10 Far-out Charismatic Leaders (and the Trouble They Caused)

Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte once demanded gold and silver from those he conquered -- then he passed it out to his soldiers as thanks, ensuring their loyalty. iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Despite standing just 5 feet, 2 inches (1.57 meters) tall, and being mocked as a child in Corsica because he didn't speak proper French, Napoleon Bonaparte was a phenomenal leader. As a young officer in the French army, he was smart, aggressive and fearless, and inspired great loyalty in just about anyone he met. Because of these traits, Bonaparte's soldiers won numerous battles for France, and by the age of 34 he was emperor of the country in 1804 [source: Jean-Paul].

Bonaparte was successful because he instinctively knew a lot about human behavior -- like the fact that you needed to show appreciation to those who helped you succeed. Once, after his army obtained a key victory, Bonaparte demanded gold and silver from those they conquered -- then he passed it out to his soldiers as thanks. He also realized it was important to win the trust of those you weren't leading. So when his army invaded another country, he made it clear to the citizens that he wasn't against them, but rather against their leaders, who were tyrants. This often turned the people into his supporters, bolstering his efforts. Bonaparte often joined his soldiers in battle, too, and would do any job, even ones normally reserved for the lowest-ranking soldiers. This inspired tremendous loyalty [source: Jean-Paul].

Unfortunately, over time his success went to his head. Bonaparte tried to conquer too many countries, and his army began to suffer defeats. Then, he lost his confidence and began to make errors, such as silencing his critics and sending out spies, as he trusted fewer and fewer people and became increasingly paranoid. Eventually, Napoleon was defeated, and spent the last five years of his life shut away on the tiny island of St. Helena [sources: Finnemore, Jean-Paul].