Thoughts on Leadership: Take a Cue from History's Greatest Conqueror

What can we learn from a leader from the ancient world – a man known as history's greatest conqueror? Centuries ago, Attila the Hun set out to tap the energy of the untamed, nomadic Huns to create a great nation. Though it was hardly a time we can relate to much today, his leadership principles still hold value. Attila's actions offer timeless lessons in win-directed, take-charge management.

I first read about Attila's methods in a book, "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun," by Wess Roberts, which our Santana Row office manager Jurgen Weller gave to me years ago.

The book reveals how Attila shaped an aimless band of mercenary tribal nomads into the undisputed rulers of the ancient world.

Attila (406-453 AD) was a member of the ruling family of the Huns, a barbaric nation of loosely bound tribes who continuously migrated. At age 12, he was sent to Rome and held hostage in the Roman court, where he learned about Roman policies and military – knowledge that would help mold him into the leader he became.

The hatred he developed for Rome while being held captive fueled his ambitions to conquer the world and ultimately overthrow Rome.

Attila's greatest leadership achievements were perfecting an ability to move masses of men quickly and in perfect order, and to attach swiftly with overwhelming strength; combining ferocity with a high degree of discipline; and consistently turning conquest to profit.

Attila the Hun acquired territories so vast that he earned a place as history’s most famous conqueror. What leadership lessons can we learn from him and apply to our own situations?

  • Focus single-mindedly on your goal.
  • Value swift, decisive action. Typically, this requires careful advance planning and then resolute execution.
  • Emphasize training. Swift, flawless execution can be achieved consistently only with a thoroughly competent team.
  • Understand your purpose. In the case of Attila, conquest meant not merely the acquisition of land, but the accumulation of profit.
  • Push the envelope by demanding a bit more than you believe you can get.

In his creative approach to serious tasks, Attila's story reveals a creative approach to serious tasks. His principles for successful morale building, decision making, delegating and negotiating deserve attention. His advice on overcoming setbacks and achieving goals withstands the test of time.