Napoleon vs. Nelson – A battle won by Effective Followers

Napoleon: 33 ships

Nelson: 27 ships

Napoleon: lost 22 ships

Nelson: lost none!

We all know about the battle of Trafalgar: a naval battle in which the English fleet under the renowned leadership of Admiral Horatio Viscount Nelson soundly defeated a larger French and Spanish force under the leadership of French Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve. More importantly, this battle, fought on October 21, 1805, was the most pivotal naval battle of the 19th Century because it ended Napoleon’s hopes of invading England.

Historians often focus on the contrasting leadership of the two leaders involved, and there is no doubt that they were influential in the outcome.  In fact, Nelson’s brilliantly effective tactics broke the naval engagement paradigms of the day and his passion for his mission and country cost him his life – shot down by an enemy sniper while the battle raged on.  However, considering the fact that each leader occupied only one ship of their armada and had “little or no control of the disposition and actions of his ships”, one eventually has to focus on the followers – in this case the crews involved.

In an age of continued fascination with leadership, when will we consider the critical factor of the followers and how they impact outcomes in military battles, competitive business strategies or political achievements?  After all, without his army and navy, Napoleon was just a man with grand ambitions.  “Organizations stand or fall partly on the basis of how well their leaders lead, but partly also on the basis of how well their followers follow” (Kelley).  How effective and diverse is the crew of your leadership vessel and how can you make them better?

Despite the fact that the current theories of charismatic leadership focus on leaders and the positive and negative consequences of their personality or behavior, new attention is being given to the role of followers in leadership processes (Howell and Shamir).  Robert Kelley makes the point that “most of us are more often followers than leaders.  Even when we have subordinates, we still have bosses…so followership dominates our lives and organizations, but not our thinking, because our preoccupation with leadership keeps us from considering the nature and the importance of the follower”.

Remember that all bosses are not necessarily good leaders; and all subordinates are not necessarily effective followers.  Many bosses couldn’t lead a horse to water.  Many subordinates couldn’t follow a parade.  Some people avoid either role (Kelley).  When you have the chance, be selective about the crew of your vessel.

Followership® Development Program comes with the integrated assessment instruments, development workshops, coaching tools and ROI measurements to create the proper environment for Effective Followers to do their job. We invite you to discover the Followership concept!