Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

The Leadership Secrets Of Genghis Khan

Man attempts to extract some of the leadership and management traits that made Genghis Khan a distinctive leader

Published: Aug 18, 2010 06:40:37 AM IST
Updated: Aug 16, 2010 04:41:47 PM IST
The Leadership Secrets Of Genghis Khan

Almost 800 years after his death, Genghis Khan is still considered the greatest conqueror of all time. From 1206 to 1258 AD, the Mongol and his successors occupied virtually all of Asia and many parts of Central Europe. Many of the civilisations they subjugated were much larger and seemingly more sophisticated than the Mongols. How, then, did these nomads from a remote desert create the largest empire in history? It would make for an enthralling organisational case study.

But while we wait for the Harvard B-School release (alas, none planned as yet), try John Man’s latest. Man, a historian and travel writer, attempts to extract some of the leadership and management traits that made Genghis Khan a distinctive leader. If you go by the book’s cover, you can see that he is drawing a parallel with how these qualities can be applied to modern corporations today. Wal-Mart, Dell, even Steve Jobs; they’re indeed known for their ruthless, aggressive management styles, high levels of discipline, and their domination of their industries, much like Khan.
However, while ruthless efficiency can be understood, even admired, businesses today are in need of more collaborative approaches for growth. Genghis Khan annihilated entire societies; at every city he arrived, he would offer a choice: Surrender or be killed. I expect when negotiating such a deal, it could be useful to be backed by an army of blood thirsty warriors.

Still, some of Man’s ideas provide for a thought-provoking book. His list of lessons range from not making wealth a focus, and remembering that as a leader you are never bigger than your project. But now I await the next management theory book on Pol Pot (or Adolf Hitler or Stalin) and his innovative genius.
The Leadership Secrets Of Genghis Khan; by John Man; Bantam; 224 pages; Rs. 399

(This story appears in the 27 August, 2010 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)