Reviewed by Lauren Kelley
Barbaric, husband of four hundred women, cruel, and carnivorous are qualities that typically do not describe the ideal leader – Attila the Hun, however, is a rare case. In Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, Wess Roberts, Ph. D., uses Attila as a narrator and leader of camp fire like lectures to address his incredible and timeless skill. He led his Huns to bring German and Slavic nations under control, defeat Rome and Constantinople, triumph over the lands of Asia, and then conquer Africa. Taking over the world is the ultimate challenge for just about any leader or manager, and barbaric Attila seems to have accomplished it with poise and grace. Nearly 1500 years after his reign, we are still studying his strategies and tactics, which are applicable to any organization, group, company, or country. This single man initiated and led the transformation of nomadic tribal barbarians into “undisputed rulers of the ancient world.”
In the preface, Roberts defines leadership as the privilege of having responsibility over others’ actions and the organization’s purpose, all of which can affect the organization’s success or failure. And so, he explains leadership does not represent a model or system because no one can predict circumstances or situations, and consequently the influence they will have on others. Thus, relating Attila’s “model” with those from our lectures initially appears difficult. Chapter one begins with a list and explanation of necessary leadership qualities (many relate to emotional stability and stamina) – a leader must be loyal, courageous, self-confident, empathetic, and credible. Chapter twelve reveals secrets of rewarding your Huns and encouraging their active participation and success.
As the book continues, a pattern of constant strategies involving the importance of commitment, accountability, standards, and quality is made clear, most similarly reflecting the values in Deming’s 14 points of the Total Quality Management system. The undoubtedly successful approach of Attila the Hun focuses on continuous improvement and full commitment of the organization, the Huns. As seen in the chapter “Peace in the Camp,” these qualities are necessary to fulfill one of Attila’s many secrets: “Chieftains must work hard to establish discipline and morale, then to maintain them within the tribe.” Focusing on quality, like that of the TQM model, Attila created consistently disciplined Huns, who ideally, and realistically, began to discipline one another individually and subordinately. Morale within an army of 700,000 wild creatures is not easy to attain, but through consistent behaviors of his own such as accountability, loyalty, and confidence, Attila maintained this unified purpose.
Holding every member of any sized organization accountable for their actions and ensuring reliability and consistency in their behavior seems only natural; however, this “logic” is much more accepted in the TQM model rather than that of the Management by Objectives system. Attila emphasized the importance of personal character (unlike MBO), but he did enforce accountability (like MBO). Just as we learned in class, though, the deadline aspect of MBO (ensuring accountability) is almost unavoidable in measuring any success or failure. Using Attila's tactics, Roberts focuses on TQM and the unavoidable aspects of MBO presents a valid approach to management.
“Leaders must attach value to high standards of performance and have no tolerance for the uncommitted” – one of Deming’s 14 points? Likely, but in fact this quotation is one of Attila’s points regarding responsibilities of a chieftain. Again and again he stresses the importance of individual quality performance and commitment. If on the basic, single level, you cannot rely on one person, then your army will not be successful. Consistent commitment and high standards are vital to a thriving organization or an unconquerable army.
Even though Attila focuses his fireside chats on how chieftains should act and manage their armies, I think this book can easily be applied to a public relations practitioner (or really any leader). Each of the sixteen chapters begins with a brief historical story of Attila's, and then follows with ten to twenty bullet point messages. It's a very easy read, and whether you finish with one or one hundred new strategies, "Leadership Secrets" will give you something to take away. Relating back to Roberts' "no model" idea supports the reasoning for anyone to read this book -- everyone has their own style, and as Attila would say -- "Leaders must encourage creativity, freedom of action and innovation among their subordinates, so long as these efforts are consistent with the goals of the tribe or nation." Otherwise, your leadership in an army, an organization, a world, or a public relations department will never change, improve, or grow. And as a public relations student myself, I now have new flair to my PR style – thank you, Attila.