Over the years, we have turned to many business experts, reading their words and stealing their ideas. We have talked about Peters, Godin, Tracy, and a few other business experts, and we have benefited from all of them. Now, I thought it would be interesting to delve into the dark side to see how the bad guys got things done. How have the most evil people who ever lived managed to get so far before the forces of good finally stopped them?
So, I turned to my friend and fellow industry writer and guru Steve Williams, who just coincidentally wrote a new book titled Notorious: Business Lessons from History’s Most Ruthless Leaders where he talks about the management skills of those bad guys from Al Capone to Genghis Kahn, which if you think about it, is a fascinating idea. These people were the best at what they did and at the top of their field; they succeeded pretty well and went pretty far (until they did not). Let’s check out some of the leadership skills of these heroes from the dark side.
From Steve’s new book, here are some of the leadership secrets of some of the worst people who ever lived:
• Sun Tsu on strategy: He ought to know. This is the guy who wrote The Art of War, the quintessential handbook on how to successfully wage war. His book is still in print and being read today even though it was written in the sixth century. This is what Sun Tsu has to say about strategy:
o Avoid your competitor’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses
o Use strategic and tactical preparation to act with blinding speed
• Attila the Hun on leadership: One of the most famous bad guys of all time. Hanging around in the fifth century, Attila—or Attie to his friends—loved war and beating the bejesus out of people. He also had his posse do amazing things. Remember, this is the guy who crossed the Alps with his gang of Huns and their elephants. This is what our friend Attie advises about leadership:
o Pick your enemies wisely
o Rely on the art of negotiation
• Freydis Eiriksdottir on overcoming adversity: I had no idea who Freydis was until I read Steve’s book. It turns out she was Erik the Red’s daughter and Leif Erikson’s half-sister; talk about a pedigree! She was a trooper in her own right. While the rest of the family was finding new lands, she was the one stuck with settling them. In doing so, she saw plenty of hardships, so it’s no surprise that her expertise involves overcoming adversity. Her most famous quote was, “Hand me an ax!” Here are her two tidbits of advice on overcoming adversity:
o Never fear failure
o Walk the walk
• Genghis Khan on power: We all know this man. He rose from nothing to become the leader of the Mongols, which is no small task. I’ve been to China and met some Mongols selling their giant knives laid out on furs on sidewalks in downtown Shanghai, and they are a bunch of tough dudes. It took a pretty powerful guy to lead them. Here is what he says about power:
o Lead from the front
o Get the right people
• Blackbeard the pirate on building your brand: Certainly one of my favorites! This guy knew all about how to build his brand. Who could forget his old candles in the beard trick? He knew how to etch an unforgettable impression. Here is his advice:
o You are your logo
o Image is everything
• Al Capone on exploiting your niche: Scarface! He knew what his customers wanted, (booze, broads, and a little gambling while enjoying the first two) and how to keep them happy…or else. Here are his words of wisdom:
o Know what your customers want
o Customer satisfaction is the key to success
• Sonny Barger on extreme leadership: The leader of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club for many years, this guy knew how to lead, and more or less, control a bunch of mean-spirited but fun-loving thugs. Who better to teach us about not just leadership, but extreme leadership? Here is what Sonny can teach us:
o Great leaders know they don’t have all of the answers
o Create an environment of empowerment
• Steve Jobs on insane success: Okay, so Steve was probably not as bad of a guy as Blackbeard or the others, but he was certainly able to make his workers cry. After all, he did fly the Jolly Roger from the top of the building where his gang of outlaw designers was building the infamous Lisa, and he was one of the most creative people of our lifetimes. I certainly believe he knew what he was talking about when he shared how to design your way to insane success:
o Simple is better
o Value creativity over structure
I had a lot of fun reading this book and learning what these leaders had to say. Steve’s book will soon be available on Amazon. Look for it, buy it, and read it, and you too could soon be leading like a world-class bad guy. It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.