Attila revisited

Nearly a dozen years ago, Ross Perot distributed copies of the book “Leadership Skills of Attila The Hun” to some 500 managers at General Motors. You may recall the event was widely publicized by the media, and the book became a bestseller.

As I reread the book recently, I was struck by how a number of the observations continue to be relevant in today’s business environment.

On Empathy: Chieftains must develop empathy — an appreciation for and an understanding of the values of others, a sensitivity for other cultures, beliefs and traditions.

Today’s leaders must have empathy and an appreciation for the diversity that has become a reality in the world of commerce. Issues related to racism, sexism, people with disabilities and the needs of people in other countries can slow the momentum of any organization when not given proper attention.

On Stewardship: Our leaders must have the essential quality of stewardship, a caretaker quality. They must serve in a manner that encourages confidence, trust and loyalty.

As a leader, you are responsible for any number of resources, tangible and intangible. It’s your duty to enhance the value of these resources. If you are in charge of a marginal facility, your primary responsibility should be to make that facility strong and viable — not to dismantle and discard it. Too many of our facilities are being cast off while they could still be resuscitated.

On the Responsibilities of the Chieftain: 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.

Today we use the term “empowerment” to describe this responsibility of leadership. Some organizations have invested a great deal of money in training to help their people understand exactly what is meant by the term, along with how and when they are expected to exercise greater responsibility.

The success of these programs often depends on the leaders’ willingness to relinquish authority to their people, and on how effectively they define and communicate precisely what the employees’ new responsibilities are and under what circumstances they are to exercise that authority. Too often, leaders erroneously assume that the information has been communicated effectively, when, in fact, it has not.

On Lust for Leadership: You must have the courage, creativity and stamina to focus on accomplishing your responsibilities through the directed, delegated efforts of subordinates.

To be successful as a leader, you must want to lead, You must have the desire to accomplish organizational objectives through the combined efforts of both you and your people. Any problem you can resolve alone is probably only a symptom of the real problem. To accomplish worthwhile objectives, the leader must utilize all available resources.

Attila adds an additional thought on the Lust for Leadership:

You must be determined to apply massive common sense in solving complex problems.

In today’s world, we frequently try to create complex solutions for what appear to be complex problems. Make certain all available options are considered before action is taken. Quite often, you will find that the simplest and best solution can be found in the mind of one of your “soldiers.” Never be too proud to seek answers from others; even the humblest person has the capacity to recognize a potential solution to a seemingly complex problem.

And finally, one of the most important secrets to effective leadership, according to the book:

On Credibility: Chieftains must be credible. Their words and actions must be believable to both friend and foe.

This bit of counsel will always be relevant. If any leader loses credibility, his or her ability to lead effectively will always be compromised. Too many leaders, even those with exceptional potential, have learned the wisdom of this advice only after their careers have been sidetracked.

The leader’s credibility becomes the foundation upon which employee loyalty, trust, and involvement can be established.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or by e-mail at [email protected]