Lessons On Leadership – What Napoleon Can Teach Modern Day Managers About Engaging Their Workforces

Lessons On Leadership – What Napoleon Can Teach Modern Day Managers About Engaging Their Workforces

- Leigh Farnell

As an observer of human behaviour and coach of thousands of Australians in business over the past 20 years or so, I have observed many successful and not so successful leaders in action.

Just recently I was reading both the results of the 2002 Gallup Organisations Employee Engagement Survey and quotes from Napoleon Bonaparte.

It was juxtaposition across time and space that has compelled me to put these words down on paper.

• Principle One: To attach no importance to public opinion, is a proof that you do not merit its suffrage. - Napoleon Bonaparte

We have worked with leaders of organisations who somehow think that what their employees think of them has nothing to do with the results of the organisation.

They think that their relationship with their colleagues at senior management or Head Office is more important.

They fall for the trap of only spending time in Board meetings or cocktail functions with others at their level of management.

The smart manager is out with the ‘troops’. Shane Garland, ex General Manager of Sydney Airport, often used to spend a week at a time, throwing bags with his baggage handlers, loading planes.

The loyalty he built and the ideas and suggestions he garnered while with his front line teams meant that Sydney Airport ran like clockwork during the Sydney Olympics and was the best performing airport ever at any Olympics.

Principle Two: Men who have changed the world never achieved their success by winning the chief citizens to their side, but always by stirring the masses. - Napoleon Bonaparte

Even though our politicians are constantly telling us they pay no attention to opinion polls, of course they do. They know that if there is a consistent pattern of going down in the polls, they are losing their influence. And in politics, as in leadership of organisations, if you are losing your influence, you are losing your job.

That is the role of leaders, to influence people to move in a particular direction to achieve the goals, missions, and strategies of the organisation.

80% of Australian Workers are Disengaged

The 2002 Gallup Survey of Employee Engagement found that 61% of Australian workers were not engaged, meaning they were low risk takers with little or no commitment to the organisation. A further 19% were actively disengaged meaning that these employees were not just unhappy at work, but they acted out that unhappiness.

That’s an astonishing 80% of Australian workers who feel they are ‘out of the game’ in their own workplaces.

How can a workforce reach their potential if they are disengaged? Of course they can’t.

The leadership team must find ways to engage the workforce to come ‘back into the game.’

The first step – find out how much your people are in or out of the game

As a leader, its not what you think about who is ‘in or out of the game’ that really matters, its what your people think.

If they perceive they are ‘out of the game’, they are ‘out of the game’.

Perception is reality.

People behave based on what they think, not how you think they should think.

You may have a clear vision for your organisation, but if your people are not engaged in that vision, it is just a sentence in a business plan that means nothing.

Where do you think your organisation is in the Vision x Engagement Matrix below?

Whatever you say is interesting, but the really interesting answer and the only answer that really matters is where your workforce thinks your organisation is.

Map it… Look in the mirror… then act

The only way you will really know is if you ask your staff how clear the vision is and how engaged they are in that vision.

We recently used the rapid, low cost, anonymous Perception Mapping™ method to ask these questions of a senior management team of 30 managers (the client shall remain nameless to protect the ‘innocent’).

In the course of less than two hours we facilitated the group to come up with the top issues blocking the organisation from moving forward then agreeing on the priority order for action.

These were the results.

As you can see, these are hot, confrontative issues.

Using the normal process of ‘open discussion’, there is no way in the world this group would have shared what they ‘really thought’ about the fact that:

1. There was little trust in themselves from the workforce or even between each other

2. That there was no understanding of the CEO’s or the organisations vision

3. That managers do no model desired behaviours… etc..

Only by using a rapid, anonymous mapping process could we have found out what people were really thinking.

Principle Three: Public opinion is the thermometer a monarch should constantly consult. - Napoleon Bonaparte

We know of other organisations that are too afraid to find out what their people are really thinking.

In fact we were in a meeting with one of Australia’s largest companies only a few months ago who said they would be too afraid to ask these questions.

What if the results got into the hands of the workforce, or even worse, the Unions?

