.
- There are no resistant clients, only inflexible communicators; changing how we communicate will minimise resistance.
- We are in charge of our mind and therefore our results; we are responsible for the outcomes we get and need to change to achieve different outcomes.
Build a plan based on political reality and take into account personal motivation:
We must also remember that the First Italian campaign of 1796-7 was a propaganda triumph as much as a military one, designed to make it appear as though everything that happened did so according to a plan laid out by Bonaparte, the dynamic young general who triumphed against the odds.
We would do well to learn this and apply it in our own career and business, because we can be sure our competitors will. What image are we cultivating in our careers, both inside our company and with our customers?
There is another aspect to Bonaparte’s motivation at this time. A few days before he left for Italy he married the love of his life, Josephine. There is evidence to support the theory that Bonaparte was motivated to succeed in order to impress his new wife and in some way ‘earn’ her love.
As we know, we all have personal drivers and motivations, which if we can align with our career goals will help us to be even more successful. At Performing People, we help people to understand what they want to achieve, how to install the mindset for success and to understand their motivation and their beliefs.
Note: The historical details of this story are lifted from Philip Dwyer’s book “Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769-1799”.