Few people in history have been as discussed and garnered as much interest as Napoleon Bonaparte. He’s most famous for being Emperor of France during the early 19th century and his leadership skills are often described as legendary. But what did Napoleon specifically do to earn his reputation and what can we learn from him today?
All great leaders need to start somewhere, so let’s first dive deeper into Napoleon’s childhood. During his early years, his mother was a strong influence. She disciplined and coached him into the man he later became. He didn’t have the easiest adolescence, though. Not only was he bullied for where he was born and how he spoke, but also for his short stature and mannerisms. This caused him to spend more time educating himself than other boys his age. In not too long, he was skilled in not just mathematics, but also history and geography.
The guidance from his mother in combination with his vast knowledge enabled him to later study a two-year military program in Paris. Then another hurdle was thrown his way. His father died and Napoleon’s income was therefore reduced. The new economic circumstances forced him to finish his education in half the time. After graduation, he earned the title second lieutenant. However, once his superiors saw the potential of his calculated mind it didn’t take long before he rose in rank.
There are many reasons why the French Revolution happened, but one of them is definitely the poor leadership capabilities of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Apart from the fact that they didn’t care much for the development of the country, their weak authority created instability and uncertainty. They had the titles of rulers, but without the leadership to back them up, they were unpopular among the people.
When Napoleon came to power through a military coup, he did all the things they should have done but hadn’t. He introduced many much-needed reforms such as improving the infrastructure, making sure that all citizens were equal in the eyes of the law as well as recognizing religious freedom. His vision: to create a better France. He’s probably most known for the many wars he started and took part in, though. Out of 60 battles, he lost only 8.
This made Napoleon popular among both the soldiers and the people. That’s also the reason why he later managed to escape from his exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba. He convinced the soldiers there to follow him and once he got to France again, the troops he was greeted by decided to join him as well. In their eyes, he was a hero. Thanks to his reforms their lives had become better.
Napoleon’s resumed reign didn’t last very long, but that’s not what’s important here. The lessons we can learn from him are to do the best of our circumstances and to never give up. Throughout his life, he encountered many challenges but Napoleon didn’t just overcome the obstacles he faced, he thrived. Instead of letting the bullies get to him when he was young, he proved them wrong. When he could only afford to study for one year instead of two, he worked even harder and finished the program quicker than anybody else. Not even the exile to Elba stopped him from continuing to try and make his vision come to life. As the author Amy Hempel says: “There’s no such thing as luck. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity”.
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