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To Napoleon, power was everything, and he defined it by the number of citizens and soldiers obeying him, the number of guns and the military hardware at his disposal, the extent of his conquered territories, the battles he won, and the changes he made in society, education, the church, the law. He took France from post-revolutionary chaos to law, order and greatness – “la Gloire”. He raised armies of hundreds of thousands. He alternately filled and emptied the national treasury of one of the largest countries in the Western world. His career trajectory was dramatic, from trainee gunner to emperor in two decades. He was loved or hated by millions – and even now his iconic bicorn hat is immediately recognized, two hundred years later.   

To achieve these levels of power, we have considered eight power modes which Napoleon typically employed. Napoleon’s career has a lot to teach us about 
·        the importance of patronage to create a network of dependency and how it should be dispensed; 
·        the strengths and weaknesses of creating a meritocracy, and the challenge of sustaining this; 
·        the appeal and dangers of using charismatic leadership; 
·        the precariousness of the act of seizing power in a coup d’etat;
·        the manipulative playing off of enemies and allies in a form of divide and rule; 
·        the use and abuse of fear as a default way of dominating decision-making; 
·        the mechanism of popular election to confirm a power-base;
·        and the obsessive concern with the creation of a dynasty of inherited power to keep the power chain going for descendants.  

Napoleon Bonaparte – a young artillery officer from Corsica, of Italian descent – rose rapidly through the ranks to become a General at 26. His story is that of a continuous pact with power – and different forms of power, which changed with his own changing needs to gain and maintain power. With his family working its way up the small aristocratic community of Corsica, and their ability to win patronage, he was able as a young man to gain a head start in winning a place at a prestigious military academy, using the highest levels of contacts at their disposal. This form of power – patronage and reward – was to characterize Napoleon’s future leadership style and became one of his methods for attracting and retaining support and building his power-base – including through his family members.

Opportunistically throwing-in his lot with France and the Revolution, the lack of competition from exiled and guillotined aristocratic officers enabled him to quickly shine in a series of stunning victories. But this was not just the absence of competition – his promotion from captain to brigadier general in just four months after the Battle of Toulon in 1793 was obviously gained through his own merit. His brilliance in battle was to increase his credibility in his subsequent bid for political power in France. But although an outstanding general, he was never seen as a military dictator. Military ability and excellence in the field was a tool, rather than an end in itself.

Napoleon continued to lead from the front, his undoubted charisma giving him the edge over other up-and-coming military leaders in the Italian Wars – especially shown by acts of inspirational bravado at the battles for bridges at Arcola and Lodi. His legend was beginning to spread, encouraged by his own efforts at self-aggrandizement and publicity through constant memoranda, essay-writing and lobbying the press. 

The Italian wars were followed by adventures further afield – in Egypt, following a dream to march onto India and attack England in her colonies. But Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign began to run out of steam when his army was trapped by Nelson’s fleet, sinking his ships at the mouth of the Nile. He abandoned his army, returned to France, overthrew the government and rapidly became First Consul – by a seizure of power. The coup known as Brumaire, bringing to an end the much-criticized Directory, followed the traditions already set in the Revolution with the seizing of power with the fall of the Bastille, bread riots, the Girondins and the Jacobins, the execution of the king and queen, and the rise and fall of Robespierre. 

This period in Napoleon’s life was characterized by disillusionment with the lack of competence and commitment of some of his family members, and especially with early disappointments with his marriage to Josephine, which resulted in an obsession with political ambition and what might now be recognized as workaholism. 

The rapidly-growing legend of Napoleon as statesman as well as general soon outshone his apparent opportunism, although Napoleon’s power-base increasingly depended on manipulation.  Napoleon needed to negotiate with internal and external parties to get his way, especially as he lacked the legitimacy of the monarchy overthrown by the Revolution, and faced continual opposition from the crowned heads of Europe. At best they became hesitant and temporary allies, at worst outright enemies. He found it very difficult to work in partnership with anyone, becoming increasingly individualistic and less and less of a team-player. An example of his manipulative approach to power at this time may be seen in his relationship with the Papacy. The Concordat with Pius VII was negotiated by Napoleon against internal advice – but he wanted to separate Catholicism from Royalism given that the majority of Frenchmen were Catholics, and he wanted to reassure the purchasers of former church lands that these would not be repossessed. He was later to imprison the Pope in Savoy, even though he had needed him at his Coronation as Emperor. 

As First Consul, Napoleon was supreme leader in France – but he was concerned with the vulnerability of his hold on power, and needed to manage his power base and increase his level of control of any opposition – within his group of advisers, among his generals and especially coming from the disenfranchised former aristocracy of France. He managed the media and sources of information, and kept those around him in check by an elaborate system of patronage and reward – and the use of spies. When this was not enough, he began to exercise power through fear, especially after a series of assassination attempts. To show who was in charge, potential opponents were dealt with harshly – especially in the case of the Duc d’Enghien, a would-be pretender to the throne whom Napoleon executed pour encourager les autres.  

Napoleon always believed that his leadership needed to become strengthened and institutionalized to build his legitimacy amongst his peers in Europe. He always felt vulnerable as a parvenu. The act of crowning himself Emperor was the result, he maintained, of popular election, by more than three million Frenchmen. Ironically, he wanted to become the monarch which his espoused Revolution had aimed to destroy.

