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Last Updated: Monday, 25 April, 2005, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Guide to management, the Genghis Khan way
By Jennifer Quinn
BBC News Magazine

Genghis Khan and co-workers
Meet the board
He killed and pillaged and is widely seen as the epitome of the tyrannical ruler, but was Genghis Khan all bad?

As the BBC prepares to broadcast a revisionist history of the 13th-Century Mongol leader, one historian speculates that Genghis possessed "many of the qualities of a good chief executive."

Disregarding what this might say about the management style of some businesses today, would you want him as a boss?

"On one level, he is a megalomaniac," military historian Dan Snow says. "But on another level, given that you have to judge him by the standards of his time, he was a very good manager."

Mike Petrook, of the Chartered Management Institute, a professional body that represents managers and helps them develop their skills, says a good boss must have both solid technical skills and the ability to deal with people. It seems Genghis possessed those requirements, including the capacity to lead and inspire, a knack for managing change and information, and the desire to succeed.

Here are five reasons you might wish your manager was a megalomaniacal dictator with a taste for world domination.


The profits in the 13th Century were, technically, the spoils of victory and quite frequently included living people who were then subjected to a life of misery. But for Genghis's armies, the booty pillaged from the vanquished was a big part of their annual income and their leader was careful to make sure his soldiers got their fair share.

"Genghis realised that and he felt that employees should be recognised for working hard," says Mr Snow, the co-presenter of BBC2's Battlefield Britain series. Snow calls Genghis one of his "top five guys" - at least in terms of military savvy and leadership. "It made them love him and they would follow him to the ends of the earth."

Genghis understood that to keep his armies happy, they needed to be shown appreciation. And that sharing of the spoils of war engendered loyalty among his troops, says John Man, author of Genghis Khan: Life, Death, and Resurrection.

"He knew that, certainly in the early days, that what held all this together was the pay system," Mr Man says. "Everything was his, but it was his to give away, which he proceeded to do. All his officers were paid extremely well."


Now, Genghis didn't mind a little bit of gossip - he was a prodigious gatherer of intelligence - and he certainly liked to know what was going on. But he couldn't tolerate dishonesty, says Mr Man.

He is especially admiring of Ghenghis's ability to manage - while recognising that some extraordinary atrocities were committed in his name. One of the areas in which Genghis was unique was in his appreciation for allegiance.

And it wasn't only loyalty to Genghis of which the general was especially approving, Mr Man says. Genghis couldn't tolerate those who went behind their boss's back to rat out potential coups or plots, either.

"He punished those who were disloyal, even if they were disloyal to his enemies," the author says. "He would say: who can trust a man such as these?"


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If you were working for Genghis, and you did well, you would be rewarded.

The son of peasants himself, Genghis had a very harsh childhood, Mr Man says. And perhaps because of his humble beginnings, he recognised there was talent to be found in all classes of society.

"He was pretty remarkable in that he was able to employ people smarter than himself in order to install good government," Mr Man says, "which was pretty innovative."

Because he wanted to establish an empire that would last, he understood that he had to create institutions of government, like a postal system and a taxation system. To do this, Genghis needed records. But he was illiterate.

So he imported some whiz kids - think Silicon Valley meets the Gobi Desert - to invent a new form of writing. It's still in use in parts of Mongolia. Once you were a member of Genghis's firm, the boss rewarded hard work with promotions - and didn't give his kids, or his golf partner's nephews, the plum posts.

"Most companies do this now," agrees Mr Snow. "Gone are the days of old school ties.

"His officers were promoted on merit. He demonstrated absolute loyalty, rewarded courage and said if you are good, you'll move up the ranks. He didn't say, 'I'm going to get 20 years service out of you and then promote a 17-year-old aristocrat'."

Mr Snow says that if Genghis was heading a company today, he'd know the names of all his employees, from his top men to the guys in the mailroom.

"He'd know their names, be able to chat about the football on Saturday," Mr Snow says. "He knew what motivated his men."


If Genghis were running your office today, you wouldn't be tapping out invoices on a dodgy laptop or sitting in a broken-down pool car on the M25 during rush hour. He was a firm believer in trying new things.

Mr Snow says when the Mongols saw the Chinese armies using new weapons effectively, he captured their men and put them to work for him.

"He embraced new technology," Mr Snow says. "He forced Chinese engineers to join his army and quickly adapted to their technological innovations."


Though Genghis wasn't a big fan of office gossip, he was very big on knowing what his enemies were up to. But more importantly, when he decided on a new course of action - a battle, an invasion - he researched it thoroughly before charging ahead.

"It's all about knowing what your competition is doing," Mr Snow says, "and Genghis Khan was absolutely scrupulous about sorting out all the intelligence he could. Although 200,000 men and horses would go stampeding across a border, it was months after it had first been proposed."

Aiding Genghis in all he did was the absolute belief that he was anointed by God to lead and to conquer, which made him a uniquely determined general.

"There was one huge advantage he had, and that's that he thought he was divinely chosen," Mr Man says. "The only drawback to that is that you have to get others to believe it too."

Genghis Khan will be broadcast on Monday 25 April on BBC One, at 2100BST.

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