Napoleon Bonaparte’s Autocratic or Charismatic Leadership

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The topic of leadership has become exceptionally popular in the last couple of decades as more research surrounding the subject was being released. After all, whether a leader is good at what they do or not can make or break any chance of success any company has, even the most well-admired and innovative one. It is possible to outline several key leadership styles which people tend to embrace when acting as leaders in their organizations. Charismatic and autocratic leadership styles remain the two most prevalent ones to this day, but they emerged a substantial period of time ago, and the example of Napoleon shows that they both can coexist together. Charismatic leadership is the most efficient and appropriate style for modern leaders globally since it enables them to unite people and develop solutions to potential issues, which might arise either within an organization or externally.


Prior to discussing the advantages of charismatic leadership in comparison to other styles, particularly autocratic leadership, it is imperative to define what charismatic and autocratic leadership styles are. The main task of leadership is to “create and manage culture… and destroy culture when it is viewed as dysfunctional” when referring to organizations (as cited in Rivers, 2019, p. 69). Essentially, the role of a leader is interconnected with the notion of culture, which they must influence in a variety of ways to ensure that it corresponds to the interests of the organization. Charismatic leaders have been described in different terms, including as capable of creating a culture of motivating the subordinates to be committed to a collective mission (Banks et al., 2017). Charismatic leadership refers to the authority of a leader, which derives primarily from their charisma and charm that are used as tools for motivating their followers.

At the same time, there are also autocratic leaders whose qualities are radically different compared to those charismatic ones. An autocratic leader differs from others as he or she exercises “a controlling and directive leadership model, which engages subordinates or followers according to an established hierarchical structure” (Rivers, 2019, p. 71). Thus, an autocratic leader motivates others to pursue a mission not by inspiring them but by persuading them to believe in the leader’s ability to make correct decisions in every situation. One of the negative sides of autocratic leadership is the unwillingness of the leader to accept criticism from their followers (Rivers, 2019). Any type of critical perspective may threaten the authority of the leader, and therefore, it is avoided, which can harm the group or organization.

Benefits of Charismatic Leadership

The openness of charismatic leaders enables them to be willing to solve the existing challenges in a fast way. For instance, research shows that charismatic leaders are much more efficient at managing emergencies in comparison to autocratic ones (Meriade & Sales, 2020). Charismatic leaders can solve the problem faster because they are ready to listen to the feedback of the subordinates who, in their turn, always possess insights into their particular field of expertise. Charismatic leaders build structures where group members can communicate with the leader freely, which eliminates the problem of a negative perception of the leader. Essentially, such an arrangement can be described as power-sharing, which promotes joint decision-making encompassing the perspectives of all members (Rivers, 2019).

Finally, the charismatic way of leadership is based on providing followers with a motivation which has a positive effect on them, as opposed to the autocratic one, which relies on pressure. As a result, a charismatic leader can inspire followers by causing them to experience followership-relevant emotions, which further promote pro-social behavior, thus motivating people to work for the benefit of the organization (Sy et al., 2019). Basically, in the presence of charismatic leadership, people enjoy their responsibilities and are naturally committed to them because they find it rewarding, including in terms of emotions. Thus, charismatic leadership promotes better job satisfaction and the ability of subordinates to relate to the mission of the organization.

Charismatic Leadership: The Case of Success

Napoleon Bonaparte serves as a great example to demonstrate both the advantages of charismatic leadership and the downsides of autocratic leadership. On the one hand, Napoleon led a huge army of able-bodied and minded men, yet they were overly dependent on their leader since he chose not to share his tactics with anyone (Meriade & Sales, 2020). Essentially, Napoleon demonstrated clear traits characteristic of autocratic leaders, which is the unwillingness to discuss his decisions with other people. At the same time, Napoleon managed to constantly motivate and engage his soldiers using his charm and charisma (Meriade & Sales, 2020). Napoleon possessed a character which enabled him to convey messages in a way which would be inspiring, engaging, and capable of making people empathize with his mission.

