Leadership According to Attila the Hun
Since its publication in 1985, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun by Wes Roberts, Ph.D., has had a cult following in management circles.
Leadership Secrets first gained notoriety in the late 1980's when it was mentioned in a passage in the book Call Me Roger, where Roger Smith, the Chairman of GM at the time, forbade his new business associate, Ross Perot (a fan of the book), from distributing 500 copies of Leadership Secrets at a dinner attended by managers of GM's new Saturn Division. Since then the book and its principles have been applied in countless contexts from management, to the military, to sports and even dating.
In Leadership Secrets, Roberts uses Attila the Hun as a metaphoric character to deliver his precepts and concepts on leadership. He does this by melding short historical vignettes of Attila's life with fictional "campfire chats" given by Attila to his chieftains to impart his wisdom on leadership. While the advice in the book is written as if it were the King of the Huns who spoke it, Leadership Secrets is more a reflection of Roberts' own experiences, research and observations on leadership.
Chapters in Leadership Secrets cover a range of leadership qualities including: morale and discipline; responsibility; negotiation; decision-making; delegation; overcoming defeat; and giving praise and punishment.
Attila on Leadership — You've Got to Want to Be in Charge
Roberts writes that — for Attila — leaders are not born, they are made. But, not everyone is ready or willing to become a leader. Too often, people are put in leadership positions that they are either not ready for or have no desire to take on. For Attila, the weakest leaders are those who do not want to lead in the first place.
A good leader for Attila is someone who has a "lust for leadership"; they must want to be in charge. A committed leader will distinguish themselves from others. They will lead by example and by doing so will gain the trust of their subordinates, peers and superiors.
Attila's (Roberts') leadership approach could be classified as "servant-leadership" in nature. A servant leader has an inherit feeling to want to serve and lead (i.e., they want to be in charge) rather than wanting to lead based on power and authority. This goes with Roberts' own philosophy on leadership, which he describes as: "The privilege to have responsibility to direct the actions of others in carrying out the purpose of the organization, at varying levels of authority and with accountability for both successful and failed endeavours."
Qualities of a Hun Leader
For Attila, there are key qualities that leaders at all levels should possess. These includes such things as: loyalty; courage; desire; stamina; empathy; decisiveness; accountability and responsibility; credibility; and, dependability. Becoming a leader and developing these qualities does not happen over night — it takes time. Leaders need to commit to lifelong learning and be constantly open to gaining new insights to help them grow.
Attilaisms — Leadership Advice from the King of the Huns
Part of the appeal of Leadership Secrets is the "Attilaisms" that Roberts uses throughout the book. These are short passages where Attila gives his advice and counsel on different aspects of leadership. Most are quite catchy and stick with you, making them perfect takeaways for leaders.
Some of my favorite Attilaisms include:
- Advice and Counsel: A chieftain who asks the wrong questions always hears the wrong answers.
- Being a Leader: If it were easy to be a chieftain, everyone would be one.
- Character: Seldom are self-centered, conceited and self-admiring chieftains great leaders, but they are great idolizers of themselves.
- Decision-making: The ability to make difficult decisions separates the chieftains from Huns.
- Delegation: Abdication is not delegation. Abdication is a sign of weakness. Delegation is a sign of strength.
- Developing Leaders: A good chieftain takes risks be delegating to an inexperienced Hun in order to strengthen his leadership abilities.
- Leadership Qualities: A wise chieftain never depends on luck. Rather, he always trusts his future to hard work, stamina, tenacity and a positive attitude.
- Perception: A Hun who takes himself too seriously had lost his perspective.
- Personal Achievement: Great chieftains accept failure at some things in order to excel in more important ones.
- Problems and Solutions: Huns should be taught to focus on opportunities rather than on problems.
Have you read Leadership Secrets? Do you have any favorite Attilaisms? Are good leaders those who want to be in charge? Are some people born leaders or are leaders made?
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