You have probably all heard of Genghis Khan, his name likely conjuring up images of a hairy barbaric warlord terrorising and plundering the ancient world. I’ll admit I had a similar impression until recently, when I came across an article detailing the almost unbelievable impressiveness of his feats.
Genghis might have been harsh, unforgiving and brutal when needed be, but he is far less remembered as being a one of the most intelligent and pragmatic leaders, tacticians, and conquerors of all time.
While the ruthlessness and ferocity of his actions should not be admired (and obviously aren’t applicable to the 21st century), the philosophies Genghis Khan adopted that gave rise to his successes are just as relevant in today’s business world. A world which at it’s heart is not so distant to the competitive and ferocious nature of 13th century warfare.
I’ve attempted to summarise Genghis’ most effective leadership strategies as: Meritocracy, Discipline, Loyalty, and Determination. These four qualities enabled Genghis to take warring bands of nomadic tribesman and unite them to form arguably the most successful army in history, carving out an empire surpassed in size only by the British, some 700 years later.
These strategies which brought success to Genghis, are just as applicable to any modern leadership position and when applied correctly may just allow you to carve out an empire of your own.
It needs to be said that for his time, Genghis was as progressive and forward thinking as it comes. One of his most successful traits being his uncanny ability to identify value in people and positioning them within his empire accordingly.
“.. I have few talents therefore I am fond of intelligent men, treating them as my brothers” - Genghis Khan
The vast majority of leaders and rulers at this time structured their armies and governments around nepotism, cronyism, and aristocratic privilege. Genghis however, favoured skill, talent, and abilities above all else, and would surround himself with those he believed would best serve the empire and it’s people regardless of their personal background.
Exemplifying his belief in this, Genghis is reported to have recruited an enemy solider who managed to wound him with an arrow in battle. Once the battle had ended, Genghis asked the defeated to reveal who had shot him. The enemy solider, Jebe, came forward and confessed, but professed to Genghis that if he spared his life, he would gain his absolute loyalty. Genghis recognised Jebe’s potential and valuing honesty, skill and loyalty pardoned him and positioned him within his army, later successfully rising to become one of the Khan’s top generals.
Today’s leaders and managers, can follow in Genghis’ footsteps, both by remaining mindful of their own value and limitations and through non-discriminatively delegating tasks to and promoting employees with recognisable value and expertise. Perhaps, like Genghis, even through the acquisition of talent from rival companies?
Indeed, structuring your business in the same way Genghis Khan structured his army, will not only produce an effectual and productive team, but allow for individual weaknesses to be mitigated by a cohesive symbiosis between employees. Which is further strengthened by a fierce loyalty and discipline bred into each solider (employee).
Discipline and Loyalty
Discipline is what allowed the mongol army to maintain itself under extreme conditions and over vast distances, fighting and defeating armies whilst vastly outnumbered.
The discipline Genghis sanctioned was subject to every man under his leadership. There were no special privileges to generals or commanders. In fact, if a general lost a battle, or an officer made a big enough mistake, he’d be demoted to the rank of common solider.
Whilst the training was hard and demanding, it was never unreasonable or overly severe. Genghis ensured that his men were trained for as many circumstances as they could imagine, prioritising preparedness.
Discipline and preparedness in battle is just as vital as preparedness in business. A employee well-trained is far more effective and valuable, and less likely to have gaps in their workplace skills.
Much like with Genghis’ soldier’s, an effective training programme not only improves performance, but forges loyalty and generates a sense of collective unity amongst employees.
Genghis was also opposed to micromanagement, usually allowing his officers and commanders autonomy in how they trained and managed their soldiers, so long as the wider objectives were met.
Where this tactic helped the mongols avoid the common pitfalls of an overly rigid management structure, it is just as beneficial when running your business. It has been shown that micromanaging at any corporate level can cause an array of negative consequences including: distrust, lack of loyalty, lower morale, overly dependent staff, and lower productivity to name a few.
Genghis was known to breed loyalty in many ways, one of which, you might agree, resembles a modern day employee reward scheme. Yes, each solider of the mongol army received a share of whatever plunder was taken. Thus, incentivising efficiency and productivity (at least when it came to warfare).
This very much mirrors modern employee share schemes, with many businesses having reaped the benefits of such a strategy. Rewarding employees when the company has had a good financial year aligns employee interests with that of the company and can result in a notable improvement in productivity, loyalty, and engagement.
Genghis Khan very much led by example. His unparalleled determination and sheer force of will influencing all those who followed him.
“There is no value in anything until it is finished.” - Genghis Khan
There have been few men in history with such a determination to achieve their goals, and even fewer who have actually achieved it.
Having vision, drive and determination are arguably the most valuable characteristics of any leader. Genghis inspired his men to follow him. His tale similar to that of a poem or epic tale, Genghis rose from humble origins, to becoming the conqueror of the known world. A feat accomplished by his unwavering vision of a united world.
While determination is important to success in all walks of life, it is particularly relevant to building a business and as a leader in such regards.
“There are many moments that are filled with despair and agony, when you have to fire people and cancel things and deal with very difficult situations . . . it’s so hard (to build a company) that if you don’t have a passion, you’ll give up.”
-Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc
Having drive, determination, and vision facilitates change. They are the indisputable foundations of success. It is the individual possessing these qualities who doesn’t quit when the going gets tough, who keeps pushing until they succeed. Determination forged Genghis’ empire, will it forge yours too?
I hope this article provided a brief glimpse into the brilliance of Genghis Khan, and how he might inspire your business practises and your personal life. I encourage you to do your own research and find out more about this enigmatic conqueror.