A Bit of Advice From The Bad Guys

Dan - books

What would Atilla the Hun do?

Over the years we have turned to a number of business experts, reading their words, and stealing their ideas. We have talked about Peters, and Godin, and Tracy, and a number of 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 the most evil people who ever lived managed to get so far, before they were finally stopped by the “forces of good.”

So, I turned to my friend and fellow industry writer and guru, Steve Williams, who just coincidentally has written a new book titled Notorious, where he talks about the management skills of those bad guys from Al Capone to Genghis Khan, which if you think about it, is a fascinating idea. These people were the best at what they did, the top of their field, and they succeeded pretty well, went pretty far, until they did not.

So, I thought it would be fun and …er inspiring, to 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 thought it was written in the 6th century. This is what Sun Tsu has to say about strategy:
  • Avoid your competitor’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses
  • 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 loved 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:
  • Pick your enemies wisely
  • The art of negotiation
  • Freydis Eiriksdottir on Overcoming Adversity: I had no idea who Freydie 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 who was stuck with settling them.  Doing that she saw plenty of hardships it’s no surprise that her expertise in business of overcoming adversity. Her most famous quote was “Hand me an axe!” Here are her two tidbits of advice on overcoming adversity:
  • Never fear failure
  • Walk the walk
  • Genghis Khan on Power: We all know this guy. He rose from nothing to become the leader of the Mongols, which is no small task, I’ve been to China, I’ve met some Mongols, selling their giant knives laid out on furs on sidewalks in downtown Shanghai, and they are a bunch of tough dudes. So, it took a pretty powerful guy to lead them. Here is what he says about power:
  • Lead from the front
  • Get the right people
  • Blackbeard the Pirate on Building your Brand: Certainly, one of my favorites! This guy knew all about building his brand, who could forget his old candles in the beard trick? He knew how to etch an unforgettable impression for sure: Here is his advice:
  • You are your logo
  • 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 he knew how to keep them happy…or else. So, of course here are his words of wisdom:



  • Know what your customers want
  • Customer satisfaction is key to success
  • Sonny Barger on Extreme Leadership: The leader of the Hell’s Angels for many years, this guy knew how to lead, and more or less, control a bunch of mean-spirited but fun-loving thugs, so who better to teach us about not just leadership, but extreme leadership”
  • Great leaders know they don’t have all the answers
  • Create an environment of empower
  • Steve Jobs on Insane Success: Okay, so Steve was probably not as bad a guy as say Blackbeard the pirate, but he was certainly able to make his workers cry, and after all he did fly the Jolly Roger from the top of the building where and his gang of outlaw designers were building the infamous LISA. And, of course, he was one of the most creative people of our lifetimes. I certainly believe he knew what he was talking about when he talked about designing your way to insane success:
  • Simple is better
  • Value creativity over structure


I had a lot of fun reading this book and a lot of fun learning what these inspirational leaders had to say. Steve’s book, full title: Notorious: Business Lessons from History’s Most Ruthless Leaders, will soon be available on Amazon, look for it, buy it, and read it, and you too can soon be leading like a world-class bad guy. It’s only common sense.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *