Napoleon rose from obscurity to conquer Europe and become the symbol of French glory. But it is his downfall that is more telling when it comes to lessons for modern managers.
Historians would agree on two things about Napoleon. First, he was an extraordinary man, a self-made man. His drive, will, military genius and charisma made him a great man, a world historical figure, a man who made history. Second, by spreading revolutionary ideals and institutions, Napoleon made it impossible for the restoration of the ancient regime (Thompson, 2001). After Napoleon there was no turning back: feudalism was dead, society was secularized, the modern nation state replaced the dynastic state, and the bourgeoisie became the new class of privilege and status.
Napoleon was a real man as well as a legend. It was Napoleon himself who helped to create this legend. He wrote his memoirs while exiled on St. Helena between 1815 and 1821.
He tells us his aim was to defend the Revolution and consolidate its gains (Bonaparte, 1992). He emerges as a champion of equality, a supporter of popular sovereignty, a destroyer of privilege and a lover of peace. According to Napoleon, his vision was to create a United States of Europe. He wanted to free Europe from tyranny, oppression and despotism. As we know full well, this never happened. However, he did help to consolidate many gains of the Revolution. But, such a view ignores the downside of Napoleon -- his repression of liberty, the general subversion of republicanism, and the oppression of conquered peoples.
Unlike most rulers of the times, Napoleon had no birthright to help him - no resources or wealth to propel him forward. He rose from the small annexed island of Corsica to become the symbol of French strength and glory. What he...