(406-53), king of the Huns (433-53)

Atli, or Attila, was called Etzel by the Germans and Ethele by the Hungarians. He was a member of the ruling family of the Huns, a nomadic Asian people who spread from the Caspian steppes throughout the Roman Empire in search of global conquest. By AD 432, the Huns had gained so much power that they were receiving a large annual tribute from Rome.

By AD 451, Attila's army consisted of 700,000 warriors, and was content with nothing less than the ransacking of Rome itself. They had earlier moved against the Chinese Empire but were turned away. The Huns had a reputation for cruelty and barbarism that was not undeserved. They ate their meat raw (often human flesh), had little use for virgins, and possessed a strong appetite for murder and mayhem. No one could look Attila in the eyes, not even any of his 400 wives.


     It's interesting how I first heard about the book, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.  I guess everyone has their own story of how they heard about it.  After all, this is the kind of book you hear about word-of-mouth.  It's more a booklet than a book, consisting of only 100 pages.  I understand it was freely distributed for many years while the author, Wess Roberts, was trying to find a publisher.  Word has it that Ross Perot bought out all copies of the first printing in 1985.

   Anyway, I sometimes run into police chiefs or police trainers, and when I ask them what kinds of management or administrative theories they might find the most useful, I usually get a reply like "Have you ever heard of a book called Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun? That's the kind of management philosophy that police need."  So, this book has always intrigued me.  The second thing I've heard quite commonly in criminal justice are practitioners, faculty, or students say something like "Politically and ideologically, I'm located somewhere right of Attila the Hun." I'm not sure, but I think it might be an Andrew Dice Clay joke, but it expresses the right-wing, conservative orientation of many people in criminal justice.

     The BOOK, by the way, pretends to be a collection of campfire stories or fireside chats held by Attila while training his chieftains to be better leaders.  There's no historical evidence that Attila ever had such fireside chats, but it's an interesting way for the author to infer what Attila might have said under such circumstances.


#1: YOU'VE GOT TO WANT TO BE IN CHARGE -- You've got to be ruthlessly ambitious. Never be bored, disinterested, or cowardly in any way about always strengthening your position. Good leaders are lustful leaders. Power is like sex, but don't appear overeager, just extremely determined to succeed under any circumstances, fair or unfair. [This will inspire confidence in those you lead]

#2: ALWAYS APPEAR AS THE ONE IN CHARGE -- Dress appropriately for your high station in life. Own the biggest horse and sword. Be first in everything, but never appear pompous. [Be marked with armament that distinguishes you from the masses]

#3: MAKE OTHERS ADAPT TO YOUR "CUSTOMS" -- Make people do things your way, not their way. Make them adjust or adapt to you. Express this as the way things are going to be from now on, or pretend it's the way things have always been. Refuse to acknowledge any other way of doing things other than the way you do things. [This will extract tribute and praise from those you lead]

#4: NEVER CONDONE A LACK OF MORALE OR DISCIPLINE -- Terminate people at the first sign of disrespect for the common good, but by no means stiffle individualism or punish the innocent who don't know the common good.  Definitely, do not allow uncontrolled celebration. Pillaging and looting are only fun if done in the name of nationalism.  [Discipline will build morale]

#5: NEVER TOLERATE ANYONE WITH THEIR OWN AMBITIONS -- People who are "cunning" are dangerous, especially new people who have just joined the organization. Be vigilant about how people lose their ambition and become team players; that is the pattern you want everyone to follow. Never reward anyone for what is a common effort. [The spirit of unity must prevail]

#6: PERPETUATE A LEGEND OR REPUTATION FOR YOURSELF -- Find out whatever it is that your worst enemy calls you, and try hard to live up to it, with a passion.  This will have its advantages to you whenever you need to use your fury and power, and it will accumulate minor privileges to you along the way. [You are your reputation]

#7: PICK YOUR ENEMIES WISELY -- Do not consider all opponents, or everyone you argue with, as enemies.  These are accidental enemies.  Choose your enemies with purpose. They may be people you have friendly relations with, and in fact, you should let them think of you as a friend, all the while never telling them anything, and lulling them into a state of complacence and acting prematurely. [Do not make enemies unless you mean it]

#8: EXPECT CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT -- You must encourage learning and innovation among those you lead. This can be done in several ways, by creating competitions among the people.  Never allow them to wander aimlessly.  Regularly upgrade your standards of performance. [This fulfills most of a leader's duties]

#9: USE TIMING IN MAKING DECISIONS -- Never rush a decision, although sometimes you have to because the moment is ripe or an omen exists. It's better to use timing, to find the obscure places and critical elements needed to ensure you always make the right decision.  This way, you ensure that even a less-than-perfect decision is followed. [Time your decisions]

#10: EXPLOIT THE DESIRE TO ENJOY THE SPOILS OF WAR -- Harness your peoples' desires for short-term gains.  Grant small rewards for light tasks. Reserve heaps of booty for other times, and be generous with items that hold a value to yourself. [Never underestimate the ability to buy obedience]

#11: ONLY ENGAGE IN WARS YOU CAN WIN -- Use diplomacy, negotiation, or other techniques of conflict in battles you cannot win. When in a political war, always keep an eye to your rear. When in an external war, go all out. [Waging war is a natural condition]

Roberts, Wess (1987) Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. New York: Warner Books.


     It's clear, at least to any astute observer, that management theories (in the form of advice given) often contain a boatload of crap.  Perhaps a better way of saying it is to postulate that the advice given borders on How to Avoid Being a "Total" Jackass."  That's the approach taken by Charles Sennewald (2011) in his book, Effective Security Management, Boston: Butterworth-Heinneman, so here's his list of 32 things that make a manager a total jackass:

#1: Seek to be "liked" rather than respected
#2: Ignore the opinions and advice of subordinates
#3: Fail to delegate properly
#4: Ignore the training and development needs of subordinates
#5: Insist on doing everything the "company way"
#6: Fail to give credit when credit is due
#7: Treat subordinates as subordinates
#8: Ignore employee complaints
#9: Do not keep people informed
#10: Hold your assistant back
#11: View the disciplinary process as punitive
#12: Fail to back up your people
#13: Be a person whose word cannot be trusted
#14: Avoid making decisions
#15: Play favorites
#16: Fail to stay current in your field
#17: Enjoy "pouring on" more work than subordinates can handle
#18: Act or overreact too quickly
#19: Believe your manure is odorless
#20: Be moody
#21: Fail to plan or put priorities on work
#22: Lack emotion and empathy
#23: Hire relatives into the organization
#24: View women as limited to pleasure, breeding, and menial functions
#25: Faithfully practice the art of pessimism
#26: Steal your subordinates' ideas
#27: Maintain an authority style based on absolute power
#28: Seem oblivious to what is happening
#29: Love to "sack" employees
#30: Embarrass employees in the presence of others
#31: Follow "double standards" in the organization
#32: Be a religious or racial bigot

Last updated: Dec. 25, 2013
Not an official webpage of APSU, copyright restrictions apply, see Megalinks in Criminal Justice
O'Connor, T.  (2013). "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun," MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from