Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun Essay - Critical Essays

Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun

Most people who are not historians think of Atilla the Hun as a savage barbarian who pillaged and plundered his way through civilized settlements for no other reason than to fulfill some primal spear-shaking appetite. Wess Roberts speculates that this image was in fact developed by Attila as a public relations tactic to terrorize his enemies into ready submission when he and his horde came storming into their camps as part of a carefully planned conquest of the world. Roberts characterizes Atilla not as a crude churl but as an insightful leader who set out to tap the energy of the untamed, nomadic Huns and create from them a great nation.

Roberts presents his rendering of Attila in the form of maxims imagined to have been delivered to Attila’s chieftains on subjects such as morale and discipline, decision-making, delegating, and negotiating. Perhaps Attila’s advice would have seemed sage to Huns, but to modern leaders it is mundane, unless one regards one’s subordinates in today’s organizations as uncouth barbarians, which may be the underlying point of Roberts’ book. Indeed, it is difficult to ignore the tongue-in-cheek of a book that attributes to Attila the comment, “It isn’t easy being the Scourge of God ...”

Roberts’ exploitation of Attila’s reputation affords the book a catchy title while masking the banality of its content. Though this might have been an interesting reassessment of Attila for the layman, it should be subtitled, “The Sayings of Wess Roberts, Ph.D.” Roberts’ disregard for history is admitted in one footnote (“Loosely interpreted from history and legend, it may be surmised...”) and in his complete lack of historical references. the research purportedly done in preparing this book frequently is cast by the wayside, or else how could Attila have counseled his Huns--whom scholars agree were illiterate--that “written reports have purpose only if read by the kings"?

Roberts’ use of the Attila metaphor is strained in another way: Attila ultimately is a poor example of leadership since after his death, the Huns once again resumed their nomadic life, and eventually were absorbed into other European cultures that had been nurtured by evidently greater leaders.