Ernestas Poškus

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The Leadership Maxims and Laws of Genghis Khan

WC 742 / RT 4min

So bellowed Genghis Khan as he rode on horseback inside the sacred Mosque of Bokhara moments before he ordered the entire town razed and all inhabitants slaughtered, except for a few peasants “scattered to the winds to tell the tale of the horror they witnessed here.” Not a very nice guy. He was not, in fact, the kind of person one expects to read about in studying contemporary business leadership.

A hunted outcast on the steppe from the age of ten until the age of seventeen, he rose in four short years to be elected Genghis Khan (rightful ruler) of the Mongols. After defeat and desolation two years later, he rose to be Khan again and later to be Emperor of the Steppes and the World Conqueror.

His empire stretched from within sixty miles of Venice to the tip of Korea, from the north of India to north of Moscow. It was said to take a year to ride across his territory and yet certain developments in one region were felt more quickly in another region than at any other time before the advent of electronic communication.

He had a keen eye for talent and promoted men on merit alone. He had the knack of inspiring fanatical loyalty among men he had just met. When he died, he divided his empire among his sons and generals, and his Maxims (Bilik) and Laws (Yasa) were revered for two hundred years.

He maintained strict and harsh discipline, and liberally used the death penalty, but Genghis Kan also divided the spoils of war equally after each battle, often dismounting and personally carrying booty to the wounded.

The Bilik and Yasa show Genghis Khan to be a thoughtful leader, one that believed strongly in structure, and disciplined operational processes. Many of us have an expectation of Genghis Khan’s ruthlessness, perhaps born of the stories told by his conquered enemies. The Bilik and Yasa show a demanding leader, but a leader with considerably more empathy than we might expect. This is the leader who united warring nomads with the promise of fair treatment and reward.

Genghis Khan set up a highly organized, disciplined, feudal organization appropriate to the military task of world conquest. This organization of absolute autocratic rules was severe in its punishment of transgression of the Yasa (death for gluttony). The Khan also offered absolute reward (equal share of plunder) for absolute loyalty and excellence of performance.

No one would suggest that this kind of feudal law is possible today. Neither would it be desirable or effective as a form of contemporary business leadership. Still we can take note of what the Khan gave the Mongol horde:


Life in today’s organization is often not so clearly cut. The workplace has changed. Peter Drucker, Professor of Management at Claremont Graduate School, observes a need for a new type of organization. In the contemporary organization, information, the stuff of decisions, is now freely available to all. This newly knowledgeable, independent work force, Drucker says, will work better in a new organization.

Drucker likens this organization to a university or a symphony orchestra, a collection of specialists. This flatter structure is bound together by a single purpose and directed by a leader capable of bringing out the best performance of each individual and each specialty.

A new structure alone will not bring the results that Drucker describes. Leadership will be required.

“There is an adage-verse: ‘In a house everything resembles its master. ‘ So it is with the arben or the tumen . . .Whoever can keep ten men in order may be given ten thousand and he will also keep them in order.”


Bilik - maxims

Yasa - laws

Arban - a unit of ten men

Jegun - a unit of 100 men

Mingon - a unit of 1000 men

Tumen - a unit of 10000 men