New Delhi September 17, 2010, 0:44 IST
Where Genghis Khan’s body was buried is an 800-year-old secret. Tradition says it was near Burkhan Khaldun, the tallest of the Khentii mountains in Mongolia. The mountain was declared a taboo zone, apparently to honour the Khan’s wish that his resting place remain obscure. Legends speak of burial slaves killed and their killers, Mongol soldiers, also put to death, to protect the site. In reality, the burial must have been a deliberately low-key affair, resulting in a modest grave, nothing like the vast, treasure-stuffed tombs and tumuli of lesser monarchs.
Legend also suggests that Genghis has, like King Arthur, merely gone away for a while, and will return when his people need him. John Man, one of Genghis’ modern biographers, writes that shrines to the Khan proliferate in his native land, and that children include drawings of Genghis among their family photographs. Knowing all this, the Soviets, who dominated 20th century Mongolia and feared regional nationalism, preferred Genghis Khan to lie quiet.
Since Mongolia left the Communist era, it has aggressively reappropriated Genghis Khan — more accurately, Chinggis Khaan. That name is on the airport and on all manner of consumer good, and his face is on the currency notes. The largest equestrian statue in the world, near the capital Ulaanbaatar, depicts the conqueror astride a huge stainless-steel horse. Genghis in Mongolia is bigger than Gandhi and the Nehrus in India. He’s bigger even than Rajinikanth. He is, according to one Mongolian quoted in the New York Times last year, “our hero, our father, our god”.
To John Man, this posthumous glorification and the Khan’s own unwillingness to be personally venerated together provide proof of Genghis’ unusual effectiveness as a leader. That thought came to him as he wrote his biography, Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection, published in 2005. It led, in 2009, to this book on Genghis’ “leadership secrets”, now available in India.
This looks like a book for corporate types (the cover shows a BlackBerry with an arrow stuck in it; what is that, Obama versus Genghis?) but really it focuses tightly on Genghis’ career as a unifier and conqueror. Man tells a succinct version of Genghis’ life story via its high and low points. At every point, he extracts and highlights either the lesson learnt by Genghis, or the facet of his character that allowed him to make the most of it.
Before we get to that, here is Man describing Genghis’ impact on world history. Imagine, he writes, that: “In the 1870s, Geronimo [an Apache leader] unites the North American Indians. He seizes arms, devises new tactics, destroys wagon trains, defeats the armies of the post-bellum United States. He directs his armies, now reinforced with white troops, westward to California, eastward to New York and Washington. Canada falls. With the wealth of the north behind him, he turns on Mexico, then in another brilliant campaign pushes north, through Alaska, and on over the Bering Strait into Siberia. By the turn of the century, all the Americas and a good deal of Russia are ruled by a man born into an unknown clan of unlettered, feuding Indians. China prepares for war. European powers humbly seek accommodation.”
Yes, you can stop laughing now. Genghis was that kind of man, and his accomplishments, says Man, are on that kind of scale. He started as plain Temüjin, son of a minor nobleman. His family suffered catastrophe when he was still a teenager: his father was killed by rivals, and the family wealth snatched away. Yet, within 20 years, Temüjin had unified the Mongol tribes; in 20 more years, he won the largest land empire in history. Along the way he picked up his title of Genghis Khan.
At the family’s lowest point, Genghis’ mother Hoelun taught him a lesson. When young Genghis killed his half-brother Begter over a minor disagreement, Hoelun, says Man, was distraught. Instead of avoiding confrontation, she chastised Genghis severely, yet “in an emotionally secure context”. That way, says Man, “Far from repressing, he takes it all on board, and then, when grown up… he wants his people to absorb his experience: the crime, its potentially disastrous consequences and the resolution.”
Man plays a historian’s little trick here, in order to describe inner motives at this distance of time. His source is The Secret History of the Mongols, the earliest book in written Mongolian. It is a near-contemporary account of Genghis’ life, compiled in 1228 when the Mongol leaders met to confirm Genghis’ son Ogedei as his successor. So, it is a court text, and “reflects the way Genghis wished himself to be presented”. What’s unusual is that the Secret History, as the Hoelun anecdote shows, includes cases where Genghis went astray. The message, Man speculates, is that Genghis wished to show himself as a man, not infallible yet marked by Heaven for universal rule.
To the Secret History Man adds modern leadership theory and psychology. This way he can explain how Genghis went from outcast to world ruler, and further, why his dynasty did not collapse immediately after, as did that of Attila the Hun in the 5th century. Alongside the narrative, there are 21 boxes for the 21 “leadership secrets”. I’ll summarise for you. Know your message and make sure all your subordinates believe in it. Never put your self before your purpose. Be flexible as to the means. Have a succession plan. And: get Heaven on your side.
THE LEADERSHIP SECRETS OF GENGHIS KHAN
viii + 184 pages; Rs 499
This post was submitted by somya harsh.
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