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Posted on Oct 4, 2004 in War College

To Rule the World . . .!!

By Steven McWilliams

Leadership, Responsibilities and Negotiation

Probably more than for his conquests, Attila should be better remembered and recognized for his concepts and principles of leadership.  As noted above, Attila would not tolerate a chieftain who gave his loyalty to his tribe before the Hun nation as a whole.  Neither would he accept a chieftain who did not measure up to his leadership principles.  Attila realized that leaders are not created quickly, stressing the need for a lifetime of learning, seeking new insights, procedures and methods.  Further, he felt that the image that a leader projected was of paramount importance.  As well, Huns had to aspire to leadership, it did not come “once one left the comfort of the chariot”.  In his words, “You’ve got to want to be in charge.”  Of his horse, Villam (Lightning), it was said that where he trod, grass would never again grow.  As well, though Attila was armed with the traditional Hun bow, lance and lariat, his sword was attained during the battle with his elder brother, Bleda, over who would rule the Huns.  According to legend, a flaming sword appeared in a field, “jumping” into Attila’s hand as he approached it.  This was accepted as an omen – this was the Sword of God, confirming Attila as King of the Huns.  To this end, Attila planned to unite the Huns as one great nation.  Tribal chieftains who continued to pledge their allegiance to their tribe, rather than Attila, were removed.  Attila resolved that no person or obstacle would stand between him and his plans for conquest and greatness.  Following are several of Attila’s principles of leadership:


Loyalty: Above all things . . . a Hun who acts in the best interests of the tribe, is loyal; those who act or encourage counter to the good of the tribe is disloyal;

Courage: Chieftains . . . must have courage.  They must be fearless and have the fortitude to carry out assignments . . . the gallantry to accept the risks of leadership.  They must not balk at the sight of obstacles nor . . . become bewildered when in the presence of adversity;

Empathy: . . . . an appreciation for and an understanding of the values of others, sensitivity for other cultures, beliefs, and traditions . . . not [to] be confused with sympathy;

Decisiveness: . . . . knowing when to act, when not to act, taking into account all facts bearing on the situation and then responsibly carrying out their leadership role;

Competitiveness: . . . . an intrinsic desire to win.  It is not necessary to win all of the time.  It is important to win the important contests.  A leader without a sense of competitiveness is weak and easily overcome;

Self-confidence: Proper training and experience develops in chieftains a personal feeling of assurance with which to meet the inherent challenges of leadership;

Responsibility: Leaders are only necessary when someone is to be responsible to see that actions are carried out and directions followed;

Credibility: [Chieftains’] words and actions must be believable to both friend and foe.  They must be trusted to have the intelligence and integrity to provide correct information;

Tenacity: The quality of unyielding drive to accomplish assignments is a desirable and essential quality of leadership.

Attila’s Legacy

For many, “Hun” is a byword for depravity, cruelty, inhumanity, debauchery, and more.  But were they truly any worse than their contemporaries?  What earned for them so negative a reputation, in comparison not only to other to other “barbarians”, but also to the two Romes?  No person ever died in a Hunnic gladiatorial contest, nor was thrown to the lions.  Romans and barbarians alike were known to burn and slaughter entire towns that resisted them.  So why are the Huns singled out?  Most likely because of several aspects, including: 1) their origins in the mysterious lands of the far east; 2) their appearance in skins and leather, as opposed the cloaks and armor of Rome; 3) their fierce and unbridled combat style.  This being so, should Attila and his Huns suffer the ignominy of being synonymous to all that is dark and infamous in mankind?

While Attila would never have won the Nobel Peace Prize, his conduct as the leader of the entire Hun nation was far better, honorable and even-handed than a great many Roman Emperors or commanders.  There was, to read the available accounts, no duplicity, no dishonor in Attila’s words or deeds.  His word was truly his bond, he was averse to plots, subterfuge, and chicanery.  Like the Romans, Attila was not above employing the skills of those from conquered tribes and nations, rewarding these persons as he would any Hun.  Any tactic, skill, ability or device (within the limits of his honor and integrity) that advanced his aspirations for himself and the Huns were to be exploited to the full.

In hindsight, Attila was quite a notable warrior and leader.  He should be remembered for both the good and the bad.  For his savagery and his even-handedness.  For his primitive soul and his cosmopolitan face.  In future, when one compares another to Attila or to the Huns, it is to be hoped that such reference is not automatically assumed to be negative.  While the Hun Empire rapidly fractured after his death in 453, owing to the destructive infighting of his sons, the years of his rule were ones of greatness, ones that modern peoples who trace their origins to the Huns should be rightfully proud of.

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