Genghis Khan - Page 2

By: Mick Yates


Genghis Khan actually used the 4 E's of Leadership, even if he didn't know it!

The vision was one of economic prosperity for his people, power for himself, total destruction of his enemies and fairness for willing subjects.

At the beginning it is doubtful that he had a grand vision of building the World's biggest empire. Rather, he recognized that rich plunder was the best means of preventing the Mongol tribes from fighting each other. He also recognized that this would allow them to preserve their nomadic way of life.


His enablers included good use of military technology, a unique organization of his army, promoting leaders on merit not lineage or family, definite rules of engagement in war, and a clear administrative system for conquered peoples.

Whilst his army had no unique weapons, he put to good use the short horse stirrup, to give better control at close quarters. His elite troops were quite heavily armored, although others were more militia-like. His soldiers used the Central Asian compound bow, which had the power of a European crossbow (although they didn't know it), whilst being half the size of a long bow.

Mongolian compound bowHe organized his army into units of "ten thousand", not sorted by tribal affinity as was historically the case. This reduced the possibility of internal friction. He also had an elite "Household Guard" with hand-picked commanders, upon which he relied for the most difficult tasks. All of his officers were instructed never to abuse their soldiers.

Rules of engagement were clear to all, and rigorously enforced. For example, if a soldier deserted his troop, he was executed. If a soldier failed to stop to help a fellow warrior whose baggage fell from his horse, he was executed. If two or more members of a troop made a great advance, but were not supported by their comrades, the latter were executed. And so it goes on ...

In terms of battle strategy, it seemed that there was little unique about Genghis' approach, building as it did on the Mongolian way of hunting. He also tended to close in on the enemy only when he was sure of overwhelming them - although he did loose some battles, even then. It seems that the thoroughness, fierceness, courage and total dedication of his troops were what carried the day.

In peacetime, Genghis developed unique administrative organization structures, designed to pre-empt feuding. the unit was not the tribe, family or aristocracy - but based again on tens, hundreds and thousands - "mixed and matched". Leadership was, as ever, based on merit. And he organized a system of internal communication by horse riders. (As an aside, the way some of these riders behaved caused much distress to the populace. They were accorded first right to virtually anything they wanted from local people as they rode across the country, and often abused this right. Genghis was not perfect in his adminstration ...)

Genghis' legal code (The Yasa of Chingis Khan) was firmly based on Mongol common law, but written down and extended as cases arose. And, as for his armies, the rules were clear and tough. For example, theft of any kind led to execution, and adultery was also punishable by death for both parties. He also rigorously enforced the Mongol religious taboos, although as noted before his administration was tolerant of other people's beliefs. On the downside, it should be noted that the continual pursuit of booty and plunder meant that many valuable artifacts were destroyed as he conquered, both religious and otherwise.

In no way am I trying to justify the more uncivilized of these rules .. but I simply want to point out that the clarity and universality of Genghis' rules ensured that his empire worked.  


It may be difficult to see that a Leader as strict as Genghis practiced "Empowerment". However if we define "Empowerment" as a contract between a leader and his followers for mutual trust and accountability, it was certainly central to Genghis' approach.

Merit was Genghis' guiding principle in choosing his leaders, both in wartime and when at peace. He did use the noble group as commanders, but his most valuable generals were solely picked on merit. He trusted these people to get the job done, although he clearly held them accountable for results

The army units were led by commanders personally picked by Genghis. His commanders could be from his immediate family, lowly sheep herders, or even conquered warriors he trusted and respected. Commanders were expected to have their troops ready for battle at all times - else they were replaced. All of the soldiers from whatever rank thus literally had the possibility before them of becoming commanders, based on their own merit.

Net, the Mongol army fully agreed with the goals of their Leader, and accepted the rules under which they fought. They totally trusted Genghis, and would rather die than let him down. In that sense, empowerment was clearly at work.


It seems clear that Genghis was consistently reflecting the real desires of his followers. He unleashed their need to escape from a poverty cycle, rather than simply focus them on visions of world conquest. Then, he made the "enemy without" the tool to prevent internal conflict.

It is perhaps most difficult to assess exactly how Genghis Khan energized his people, as almost no speeches are accurately recorded, and he himself could not write. However, "The Secret History" and several Persian chroniclers provide a few Candleclues.

Whilst Genghis sought power for himself, he also was careful at every stage to offer his followers major gain from their conquests. He shared his animals, his clothes, his food and his plunder with his people, almost irrespective of their social position.

He constantly demonstrated his loyalty to his trusted people, and his generosity surely encouraged all to follow. Rules were clear, rewards were many, and merit was a guiding principle of his administration.

When he went into battle, he very clearly intended to win. His people knew they followed a winner. Even in matters of vengeance, or of being insulted (as was the case with Sultan Muhammad), he very obviously put things in terms his followers could deal with and act upon.

Finally, he was totally true to his own value system, in a way that was obvious to both his friends and his enemies. This in itself must have provided significant energy to his followers.


Genghis Khan forged the unification of the Mongol tribes, and reversed their decline in living conditions.

Trade flourished, and contact with distant lands, including Europe, was encouraged. He set in motion the events that created the World's biggest land based empire, including the creation of the Yuan Dynasty in China. Importantly, his firm stand on his society's ethical rules and his intolerance of misdeeds led to a marked change in the social climate. Inter family rivalry all but disappeared, and peace and order were very evident to outside visitors, including European travelers.

As Microsoft Encarta says:

"The greatness of the khan as a military leader was borne out not only by his conquests but by the excellent organization, discipline, and maneuverability of his armies. Moreover, the Mongol ruler was an admirable statesman; his empire was so well organized that, so it was claimed, travelers could go from one end of his domain to the other without fear or danger".

Or, as in the introduction to the Genghis exhibition at the Royal British Columbian Museum said:

"Genghis Khan pledged to share with his followers both the sweet and the bitter of life. In structuring his army, he integrated soldiers from different tribes, thus inspiring loyalty to the Mongol army as a whole rather than to a specific lineage. He gave his enemies one simple choice: surrender and be enslaved, or die. By consistently enforcing discipline, rewarding skill and allegiance, and punishing those who opposed him, Genghis Khan established a vast empire".

For the people he conquered, the impact was very mixed. The Chinese fields got turned into nomadic pasture, adversely affecting the Chin peasants and causing hardship. On the other hand, for the cultures that he and later Khubilai Khan ruled, like the Chin, the encouragement of the exchange of knowledge and ideas helped them develop. For example, the Chinese became acquainted with Iranian medical knowledge and astronomy, and in return the peoples of the Middle East learnt much from China.

Unfortunately, unlike earlier days, increased prosperity meant that the lifestyle of the Mongol nobles tended to edge too far past that of the commoners. And, the sheer size of the empire and the extent of the losses in Mongolian manpower meant Genghis' empire was stretched thin.

Finally, recall that warfare and booty was the order of the day for the nomadic existence. So, in gaining a stable empire, the Mongols had to get used to the money economy. And, just as the administration came under control, so the administrators themselves became less militarily capable, and more intent on self-gain.

It was perhaps inevitable that, on his death, the empire was destined to split between his three remaining sons. Eventually, though, four Mongol Leaders became great Khans in their own right. It is a tribute the the memory of Genghis Khan that they did not war between themselves - rather they linked co-operatively together in separate Khanates to "rule the world".
Perhaps the most important Khan was Khubilai, who founded the Chinese Yuan dynasty. This dynasty flourished from from 1279 to 1368, and had a lasting effect on all aspects of Chinese life.

It is thus very clear that Genghis was a Leader with a "capital L".

Genghis Khan - Page 1