Napoleon: A Dealer of Hope

Mark Billings, Canada

Napoleon is arguably the first modern leader in that he spoke directly to his people. Using the press and the media with great mastery, he initiated a revolution in the techniques of communication, manipulation and power. Napoleon understood quite well the art and science of psychology and how to get others to do what he wanted them to do. In short, he was a genius at self-promotion, a quite effective propagandist. No great (or infamous) leader since Napoleon has neglected these techniques at human manipulation. As with many of his military tactics and strategies, Napoleon was not necessarily the inventor of these techniques; rather, he was the first one to apply them in a systematic fashion. From early on in his career, Napoleon set in place a deliberate and sophisticated communications apparatus aimed to boost the morale of the French army and general populace and, as a corollary, his own reputation.

As this paper outlines, Napoleon employed effectively a variety of media, from inspirational speeches to the troops to the famous Bulletins of the Grande Armée posted in cities across France. In addition, great works of art commissioned during this period formed an integral part of Napoleon’s communications and image campaign.

The underlying theme of Napoleon’s communications campaign was a message of hope and optimism for the French people and army. Napoleon was the one who would preserve the gains of the Revolution. His personal leadership was portrayed as central to the success of the French Republic and Empire. After all, as Napoleon once said himself, “A leader is merely a dealer of hope.”


Mark Billings is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Orex Exploration Inc., a Canadian gold exploration company. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) and a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School, with a concentration in finance. Mark, a Napoleonic aficionado since his early teens, is a Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society. He is also on the board of directors of the Souvenir Napoléonien of France and is their representative in Canada.