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Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun

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Introduction

Cruel, barbaric, carnivorous husband of hundred women – that is the typical description of Attila the Hun by most historians. People who study or make research on this heroic figure think of him as a violent barbarian who plundered and pillaged his way through civilized cities for the reason to fulfill his desire to kill and conquer other lands. Nevertheless, Wess Roberts, Ph.D., in his book about Attila Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, firstly published in 1985, speculates that the following image of this historical figure was created by Attila himself in order to terrorize his enemies with an aim of conquering the world. Therefore, Roberts characterizes Attila not as a cruel conqueror but as an insightful leader who aimed to control the nomadic and untamed Huns and made them a powerful nation. He often uses Attila as a narrator and describes him as a true leader who led the Huns in order to control the Slavic and Germanic tribes, defeat the Roman Empire, conquer Africa, and triumph over the lands of Asia. Moreover, the author is particularly interested in the leadership style of Attila the Hun and his way of leading. Therefore, this paper seeks to summarize the following book, discuss and analyze the main points which are described in the book, its key ideas, and its main character.

In the preface, the author gives a definition to leadership as a privilege of being responsible for actions of other people and the purpose of organization, all of which can result in the organization’s failure or success. Roberts also explains that leadership is aimed not to represent the system, as no one is able to predict situations or circumstances but can only influence them. Therefore, he applies this definition of leadership to Attila the Hun (Kelly, 2009).

The first chapter of the book begins with describing Attila’s leadership qualities, which are significant to a successful leader, such as competitiveness, desire, delegation, responsibility, decision-making, etc. The author mentions that Attila possesses decision-making skills, as he manages to control and rule a large region that was covered with rivers and mountains, considering the lack of means of communication and large territory. Attila has to trust his delegates to be sure they will make right decisions when he is absent. Trust is a crucial component which the author discusses in the book. The author states that Attila was trusted by his warriors and trusted them in return. However, he did not trust his enemies. In order to look undefeatable in the eyes of his enemies, he created an image of cruel and violent warrior who had no mercy in killing other people (Walters, n.d.).

Despite his violent reputation, the book describes how much Attila was admired by the Huns. This was partly because Attila avoided dressing like a king. He ate the same food as the rest of his warriors and wore the same clothes. However, Attila still rejected to drink with his army, as he wanted them to respect him as a king. In addition, Roberts describes that Attila granted many rewards to his warriors. He was known to give extra food to those who performed well during te battle. Nevertheless, those of the Huns who disobeyed Attila’s orders were violently punished. Here, Roberts also describes one of the leadership tactics of Attila, which is discipline. His warriors feared him, as he had no sympathy for the people who were weak. The author states that Attila set the death penalty to those people who broke his rule. All prisoners of the Huns were considered the part of the tribe, and any disobedience from them resulted in the death penalty (Kelly, 2009).

As far as all sixteen titles of the chapters are concerned, each of them states the particular leadership quality of Attila. The first part of every chapter gives information on history as an example of the main character’s using the leadership qualities. The second part of every chapter contains dialogical part, which comes in first person. The author ends each chapter with quotes of Attila and drives a short conclusion.

In the chapter of the book titled “Peace in the Camp,” the author describes the qualities that were necessary to fulfill the main Attila’s aim: to establish morale and discipline and maintain them within the tribe. Therefore, Attila constantly disciplined the Huns. It is very challenging to maintain morale within the army of seven hundred thousand warriors; however, Attila’s constant behavior and representations of loyalty, accountability, and confidence helped him to control his warriors and inspire them to follow him in the battles. As a matter of fact, a pattern of constant strategies, which involves the importance of accountability, commitment, quality, and standards, is made clear. The success of Attila’s approach mostly focuses on full commitment of the Huns and Attila’s continuous improvement (Kelly, 2009).

Roberts states that Attila considered those leaders were born but not made. He thinks that not everyone is willing or ready to become a leader, and if such people are put in leadership positions, they demonstrate themselves as the weakest leaders. A good leader for Attila is the person who has “lust for leadership”. His leadership approach can be characterized as “servant-leadership” in its nature. This matches the author’s own philosophy on leadership, which he describes as follows: “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 endeavors” (Roberts, 2007).

“Leaders must attach value to high standards of performance and have no tolerance for the uncommitted” (Roberts, 2007). This quotation of Attila from the book demonstrates his perception of responsibilities of being a leader. Attila also mentions that “leaders must encourage creativity, freedom of action, and innovation among their subordinates, as long as these efforts are consistent with the goals of the tribe or nation” (Roberts, 2007). This means that the leader is supposed to be the one who inspires and controls the army, and be not just the person who orders, but the one who maintains the mentality of his people. Otherwise, any organization or army will never iimprove, grow, or change.

One of the most crucial parts of the book is the author’s explanation of Attila’s delegation skills. This Attila’s personal character trait is claimed to be his reason for success. The book’s introduction describes Attila’s going to Rome in order to study from the Roman Emperor. One of the techniques Attila learned while in Rome was delegation. Attila was confident that if the warriors delegated power as well as he did, his army would gain more power.

The author observes that Attila had an extraordinary ability to identify the weakness of the Roman Empire and exploited it. Here, he is represented as a warrior who is ready to go for wars all the time (Kelly, 2009).

Part of the appeal of the book is the “Attilaisms”, which are used throughout the book. They are the passages and quotes, where Attila gives his opinion and counsel on different situations and aspects of leadership. 

Despite the abovementioned leadership qualities of Attila, which are evidently described in the book, some scholars criticize Robert’s book for Attila’s representing a poor example of Attila as a leader, since after his death, the Huns returned to their nomadic way of life and were eventually absorbed into other countries that were represented by better leaders. When Attila died, they did not follow his leadership style, and therefore, were not able to succeed. However, the leadership advice can still be applied to contemporary society, as the book gives positive lessons for the leaders of modern society from Attila’s style, which makes it valuable for politicians and managers. It is evident that the author applied leadership theory to the subject of the book, as Attila’s personal qualities are detailed and precise. The book explains how Attila’s military principles can be applied to the modern principles of leadership and contemporary business situation.

Conclusion

For any leader in history, conquering the world seems to be an ultimate goal and challenge. Considering Attila’s fame and power, he seems to have accomplished this goal. Moreover, 1500 years after his reign, most people are still impressed by his tactics and strategic planning, which can even now be applied to any company, country, or organization. This famous leader of the Huns led and initiated the transformation of barbarian tribes into the rulers of the ancient world.

Wess Roberts in his book about Attila Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun highlights the main leadership qualities of Attila and tries to depict every aspect of his life. Therefore, the main points in the book are the personal leadership qualities of Attila which helped him in becoming a successful leader of the Huns. These qualities, beyond all doubt, can be applied to and developed by contemporary leaders. Although his tactics was more related to managing an autocratic and nomadic tribe, such tactics as delegation, trust, justice, and decision-making can perfectly fit into the modern society.

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