Napoleon understood the notion that the selection of the right leadership approach depends greatly on the environment. Research shows that demographics should factor in the decision to adopt whichever style of leadership, even in spheres such as hotel management (Uzunsaf Yamak & Zihni Eyüpoğlu, 2018). Napoleon was not only a great military commander but also an Emperor, which meant that he had to be both excellent at managing an army and the population. As a result, his approach involved being strict and autocratic in the cases of military action while being charismatic in public, in front of his soldiers and citizens.

Charismatic Leadership: Hard Facts to Accept

Despite a variety of benefits to adopting a charismatic leadership approach, it may not always be the right choice. According to studies, charismatic leaders are more likely to possess such qualities as narcissism and a sense of entitlement, which can lead to their judgments being somewhat clouded (Ma, 2018). In other words, having a well-developed charisma may cause the person’s ego to grow, which can make them be too confident in their decisions. Charismatic leadership may negatively impact succession since there is only a small possibility that the successors of a charismatic leader will be as effective (Radtke, 2020). For example, a charismatic leader may be the CEO of a company and, after their resignation, their children who do not possess the same charisma can occupy their position.

Lastly, the behavior of a leader might not be a factor capable of significantly improving or in any way affecting the performance of an organization. According to the research of Jansen and Delahaij (2019), group dynamics and contextual factors are often determining factors of who the majority accepts as their leader. In other words, a formal leader, for instance, a CEO of a company, may not actually be perceived as such by their subordinates. In fact, embracing a charismatic or autocratic leadership style will not help them to become a person who everyone views as their leader. Instead, the group may randomly assign the role of an informal leader to one of the employees.


Charismatic leadership is clearly effective at responding to the modern-day challenges organizations will most likely face. Charismatic leaders are able to motivate those around them without abusing their power, which is the case when referring to the proponents of the autocratic style. As a result, those united around a charismatic leader are more likely to remain loyal to them. Charismatic leadership is crucial for modern-day organizations as they face unpredictable challenges regularly, while this style of leadership, in particular, facilitates an efficient response to emergencies and critical situations, unlike an autocratic one. However, it is crucial to recognize contextual factors, demographics, and group dynamics might play a more important role in selecting a leader.


Banks, G. C., Engemann, K. N., Williams, C. E., Gooty, J., McCauley, K. D., & Medaugh, M. R. (2017). A meta-analytic review and future research agenda of charismatic leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 28(4), 508–529. Web.

Jansen, M. M., & Delahaij, R. (2019). Leadership acceptance through the lens of Social Identity theory: A case study of military leadership in Afghanistan. Armed Forces & Society, 46(4), 657-676. Web.

Ma, B. (2018). The dark side of charismatic leadership: A social exchange perspective (Doctoral dissertation, City University of New York, New York City, NY). Web.

Mériade, L., & Sales, J. M. (2020). Emergency management in organizations? The answers provided by Napoleon Bonaparte. Revue Internationale De Psychosociologie Et De Gestion Des Comportements Organisationnels, 26(64), 165-196. Web.

Ohnesorge, H. W. (2020). Soft power. Global power shift. Springer.

Radtke, M. T. (2020). Why kill deposed leaders? Regime types and post-tenure fates. Foreign Policy Analysis, 16(3), 332-352. Web.

Rivers, M. N. (2019). A review of autocratic, paternalistic, and charismatic leadership in three collectivist cultures. Emerging Leadership Journeys, 12(1), 68-104. Web.

Roe, K. (2017). Leadership: Practice and perspectives. Oxford University Press.

Sy, T., Horton, C., & Riggio, R. (2018). Charismatic leadership: Eliciting and channeling follower emotions. The Leadership Quarterly, 29(1), 58–69. Web.

Uzunsaf Yamak, Ö., & Zihni Eyüpoğlu, Ş. (2018). Leadership styles of hotel managers in Northern Cyprus: Which style is dominant? International Journal of Organizational Leadership, 7, 1-11. Web.

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