John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part II: the entrepreneurial character

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Napoleon was the very embodiment of entrepreneurship. He started small, so to speak, and built an empire. We businesspeople can learn from such a person. In Part I, we explored Napoleon’s military maxims as they relate to planning, researching, and executing business ventures. Here, we’ll examine his maxims as they relate to entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs themselves.

Napoleon said: "The first qualification of a general-in-chief is to possess a cool head, so that things may appear to him in their true proportions and as they really are.”

The route to business success is unmarked, with many distractions along the way. Some are important; most are not. That’s why it’s crucial to understand how your enterprise fits into the big picture - local, national, and even international issues and relationships. This broader understanding helps you see and evaluate “things” objectively. You can distinguish events that will affect your business from events that will not. You can prepare for cyclical forces, like the economy. And, you can separate the opportunities from the pitfalls.

Successful entrepreneurs keep their wits about them, because they know what’s going on around them.

Napoleon said: "An irresolute general who acts without principles and without plan, even though he lead an army numerically superior to that of the enemy, almost always finds himself inferior to the latter on the field of battle.”

Planning is a key step in any business venture. However, plans must be based on sound principles. For example, even abundant capital can be quickly squandered without a plan based on the principles of sound financial management. Plans are flexible and many. Principles are firm and few. Your principles should reflect your overall business goals and philosophy. These principles guide your plans - and your business - steadily toward your goals, regardless of any unexpected twists and turns along the way.

Successful entrepreneurs execute principled plans.

Napoleon said: "The effect of discussions, making a show of talent and calling councils of war will be what the effect of those things has been in every age: they will end in the adoption of the most pusillanimous or (if the expression be preferred) the most prudent measures, which in war are almost uniformly the worst that can be adopted. True wisdom, so far as a general is concerned, consists in energetic determination.”

Business success often requires relying on experts for help in specific areas, such as engineering or finance or marketing. Still, there is only one decision-maker: you. Most entrepreneurs readily take charge. As responsibilities weigh heavier, however, there is the danger of falling into the committee-think trap. That’s when you find yourself asking your financial advisor for an opinion on your marketing strategies, your marketing consultant for financial advice, and your spouse for both. Now, these could all be intelligent people, experts in their fields, with your best interests at heart. Put them together, though, and you get committee-think: “safe” solutions that are in fact the most dangerous to your business.

In business, as in war, there is no substitute for positive leadership.

Napoleon said: "It is exceptional and difficult to find all the qualities of a great general combined in one man. What is most desirable and distinguishes the exceptional man, is the balance of intelligence and ability with character or courage.”

Contrary to popular belief, successful entrepreneurs are not always visionaries. They have a vision, certainly. But it takes broad-based knowledge, skills, and spirit to turn a vision into reality. Entrepreneurship is one endeavor which rewards the tightly focused generalist. The key word here is “balance.” After all, a brilliant idea poorly executed will fail as surely as a poor idea brilliantly executed. Brilliance is not necessary for business success; balance almost always is. To achieve or maintain such a balance, many successful entrepreneurs team up with partners or hire consultants with needed knowledge or skills.

Successful entrepreneurs need it all: a cool head, a broad mind, firm principles, flexible thinking, leadership, smarts, skill, and guts. This is an exceptional combination, to be sure. Then again, entrepreneurs, like great generals, are exceptional people.

Continue to Part III: growing the enterprise.

The Military Maxims of Napoleon are quoted from Roots of Strategy, edited by Brig. Gen. T.R. Phillips (1940, reprinted Harrisburg, PA, Stackpole Books, 1985), pp 401-441, from an original compilation by Gen. Burnod.
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