Most Inspiring Leader All Time
International studies reveal that Napoleon won nearly 90 percent of his battles, a remarkable statistic for a coach, but unheard of for a military commander. Napoleon’s great adversary, the Duke of Wellington, was once asked who was the greatest general of his age. Wellington replied, “in this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon.” Napoleon dominated Continental Europe, developing a system of laws, administration, and education that still influences governments globally. Only a coalition of Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia would ultimately defeat him. What made Napoleon such an outstanding leader? His strong rapport with his troops, his organizational talents, and his creativity all played significant roles. However, the secret to Napoleon’s success was his ability to focus on a single objective. On the battlefield, Napoleon would concentrate his forces to deliver a decisive blow. A product of the French Revolution, Napoleon directly threatened the traditional order of Europe. As a consequence, powerful states and empires forged coalitions against him. However, Napoleon consistently exploited the competing priorities and objectives of his larger enemies. Unlike them, in battle, he refused to multitask. By 1805, the French had seized the Austrian capital of Vienna. However, an Austrian army remained in the field, which was soon joined through Russian forces. These two allies easily outnumbered Napoleon’s army. Yet, Napoleon decisively defeated his larger foes. At Austerlitz, he quickly recognized a critical high point needed to be taken. “One sharp blow and the war is over,” Napoleon remarked. He then unleashed a ferocious assault that seized the position and split the Russian and Austrian armies. With his enemies divided, he then turned his energy on their left wing, smashing it and sending them into headlong retreat. Within a few weeks, Austria sued for peace.
Fighting broke out in 1806 between France and Prussia, with Russia coming to Prussia’s aid. Napoleon realized that if his enemies linked up, his smaller force would be in grave danger. Therefore, he raced to confront the Prussians before Russian troops arrived. At Jena, Napoleon’s well-organized army shattered a poorly coordinated Prussian force. Now, Napoleon pursued the Russians. After an indecisive battle at Eylau, Napoleon routed the Russians at Friedland. Through attacking one enemy at a time, Napoleon had neutralized their numerical advantage. After the Russian defeat, Napoleon reached the height of his power with the treaties of Tilsit.
In explaining his success, Napoleon wrote, “the secret of great battles consists in knowing how to deploy and concentrate at the right time.” Victory comes from “being always able, even with an inferior army, to have stronger forces than the enemy at the point of attack.” Modern science has validated Napoleon’s focused approach. At work, we face a variety of demands each day. We may believe we are expert multitaskers, but multitasking is a myth. A Stanford study showed that rather than multitasking, we merely switch back-and-forth between tasks, killing our performance and productivity. Focusing on one task seems daunting, but even five minutes of “monotasking” can considerably increase productivity. The same logic applies to habits. We may want to change our lives, but we need to begin with a single habit. UCLA scientists demonstrated that pursuing multiple new habits makes us more likely to fail at all of them. Highly effectual people such as Napoleon concentrate on one present task and one big goal. How often are we distracted at work? How often do we leave tasks incomplete? Successful people avoid these costly “switches.” You cannot be a world-class athlete in five sports. You cannot build five companies at once. You have limited resources, and they are most effective when concentrated. A single-minded focus on your goal will make you more successful. Attempting to multitask only hurts your chances of success. As Napoleon said of war, “the art consists in concentrating very heavy fire on a particular point.” His words are as true in a boardroom as on a battlefield.