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42 Project Management Strategies From Napoleon Himself

        posted by , November 27, 2012

Like him or not, Napoleon was one heck of a strategist and leader.

Napoleon in His Study

Napoleon was born in Corsica to a moderately affluent family.

The year of his birth (1769) was the year the Corsican Republic lost it's independence to France.

At the age of 8 he was sent to France to enroll in school. He began to learn the French language (which he never fully mastered). He became the first Corsican to graduate from the prestigious French military academy École Militaire (age 16).

Upon graduation he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the French Army. Napoleon was a fervent Corsican nationalist. He soon took a leave of absence to return to Corsica. Napoleon joined the French Revolution in Corsica as a lieutenant colonel in the Corsican militia.

He led a riot against the French army in Corsica (while on a leave of absence from the French army). Nevertheless, when Napoleon returned late from his leave he was promoted to Captain.

His success continued, by the age of 35 Napoleon was the Emperor of France (the first Emperor of France). A year later he was also King of Italy. By the time Napoleon was 41, the French Empire was at its peak — Napoleon controlled much of Europe.

It's clear from his successes that Napoleon had well developed strategy, leadership and management skills. He was a good project manager (or as close as a revolutionary / Emperor gets).

Napoleon left behind a great deal of advice that may be useful for modern project managers:


I start out by believing the worst.

The reason most people fail instead of succeed is they trade what they want most for what they want at the moment.

There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Office Politics

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.

The herd seek out the great, not for their sake but for their influence; and the great welcome them out of vanity or need.

When you have an enemy in your power, deprive him of the means of ever injuring you.

If they want peace, nations should avoid the pin-pricks that precede cannon shots.

We frustrate many designs against us by pretending not to see them.

Motivating Teams

Give me enough medals and I’ll win you any war.

A cowardly act! What do I care about that? You may be sure that I should never fear to commit one if it were to my advantage.

Courage isn't having the strength to go on - it is going on when you don't have strength.

Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.

Victory belongs to the most persevering.

Training and Professional Development

Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.


Imagination rules the world.

A leader is a dealer in hope.

He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat.

Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.

Ability is of little account without opportunity.

Circumstances-what are circumstances? I make circumstances.

Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.

In our time no one has the conception of what is great. It is up to me to show them.

A true man hates no one.

One is more certain to influence men, to produce more effect on them, by absurdities than by sensible ideas.

Lead the ideas of your time and they will accompany and support you; fall behind them and they drag you along with them; oppose them and they will overwhelm you.

Work Life Balance

Let him sleep ... for when he wakes, he will move mountains.

Product Launch

The greatest danger occurs at the moment of victory.

Managing Teams

Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence.

If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.

Managing Stakeholder Expectations

The best way to keep one's word is not to give it.

Project Communications

Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.

Managing Issues

The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies.

I may have lost a battle, but not the war.

In politics nothing is immutable. Events carry within them an invincible power. The unwise destroy themselves in resistance. The skillful accept events, take strong hold of them and direct them.

Decision Making

Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.

Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in.

Project Management

All great events hang by a hair. The man of ability takes advantage of everything and neglects nothing that can give him a chance of success; whilst the less able man sometimes loses everything by neglecting a single one of those chances.
If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.

Risk Management

If the art of war were nothing but the art of avoiding risks, glory would become the prey of mediocre minds.... I have made all the calculations; fate will do the rest.

Audacity succeeds as often as it fails.


There are so many laws that no one is safe from hanging.

Disclaimer: we left out Napoleon's more controversial quotes. He says a lot of wild stuff.

Napoleon's "promise everything, deliver nothing" advice contradicts modern project management methodologies.

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