Leadership Lessons from Genghis Khan

“Genghis Khan conquered a territory extending from Korea to the Balkans—the largest contiguous land empire in the history of the world. Yet little is known about how he rose from obscurity to lead an army that claimed more territory in 25 years than the Romans conquered in 400.” [1]

Genghis (or Chinggis[2]) Khan, with the given name Temujin, was not only a remarkable military general, but also an extraordinary leader, who is still regarded as “one of a kind”, among scholars, historians, writers and even business people and aspiring entrepreneurs. He did not only manage to unite nomadic tribes and had him declared as the Great Khan despite his tumultuous upbringing, but also created the largest land-based empire the world has ever seen.

Most importantly, unlike most great generals and emperors in the history, he died peacefully by being surrounded by his family, and friends many of who became his friends over the years. Genghis Khan has been most blamed for all the slaughter and destruction he masterminded to achieve his goals. It indeed is such tragic truth that was unfortunately the norm during his time.

But, I would like to focus on some of the leadership lessons we can learn from Genghis Khan. These lessons are relevant for any leaders at any sectors. 


Treasure the talents

Genghis Khan was a master of meritocracy. He managed to recruit the best and the brightest men for the most important positions in his empire. “Under Yassa[3], chiefs and generals were selected based on merit, religious tolerance was guaranteed, and thievery and vandalizing of civilian property was strictly forbidden.”[4]

He was also a feminist. He worshipped his mother who raised her five children on her own and respected his wife Borte Ujin to the fullest. Not only the royal women, but even the ordinary women of his empire played essential roles in running and maintaining the structure during their men’s prolonged absence due to the numerous battles they were sent to. By bearing such democratic mindset which cherished gender equality and treasured talents or mastered meritocracy, Genghis Khan was able to leverage on the full potential of his people.

Nurture the needy

On the other hand, Genghis Khan is famously quoted that “a leader cannot be happy if his people are not happy”. Probably due to his tough childhood, tumultuous upbringing and the external kindness he received throughout, he always nurtured the needy. Such philosophy was even inherited by his offspring. For instance, during Yuan dynasty established by Genghis Khan’s grandson Kubilai Khan, “the Mongols gave strong support to the peasants and peasant economy of China, believing that the success of the peasant economy would bring in additional tax revenues and ultimately benefit the Mongols themselves.”[5]

In addition to economically supporting the needy, Genghis Khan and his descendants religiously freed everyone in Mongol Empire.

Don’t try to be on top of them, but be among them

“… He [Chinggis Khan] disliked luxury and saw it as evidence of weakness in others.”[6] Genghis Khan, like most nomads, was not a fan of luxury and a slave of wealth. In other words, he did not make accumulation of wealth as his ultimate goal like most emperors throughout the history. He is sometimes blamed for not leaving much or any physical heritage for his future generations.

However, the fact that he did not only want a massive tomb, but even revelation of his burial could imply that he did not give much attention to materialistic belongings. He is also considered to be a spiritual believer who worshipped and believed in the sky which supported and paved his path to be the Great Khan. So, the lesson that can be learnt from the third point is that “everyone is equal, so no one even the Great Khan should be separated from the rest”. In short, stay humble.