Attila’s Leadership Secrets

Wess Roberts’ Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun was a great idea. Too many management writers seem to think boring is the way to go. A good message wrapped in an interesting package is likely to have more impact than the same message conveyed in turgid prose and indecipherable acronyms. As such I’ll confess to a sneaking admiration for Roberts, perhaps he’d be a fun guy to have a beer with.

On the other hand the best bloke to have a beer with isn’t always the best leader. The main problem with Roberts’ advice (or should I say Attila’s advice) is that it is usually Delphic. By which I mean that that the advice can apply to almost any situation but doesn’t help you make a decision. (To be fair Robert’s may have been mocking managerial folk wisdom — in which case “well played Dr. Roberts in keeping a straight face”)

One of the best examples of advice that can mean anything is Attila’s thoughts on discipline. Apparently “Wise chieftains realize that unduly harsh or unnecessarily lax discipline will undo the morale of their Huns” (Roberts 2009 page 37). Hard to argue with that. Always make sure Goldilocks’ porridge is at the correct temperature. Sadly he doesn’t say what precise temperature that is.

I did worry that Roberts could perpetuate the “business as war” metaphor that infects so much managerial advice. For example, “An essential quality of leadership is a desire to win.” (Roberts 2009 page 20). This smacks of competitor orientation, the desire to beat others rather than do well for yourself. Maybe Attila’s people would have been better off accepting more Roman bribes to gain cash but with less fighting. If they had accepted more bribes to go away certainly more of the Hun’s would have been alive.

This is far from the best business book ever written but it shows original thought, doesn’t drone on and empahsizes the value of treating subordinates well. All useful lessons for managers.

Read: Wess Roberts 2009 Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun (20th Anniversary Edition) Business Plus Books


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