Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Studies in Leadership: Napoleon Bonaparte

Posted by admin February - 3 - 2021 - Wednesday

Still considered one of the greatest tacticians in the history or warfare, Napoleon Bonaparte rose from a lowly Corporal in the French army to commanding an army that (almost) conquered the entire world. How did he accomplish this feat?

Napoleon, like all great leaders, studied the “art of war.” He understood the tactics and strategies of offensive warfare. One of his strongest characteristics was the ability to make quick (and good!) decisions in the midst of the battle. I have met a lot of coaches who do a great job in preparing all week; however, their ability to make game-time adjustments was lacking. The ability to “see” what’s going on during the battle separates the good leader from the great one!

I love this definition of a great leader. It says that “a great leader has the ability to get others to do what they don’t want to do… and like it!” I call that being an inspiring influence. Think about this: in the era of warfare (early 19th century) when Napoleon’s army was fighting, the men lined up in rows and began marching right into withering musket and cannon fire. How crazy is that? Yet these men went… because they believed in their leader. Napoleon was recognized as always making a “connection” with his men. How did he achieve this? He showed concern for them. They knew that he cared.

How did he motivate his troops? Napoleon was quoted as saying that “it is with baubles that men are led.” Napoleon handed out badges and ribbons to his men— perhaps the first commander to do such a thing for his army. He knew how to appeal to the sentiment of ambition and pride in his men. This is why I’ve always been a strong advocate of presenting helmet stickers to our players.

Another characteristic of Napoleon’s army was the high caliber of his cadre officers. Many armies in the past have been led by political appointees and/or a rich man who “bought” a commission as an officer. Not so with Napoleon. He selected officers who possessed strong leadership characteristics themselves. He knew he could count on them when the bullets started flying. How about you? Do you have confidence in your assistant coaches?

Finally, Napoleon Bonaparte had the “it” factor. Some have called it charisma. It all boils down to the leader’s personality being such that people are drawn to him. An effective leader has to “lead from the front.” People can’t follow you if you’re behind them! Effective leaders have the personality traits of confidence (not cockiness) and humility— all rolled into one. It is this combination that gets people/players to do things that they don’t want to do (run sprints; practice in August heat) and… like it!

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