Genghis Khan (c. 1158 – August 18, 1227), also officially Genghis Huangdi, was the founder and first Great Khan and Emperor of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death.
His great mission was simple yet audacious: “Unite the whole world in one empire.” But, as he said, “[Since the] calling is high, the obligations incumbent on me are also heavy.” Using the unparalleled biography Genghis Khan: and Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford as our guide, let us see how Khan–in his own words–managed to accomplish this great work and what he felt those obligations were.
Have An End in Mind
“For the Mongol warrior, there was no such thing as individual honor in battle if the battle was lost. As Genghis Khan reportedly said, there is no good in anything until it is finished.”
Lead from the Front
“When it was wet, we bore the wet together, when it was cold, we bore the cold together.”
Serve a Greater Good Than Yourself
“[A leader] can never be happy until his people are happy.”
Have a Vision
“Without the vision of a goal, a man cannot manage his own life, much less the lives of others…The ancients had a saying: ‘Unity of purpose is a fortune in affliction.’”
“No friend is better than your own wise heart! Although there are many things you can rely on, no one is more reliable than yourself. Although many people can be your helper, no one should be closer to you than your own consciousness. Although there are many things you should cherish, no one is more valuable than your own life.”
“The mastery of pride, which was something more difficult, he explained, to subdue than a wild lion. He warned them that, ‘If you can’t swallow your pride, you can’t lead.'”
“I hate luxury. I exercise moderation…It will be easy to forget your vision and purpose one you have fine clothes, fast horses and beautiful women. [In which case], you will be no better than a slave, and you will surely lose everything.”
Understand Your People
“People conquered on different sides of the lake should be ruled on different sides of the lake.”
Change the World, But Change it Gradually
“The vision should never stray far from the teaching of the elders. The old tunic fits better and it always more comfortable; it survives the hardships of the bush while the new or untried tunic is quickly torn.”
As Weatherford writes, these tenets of leadership did not come to Khan as part of some princely education. He was born poor and illiterate in a world of conflict and strife. He taught himself to be a Khan:
“At no single, crucial moment in his life did he suddenly acquire his genius at warfare, his ability to inspire the loyalty of his followers, or his unprecedented skill for organizing on a global scale. These derived not from epiphanic enlightenment or formal schooling but from a persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation and constant revision driven by his uniquely disciplined mind and focused will.”
After analysing tissue samples in populations bordering Mongolia, scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences believe the brutal ruler has 16 million male descendants living today, meaning that he must have fathered hundreds, if not thousands, of children.
And as the geneticists agree, it can be explained only by Genghis Khan’s policy of seizing for himself the most beautiful women captured in the course of his merciless conquests.
The Mongol victory feasts were notorious. Genghis Khan and his commanders would tear at huge lumps of nearly raw horsemeat while captive girls were paraded for their inspection.
Genghis Khan chose from women of the highest rank. He liked them with small noses, rounded hips, long silky hair, red lips and melodious voices.
He measured their beauty in carats: if he rated them below a certain number they were sent to the tents of his officers.
On one occasion, his lieutenants were idly debating what was the greatest enjoyment that life afforded. The consensus was leaning toward the sport of falconry – Genghis owned 800 falcons – when their leader offered his own deeply felt view.
“The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters,” he announced.
Despite his appetite for women, the findings of the geneticists sound impossible. They suggest that Genghis fathered more offspring than anyone in history.
How could 16 million men, living in an area stretching from China to the Middle East, share the identical genetic footprint of one man?