Monthly Archives: November 2014

9 Lessons on Power and Leadership from Genghis Khan

On one end of the leadership spectrum, there is Machiavelli–conniving, ambitious and ruthless. On the other there is Cyrus the Great–humble, generous and loyal. Along this spectrum of great leaders and motivators, used so often in business books, speeches and anecdotes, there is one unmentionable: Genghis Khan. A man so evil, unwashed and bloodthirsty that he is impossible to learn from.

Or so the efforts to suppress his influence would have us believe. (The USSR, for instance, cleared out Khan’s homeland in Mongolia and forbade any mention of him.) But I’m here to tell you that we can learn more about leadership and getting things done from Genghis Khan than just about any other historical figure. Because almost everything you know about him is wrong…

For starters: he abolished torture, embraced religious freedom, united disparate tribes, hated aristocratic privilege, ran his kingdoms meritocratically, loved learning and advanced the rights of women in Mongol society. He was also the greatest conqueror and general who ever lived, ruling a self-made kingdom of nearly 12-million square miles which lasted in parts for nearly seven centuries. (When United States forces captured Baghdad they were the first successful invaders to take the city since Khan.) Yes, he was violent and war-like, but never for its own sake. The Mongols found no honor in fighting–only winning. Victory was their aim and they did whatever it took to get it. Then they focused on building peace with equal intensity. So while other conquerors died violent, early deaths, Khan died an old man surrounded by his loving family.

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.’”

Be Self-Reliant

““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.”

Be Humble

““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.’”

Be Moderate

““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.”

We can do the same. And we can do it by starting with the example of someone who at first might make us a little uncomfortable. Genghis Khan’s reputation precedes him (a brutal pillager who shows no mercy to men, women or children), but that was deliberate. Khan allowed rumors of his atrocities to spread to encourage surrender and cooperation from enemies who might otherwise resist. Putting that aside, we can learn from the Great Khan how to be loyal, how to understand our people, how to induce change and how to have a vision.

Ryan Holiday is the author of Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator (Penguin/Portfolio). More of his writing can be found at, and you can sign up for monthly reading recommendations through his reading list email.


The Mongols in Iran: Chingiz Khan to Uljaytu, 1220-1309

Judith G. Kolbas

Psychology Press, 2006 – P414

This book explores the administration of Iran under Mongol rule through taxation and monetary policy. A consistent development is evident only from abundant numismatic material, from the conquest of Samarqand by Chingiz Khan to the reign of the penultimate ruler, Uljaytu. In many cases, the individuals responsible for initiating and conducting the policies can be identified from the histories or remarks of the mint master. The structure of the empire is clearly demarcated by mint production, coin styles and type of metal. This illuminates many controversial historical points such as the meaning and function of an Il-khan and the establishment of the Toluid dynasty under Hulagu. The Mongols broke the crust of an inflexible and archaic Islamic monetary tradition that had hampered economic development by encouraging extensive trade and the sciences (especially astronomy and higher mathematics) through determined and always pragmatic programmes.


Inner Asian States and Empires: Theories and Synthesis

J. Daniel Rogers1  (1)Department of Anthropology, NHB 112, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, P.O. Box 37012, Washington, DC 20013-7012, USA

J. Daniel Rogers


Published online: 11 January 2012


By 200 B.C. a series of expansive polities emerged in Inner Asia that would dominate the history of this region and, at times, a very large portion of Eurasia for the next 2,000 years. The pastoralist polities originating in the steppes have typically been described in world history as ephemeral or derivative of the earlier sedentary agricultural states of China. These polities, however, emerged from local traditions of mobility, multiresource pastoralism, and distributed forms of hierarchy and administrative control that represent important alternative pathways in the comparative study of early states and empires. The review of evidence from 15 polities illustrates long traditions of political and administrative organization that derive from the steppe, with Bronze Age origins well before 200 B.C. Pastoralist economies from the steppe innovated new forms of political organization and were as capable as those based on agricultural production of supporting the development of complex societies.

Keywords  Empires  – States  – Inner Asia  – Pastoralism

Source: see full text:


Ancient Art of Weather Forecasting

That night more than two dozen people in Ugtaal locality in Dund Gobi province walked over the top of Kharaatyn Mountain. The group is led by an old herder, M. Baasanjav and his son, Puntsagdorj. Herder Bayar from nearby Undurshil soum also joins them along the way. For many years they have gone to the mountaintop together.

As soon as the moon appears, they raise their binoculars and start to survey the surrounding landscape. Through the night until morning, they will sit and watch intently for the slightest changes in nature. Only the keen and trained eyes of a nomadic herder can detect the smallest changes of colors in the moon lit scenery.

At last, dawn slips in. The group starts a small fire, and sits closely around it, cold and tired. Sparks of similar fire can be seen on top of the distant Baga Zalaa and Toodogijn Tsagaan hills.

When the herders go down, people from neighboring families are already waiting for them in old Baasanjav’s home, or gher. Among the guests, is the chief of Choir soum from nearby East Gobi province, also keen for news. All respectfully wait for the old man’s words.

However, he offers for the younger herders to speak first. The eldest son of Sharav, a renowned forecaster, tells his opinion. The declining age of his father, Sharavdorj, no longer allows him to spend the cold night on the mountaintop, and he passed all his knowledge and expertise to his elder son.

Finally, once all the men are finished, Baasanjav sums up the results of the long night’s observations.” The winter will be a severe one, with occasional strong winds and snow blizzards. Heavy snow will fall east of Choir town. Beneath the Great Rocks Mountain I saw some strange “mana” (a slight flicker of light). I cannot say exactly which kind…Perhaps it is mousy.”

According to the old man, he can distinguish more than 10 kinds of “mana” depending on the place, motion, concentration or color, and interpret their meaning: snow, wind, drought, flood and even illness or plague.

“In the old days, elders knew the difference so well. I know almost nothing compared to them…,” sighs Baasanjav.

The people in the gher fall silent. Last year, many of them lost their cattle to an unprecedented outbreak of horse influenza.

“But it seems to me, nevertheless, to be mousy,” continues the old man. “Last year, the steppe mouse multiplied, stripping the ground of grass, so the soil must attract this kind of ‘mana’”.

It may seem impossible to accurately forecast the winter weather from sitting on a mountaintop for one night. But the secret behind this surprising ability lies in the life-long experience of herders, who from early childhood to old age, day in and day out, observe all the changes of nature. This experience is based on millennium-old knowledge of the laws of nature.

Later on I compared old Baasanjav’s forecast with the official, scientific one. As predicted, heavy snowfalls occurred that winter in the middle Gobi region, and eastward of Choir town.

As elders say, nothing in the world is without reason and consequence. The motion of the atmosphere, sun, moon and stars, the color of the ground, fitness of cattle, autumn migration of birds, beginning of marmot hibernation – all these are hidden threads connecting nature and human beings.

We all are the children of nature. Is it not the real challenge for humans to learn and understand the true meaning of all these connections?.