We said at the time, ‘to hide from the truth, or to bury the truth, doesn’t stop it from being the truth… it will just fester… map it, get it out in the open, share it with the workforce… engage the workforce in solving the problems with you…’

They didn’t take our advice. They are now the subject of a Government enquiry into their management practices.

Another of our clients has used the Perception Mapping process to great effect.

People are now actively engaged in performance improvement projects right across the organisation as a result of the rapid, anonymous process we used.

Most employees tell us that their usual ‘staff survey – staff engagement’ processes are so slow, so long, so drawn out and in most cases they never hear the results anyway, they only further disengage and disillusion them.

From the time of collecting the data using the Perception Mapping™ process, to feedback, to project teams in action, it was less than three weeks.

Principle Four: "The secret of war lies in the communications"

- Napoleon Bonaparte

If you as a modern leader are to move your organisation forward at the speed you want to move, you must find ways to engage with them.

One of our guiding principles is ‘new conversations lead to new possibilities.’

When you have a new style of conversation with your staff, you will open up new possibilities for action and innovation.

Old style communication is the CEO or MD up the front of the room doing a ‘Winston Churchill – rev up the troops – routine.’

It rarely works (except for the CEO feeling good about it) and it rarely has long-term positive impact. In fact, it often leads to workers feeling even more disengaged.

The Perception Mapping™ process is a new way of engaging employees in a constructive, two way dialogue that does lead to innovative action.

Principle Five: Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go. - Napoleon Bonaparte

‘Leadership is an action not a word’ I once heard.

The question is, ‘what data are you deliberating on?’

In fact, if you are not deliberating on some data in your management meetings you are probably wasting a lot of time.

Most management deliberate quite well on sales data or financial data, but the other data you should be deliberating on is ‘engagement data’.

By engagement data, I mean data that accurately tells you just how engaged your workforce is in moving toward the goals you have set.

You need to know just how engaged the hearts and minds of your workforce are.

Every General knows it is critical to engage the hearts and minds of your soldiers before you engage in battles with your enemy.

In the absence of knowing how engaged your staff are, you are probably guessing or going on ‘gut feel.’

Don’t get me wrong, there is a role for ‘gut feel’ in management but in most cases it’s not as sound a strategy for decision making as data combined with ‘gut feel.’

Principle Six: A man made for public life and authority never takes account of personalities; he only takes account of things, of their weight and their consequences. - Napoleon Bonaparte

What is, what is, what is, what is…

If people are engaged, that’s great. That’s ‘what is’.

If people are not engaged, that’s great. That’s ‘what is’..

At least if you know ‘what is’, you can take action on it. But if you are blinded to ‘what is’, it will take action on you.

If I’m driving down the road with my rear vision mirror taped over, I’m a safety hazard. Even worse if I drive down the road with all the side windows blacked out..

To drive down the road safely (for my own safety and the safety of others), the more I can see, the more intelligence I have access to and take into account, the safer I can drive.

The same in any organisation.

As Colin Benjamin wrote in a recent article entitled ‘Enduring Wisdom’ “unless there is equal time given to the gathering of human intelligence and intelligent interpretation – understanding the cultural differences between your management and leadership styles and those of your communication channels – there is every chance of failure.”

Not all of us have the drive or vision of Napoleon, but all of us who work with people can learn from his experience.

Stay in tune with your public’s opinion, or you might find yourself exiled out in the cold.


Leigh Farnell is an international trainer and speaker specialising in Organisational Performance Improvement. His workshops on Innovation, Presentation Skills, Customer Relationship Development and Communication have rated highly with his participants and made over $30 million in additional profits for his clients. He is a Director of SeeDo Discovery Learning and Perception Mapping with offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Singapore and the USA.

Phone: 0412 945 402 or email leigh@leighfarnell.com

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Leigh Farnell is co-author of the internationally best selling "Cracking the Million Dollar Sales Code - Easy Step by Step Strategies to Increase Sales Without Feeling Rude or Pushy.' For over 20 years he has helped over 300 of his clients across the Asia Pacific make millions of dollars in extra sales and profits. Leigh's Blue Rocket Selling System has increased sales in retail, mortgage broking, real estate, banking, motor car sales, insurance and fashion. With his B...

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