Napoloen and the Hearts of Men

Napoloen and the Hearts of Men

After Vision Setting, The Second Most Important Thing a Leader Must Do.

“A soldier will fight long and hard for a piece of colored ribbon,” a leadership mantra by the famous Napoleon Bonaparte of Corsica on how proper reward and recognition has an astounding effect on the soldiers he led.

At the battle of Lodi on May 10, 1796 during the Italian campaign, Napoleon, then a young commander of the French army led his men in pursuit of the retreating Austrian army of the Habsburg Monarchy to the Bridge of Lodi. Fortified across the bridge were a battery of cannon threatening to destroy any force who dares to attempt to cross. Backed by nine battalions of infantry, arrayed in two lines, the French would have first to brave the cannon fire, then the muskets of the Austrian men with no more than 10 yards of breath to manoeuvre.

The French carabineer (elite light infantry) with great courage, stormed the bridge and took it in a single attack. At one point, when the offense was wavering due to heavy casualty, senior officers rushed to the front and led the attack again. The French won the Battle of Lodi with 1,000 casualties versus 3,200 enemies killed with a further 2,000 captured. (Yong & Lee, 2019).

The battle of Lodi was a major triumph for the French and it was also a battle that cemented Napoleon’s reputation as a brilliant military commander of his contemporaries. Napoleon himself, later, would have said that the Battle of Lodi convinced him that he was far more superior than any generals and that he is destined to do great things.

Whilst many were aware of Napoleon’s military ingenuity, few knew about how tender he was in winning the heart of his men. The Grande Armée, especially the Old Guards, veterans of 10 years and more, would have willingly traded their lives for that of Napoleon in a twinkle of an eye.

Napoleon Understood the Hearts of Men

As the dust settled upon the Bridge of Lodi, Napoleon apprised the French Directory, on the bravery of the infantrymen who had paid so dearly in bringing glory to France.

Napoleon wrote, “If we have lost few men, this fortunate circumstance is due to the prompt execution and the sudden effect produced on the enemy’s forces by the immense masses rushing forward, and likewise of the dreadful fire of our invisible column. Were I called upon the designate the soldiers who have distinguished themselves in this battle, I should be obliged to name every carabineer of the advanced guard and nearly all the staff-officers” (Romantic Circles 2018).

Napoleon understood the heart of men. It is the personal recognition that inspired and motivated his men to face the volley of fires and certain death. According to Maslow’s 5 Level Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow 1943), every individual desires recognition. Maslow theorized, once an individual satisfies the lowest level of needs, he would be motivated to satisfy the next level of needs. In the 5 level Hierarchy of Needs, the lowest level comprises of physiological and safety needs also known as basic needs, followed by psychological needs; belonging and self-esteem needs and finally the need for self-actualization whereby one needs to achieve his or her full potential as human beings.

Self-esteem, which is placed at the second top-level, is a form of needs whereby individuals sense a need to accomplish something and for that accomplishment to be recognized. Individuals need to feel that they are valued by others to build their self-esteem and also basked in the prestige that comes with that recognition. It is innate in us, the strong desire for recognition and we are motivated to fulfil that need even it is of little material value. (Yong & Lee, 2019)

And, by giving recognition where it is due, one is not only helping the individual fulfil his need for self-esteem but also the other psychological need for belonging. The need for belonging or social acceptance is an emotional need, and it would drive human behaviour to fulfil it. Recognition is a form of testimony that the individual is accepted into the social group and strong emotional ties will be built to the group.

Whilst leaders today spend an enormous amount of time and effort in “winning minds” through strategising and communicating the company’s vision to the employees, they almost always left the second most critical part; the execution, or the “winning of hearts” to a transactional relationship. For comensurating compensation, the employees of the organization are tasked to carry out the vision laid by the leader. This hardly inspires self-esteem and belonging to the company.

By associating the employee’s work or sacrifice to an amount of money, the leader had failed to appeal to their emotional side. This is just a transaction and with a binding labour contract, there is little cause to be inspired or to satisfy their Maslow’s motivational need.

In the words of controversial labour lawyer Sir Otto Kahn-Freund,

“The relation between an employer and an isolated employee or worker is typically a relation between a bearer of power and one who is not a bearer of power. In its inception it is an act of submission, in its operation, it is a condition of subordination.”

With these simple words, Sir Otto Kahn-Freund had tersely pinpointed the problem at hand, men were asked to perform as subordinates, not as an equal. Any motivation or inspiration to execute the leader’s vision would be ephemeral.

Therefore, it is of little surprise that,”70 percent of employees are unable to neither remember nor recite their company’s vision.” (Forbes 2013) In their mind, these are “empty words” paid to highly expensive consultants for the purpose of branding or marketing, resulting in disengaged employees who will not perform to their potential.

In conclusion, to win the hearts of men is paramount for all leaders as that would eventually lead to trust and above all loyalty. The inspired men will then push themselves to strive for the pinnacle of the Maslow pyramid of motivation, that of self-actualization; living to their fullest potential for themselves, the company and for the leader.


Yong and Lee. 2019. Department of Startup: Why Every Fortune 500 Should Have One. Business Expert Press. New York

Ivan Yong is an organizational psychologist, engineer, author and a startup angel investor. He is also the Founding Vice President of Solidarity (Social Projects) for the European Mentoring & Coaching Council, Asia, a member of the Hong Kong Society of Economists and a published author with the book titled, “ Department of Startup : Why Every Fortune 500 Needs One” by BEP New York. Last but not least, he is a big fan of history and a polyglot, fluent in 5 languages.