Implementing Napoleon’s Corporal in the Workplace

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I was implementing a leadership technique called Napoleon’s Corporal for years without knowing it.

Last week at a conference, I learned about Napolean’s Corporal. But the surprise was that I had been using it in the workplace for years.

A little history about Napoleon’s corporal.

Napoleon is one of the most brilliant military strategists to have lived. He recognized how vital it was to have a lower enlisted soldier in the planning process. During every battle plan briefing, Napolean would have a corporal shine his boots, knowing that the corporal was listening.

Once the staff finished the brief, he would look down at the corporal and ask if he understood the plan. If the corporal answered, “Yes, Sir!” Napoleon would have his staff move forward and execute the plan. If the corporal answered, No, Sir! Napoleon would make the staff rewrite the plan.

My Realization

As this was being explained in a talk, I realized I had been using a version of this most of my career.

I often ask others for opinions who have little context or background with that topic. Especially junior enlisted in the military or entry-level employees. I try to add to it by having them help design the plan.

Now that I know it’s an actual leadership tactic, we have implemented “the corporal rule” at our company, DenLyn Group.

Our intern has already been reviewing contracts, proposals, products, and other client-facing or internal work. But now we have it as the “corporal rule” which means our team or outside party reviews various parts of our business to confirm it is simple enough to understand and execute.

We encourage feedback from people who know the least about what we do, and seem to get to a simpler product that way.

Human Centered Design Connection

I learned these techniques originally from studying and implementing User Experience and Human Centered Design. And I am excited to learn that it’s used and taught widely across leaders.

If you don’t have access to entry-level or junior folks at the time, I recommend thinking about it as if you can read or comprehend it at an 8th-grade level. And yes smarter people than me don’t usually like this because they often have multiple degrees, but it’s not dumbing it down, it’s simplifying it. It can still be a brilliant strategy or plan and be as simple as pouring maple syrup on a pancake.

How have you used Napoleon’s Corporal in business or life?

Be Awesome and keep learning and adding new tools to your tool belt.

I heard this at Fed-supernova at the Capital Factory in Austin given by Air Force Major General Alice Trevino, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air-force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.


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