Books by Wess Roberts

Released: Jan. 6, 1993

A welcome return for one of publishing's more implausible—and popular—paradigms (Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, 1989), giving Roberts (Straight A`s Never Made Anybody Rich, 1991) a chance to offer crafty counsel on what it takes to create and run a prospering enterprise. Employing a ramshackle, often repetitive, account of Attila's success in uniting Mongol hordes and their allies in battle against—or accord with—a crumbling Roman Empire, Roberts provides a series of shrewd insights on organizational realities. He does so by making the fifth-century terrorist a font of institutional and interpersonal wisdom. The author's unlikely mouthpiece enjoins his followers, for example, to eschew force in pursuit of objectives that can be gained by diplomacy. Along similar lines, the Scourge of God reminds chieftains, warriors, and Huns (the tribal rank-and- file): ``Believing that you can win without preparation and sacrifice is a costly mistake.'' Covered as well in pragmatic, to- the-point fashion are accountability, competition, politics, rewards, risk, trust, etc. Yesteryear's captains apparently were also vulnerable to debilitating mental disorders with symptoms (and labels) nearly identical to those that afflict their latter-day counterparts. At any rate, Attila the Spokesman warns his adherents against ``baseless anxiety,'' ``compliance compulsion,'' ``denial dependency,'' ``empathy amnesia,'' ``inflamed ego,'' and related afflictions that can leave leaders ineffective. A decidedly different sort of management guide—and one whose purposefully perverse protagonist still commands serious attention. Read full book review >
Released: May 22, 1991

Roberts seems to have lost the fine sardonic edge that made his Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun (1989) a diverting bit of comic relief. Even more disappointing for readers in search of tongue-in-cheek insights, the author has turned deadly earnest, poaching on preachy preserves overcrowded by the likes of Robert Fulghum and Og Mandino. This time around, Roberts is bent on attesting to the rewards (psychic and otherwise) of living up to one's full potential. To this end, he combines straw-man case studies with cautionary tales drawn from a welter of oddly coupled sourcesthe Bible, Cervantes, classical mythology, Dickens, etc. With appreciably more piety than wit, he then offers capsule commentaries on the lessons to be learned. After recounting the unhappy fates of Narcissus and an upwardly mobile MBA cursed with a baseless sense of infallibility, for example, Roberts solemnly warns that false pride has pitfalls. Without apparent embarrassment, he also reminds slow learners: ``There is more to success and happiness than simply acquiring skills and knowledge.'' Nor, despite his test's suggestive title, does Roberts set great store by either fortune or fame as a benchmark of achievement; report cards, he argues along similar lines, are equally unreliable measures of academic excellence. Roberts gets off a few sallies, including the injunction to resist trying to get more out of an experience than circumstances warrant. In the main, however, his do-the-right-thing counsel consists of advisories that are either self-evident or so much syrupy twaddle. Late bloomers, ugly ducklings, and other of life's presumptive also-rans should probably wait for Rasputin's Complete Guide to Self-Realization. Read full book review >
Released: March 28, 1989

An antic appreciation of leadership's darker sides, where pragmatism takes precedence over excellence. Speaking through Attila, one of history's least likely role models, Roberts provides a series of gnomic briefings on what it takes to gain and retain command. Paradoxically perhaps, the author owes more to chance than to employment of his protagonist's toughminded canons. Originally self-published, the offbeat text attracted favorable attention from H. Ross Perot, whose interest was duly noted in Albert Lee's Call Me Roger (1988), a critical biography of GM's chairman. In the event, Roberts delivers his down-to-earth pronunciamentos in conjunction with a running account of Attila's career as King of the Huns and Scourge of God. This loopy narrative conceit affords Roberts ample opportunity to rip and snort his way across the organizational landscape, offering tart, ad-rem commentary on the essentially martial art of exercising authority. In some cases, he treats conventional wisdom as revelatory, e.g., emphasizing the importance of decisiveness, desire, discipline, and intelligence (as in detailed knowledge of adversaries' strengths or weaknesses). More often than not, however, Attila the Mentor is on target with such dicta as: "Grant small rewards for light tasks. Reserve heaps of booty for dangerous, gallant, substantial effort and worthy accomplishment." Also effective are mock-heroic observations on character, delegation, goals, running calculated risks, and, last but not least, succession. On balance, then, a diverting bit of comic relief from deadly earnest guides that confuse superintendency with pace-setting. Read full book review >