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Review: Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun

In Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, Wess Roberts dissects Attila's leadership style with historical precision. The book is well-researched and pays great attention to the personal leadership qualities displayed by Attila and his relationships with subordinates.However, it is not always evident that Attila's leadership style has lessons for a different age, where power is exercised differently.

The basic thesis

Personal qualities The book identifies Attila as a man with a clear grasp of leadership techniques. Roberts analyses Attila and attempts to discern these qualities and techniques. He singles out Attila's lust for power as a key ingredient along with his ruthlessness. He observes how Attila identified the weakness of the collapsing Roman Empire and exploited it. Attila is presented here as a man suited and ready for war at all times Subordinates Roberts is particularly interested in Attila's relationship with subordinate chieftains and how he held and maintained their respect and fear. He shows how a judicious attention to reward and praise can have the maximum effect, but also how ill-disciplined subordinates should be punished or disposed of.

Positive points

Roberts displays the qualities of a very competent scholar and author. These are that he knows his subject matter well, can write clearly about it and can communicate it with enthusiasm. The book draws positive lessons for leaders of today from Attila's style, which makes the book useful for managers and politicians. His analysis of Attila's personal qualities is precise and detailed, and it is clear that Roberts has applied leadership theory to his subject. The analysis is thorough and there are no areas of leadership skill that escape his scrutinising eye. Overall, the subject is fascinating and the book is likely to appeal to historians and to the intelligent general reader of historical works. Hence, it is worth buying.

Negative points

Any negatives are concerned with applicability. While there are some positive management lessons to be derived from the book, there are problems with transferring Attila's style to the present age. Attila was a warlord who lived by plunder and conquest and who governed a simple, autocratic, warrior society of nomadic herds-people. How far his tactics can be transferred to modern times without some modification is unclear. There is indeed some transferability, but one must make adaptations. One notices, too, that Attila governed a sexist society in which women were subject to men and his leadership was entirely of male warriors. One does not need to be a feminist to see that modern women might not take well to Attila's leadership style and that they might prefer something more peaceful and consensual. Certainly, political leadership in a democracy might not apply Attila's secrets without modification.

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