 The Napoleonic legend ultimately lost its shine with his military defeats – including the spectacular retreat from Moscow – and frustrating exile. But he never lost his appeal for the French, who still admire  - and the cult of Napoleon as his legacy continues… although his hope to create a dynasty based on inheritance was short-lived. On his defeat and exile in 1814, his greatest disappointment was not the loss of his throne, but the failure of his advisers and family to support his queen Marie Louise as Regent and the King of Rome as his Heir, and the rapid re-installation of the Bourbons – as if the Napoleonic era had counted for nothing. 

Cartoon image of Napoleon and Neslon at the dinner table

Power Questions

How can these power modes be applied to contemporary leaders?

Now, how could these power modes be applied to you?

1.    The power of patronage – how have you used patronage/rewards from others to succeed in your career? Do you use this to retain/motivate and have power over your followers to gain their loyalty? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this form of 

2.    Merit power – how far have you got in your career by being good at your work and how much have you used the power of your expertise – or were other factors more important in building your power-base? Advantages and disadvantages?

3.    Charismatic power –do you (or a leader you know) use charisma to influence others and gain power over them? Are you influenced by charismatic leaders yourself, and would you follow them by preference? Advantages and disadvantages?

Seizing power – can you quickly take responsibility and make decisions in a situation needing leadership? Can you grasp opportunities to increase your personal power and quickly improve your career? Advantages and disadvantages?

5.    The power of manipulation – do you (or other leaders you know) play people off against each other to get what you/they want? Make sure you are pulling the strings of power? 
Do you have a secret agenda? Or are you open and transparent, and want to be a team-player? Advantages and disadvantages?

6.    The power of fear -do you (or a leader you know) use intimidation/threats/coercive power to achieve what you want from followers, make them afraid of you and assert your power over them? Advantages and disadvantages?

7.    Power by election –can you (or a leader you know) inspire a mass following and win popular votes and thereby a position of power? Or appeal to specific segments of followers only and use power given by them? Why might people be attracted to follow you? Advantages and disadvantages?

8.    Inherited power - did you (or a leader you know) inherit your/their power base? And have any power and control over the legacy you might leave behind – will others inherit power from you? Advantages and disadvantages of this approach to power?

How can these power modes be applied to contemporary leaders?

Napoleon – relating his power modes to contemporary leaders

President Nelson Mandela was able to rule through meritocracy, populism and charisma. Since other rulers have taken over, they have gone back to the more traditional dependence of African leaders on tribal patronage. Forming a dynasty was of little interest to Mandela, but things might change now…

Past Prime Minister Tony Blair – when he announced his departure/retirement, his ability to dispense patronage and gain active support dried up – but he managed inheritance (succession) very closely, handing over to Past Prime Minister Gordon Brown, honouring an agreement they had made much earlier. 

The same would seem to be happening with US President Barak Obama, as he can’t win another term so his supporters are diminishing; he came in on a meritocracy ticket, but this was not enough; the American system would seem to support the use of manipulation, with the checks and balances of the governmental system, lobby groups and fund-raising activities.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to be admired internationally but it’s hard to say where her power resides – her administration does not necessarily favour meritocracy, few around her are charismatic, she is acceptable but not madly popular, perhaps she enjoys the patronage of bankers and financiers, whom she manipulates?

The former French leader Monsieur Nicolas Sarkozy is planning a comeback – his charisma, especially compared with the rather grey current leader – might be his strongest card.

The brand of manipulation wielded by Monsieur Dominc Strauss-Kahn when at the IMF – especially used with female colleagues – was seen as unacceptable and inappropriate when it was widely exposed.       

It was said of former Prime Minister the late Mrs Margaret Thatcher that when she had been in power for several years, the people who had not received any patronage from her realized they probably wouldn’t and were waiting for the next political era 

The Russian leader Vladimir Putin would seem to use the power of patronage to a considerable degree. Those refusing to accept his patronage and the obligations that go with it may find themselves imprisoned. He certainly uses fear, manipulation and election as techniques to retain his power base. He juggles position power between being president and prime minister.

We can also look at how these different power modes go in and out of favour and in different contexts. For example, meritocracies seem ‘normal’ in some cultures, but of very limited use in cultures that are strongly rooted in family and clan loyalties. Patronage works in various ways in different cultures (sometimes formalized through mentoring a protégé or apprentice, more usually linked to family and friends) but is probably all-pervasive. A charismatic leader can be a double-edged sword – compelling but just as likely to be wrong-headed. Seizures of power happen in many organizations by different means and sometimes in a way almost unnoticed by others: the boardroom coup is usually hushed up and made to look amicable. Manipulation is a way of life in most workplaces, especially at more senior levels, where ‘office politics’ are inescapable. Populism can take a leader so far, but the public can be fickle, and every leader needs a cadre of close supporters. Creating a dynasty is surprisingly pertinent in even the most established democracies (we have had Kennedys, Bushes, Gandhis) while totalitarian autocrats often fail to hand on power to their families – like Egyptian President Mubarak, Colonel Gaddafi, etc.). Inheritance is a powerful principle in family businesses, and many of the world’s most successful companies have been owned and controlled by a single family for many generations (such as Mars, Fidelity, etc). Most are passed on from father to son, but daughters now more frequently get a look-in. 

Power as an aphrodisiac certainly worked in Napoleon’s case… and as a Vice-Chancellor of a Top-10 university in the UK said: “It can go to your head, this job, and there is an aphrodisiac quality – I don’t mean literally – about being close to power, to politics…”

          (Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor of University of Exeter quoted in Gill, J. 2014 Times Higher Education, 6th November,). 

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