Genghis Khan on creative leadership….

There are thousands upon thousands of articles out there on leadership. All full of ‘important’ yet often conflicting information.

But one thing that most of them agree on is that, to make it in business, you need have a ruthless streak.

There are leaders like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.

And then there are leaders like Genghis Khan. If you’ve not heard of him, then you must have skipped history at school.

He lived from 1162 to 1227 (which was old for those times) and is most notably known for being the founder of the Mongol empire. He was a ferocious, fearless leader who wasn’t afraid to massacre whole tribes to get where he wanted.

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Sure, not exactly a nice guy…but damned successful at getting what he wanted.

As an aside – I always find it interesting that, even though he’s one of the biggest historical figures ever, there’s no official record of what he looked like. Some reports say he was tall and thin, some say short and stout…while others claim that he was (unusually for the Mongol empire) a ginger chap.

But, as ruthless as he was, Genghis Khan had an eye for talent. Which is something any leader…creative or otherwise…should have. And, he was reasonable enough to put this eye for talent ahead of his own personal feelings.

Let me tell you a story that highlights this well…

It was 1201 and Genghis was embroiled in a battle with the nearby Taijut tribe. It was a bloody, nasty business and he was lucky to win.

As the best leaders do Genghis led by example and rode into battle along with his troops and lieutenants.

He was a skilled warrior, but in this particular battle he nearly fucked up.

An arrow slammed into his horse and he was thrown off, he hit the ground and narrowly missed being slayed by the Taijut.

As Genghis Khan’s fortune would have it the Mongol tribe won.

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He was furious that he’d come so close to death, and afterwards he addressed the Taijut prisoners and asked them who it was who fired the offending the arrow. Of course, as he did so, he didn’t expect for a minute that the culprit would come forward.

But he did.

A Taijut archer stepped forward and claimed responsibility.

Khan’s initial reaction was to kill the man where he stood. But then, he thought better of it. It was an incredible shot to hit his horse from such a distance…the archer must have been talented.

So, stirred by the archer’s boldness and in awe of his talent, Genghis Khan offered him a job.

He went on to become one of the Mongol’s most esteemed field commanders.

So there we have it. A lesson from history. Don’t let personal feelings get in the way of admiring and recruiting talent. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you at first, doesn’t mean that you can’t reach them eventually.

…don’t you just love loose metaphors?

As a side-note, Genghis Khan created one of the world’s first ever postal systems – so he was definitely more than just a barbarian!

The coffee cup that reminded me I was human

So, there I am. It’s a little after 9am and I’m on an aeroplane.

I’ve been up since 4am and my brain has become a bubbling hybrid of two extremes. Sleepiness and pre-holiday excitement.

When it comes to travel I’m a reader. I love to read when I’m on a flight or a long drive. It’s guilt-free reading time when you have nothing else to do but lose yourself in words that inspire and interest you.

So, to keep myself sharp, I order a coffee. This turns up:

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I assumed that the bit on the top was to allow the coffee to cool down. I left it for a while and came back to it…only to find out that it was too hot.

So I pull the lid off, let it cool down, and then take a sip. Damned if I don’t get a mouthful of coffee suds.

Instantly my stunned mind went to blame the airline. Why on earth would they serve coffee with such sediment?

The flight attendant walks past, smiles at me, notices that I put my lid on the floor and asks me if I want another one.

Why? Why would I? I just took the lid off…


And then it hits me. The ‘cooling off bit on the top’ (great phrasing) is actually a filter…to stop idiots like me getting a mouthful of coffee suds.

And so I gratefully accepted the new lid and enjoyed my coffee through the filter.

For a moment or two I felt the thing that we all fear most…idiocy.

It was so obvious…how did I not realise?

Hindsight has a way of making you feel ridiculous, doesn’t it?

But that feeling didn’t last long. Pretty soon it disappeared into the clouds around me and slipped away from everyone else’s memory.

I mean, after all, in a world where we try our hardest to know everything and to uncover every secret…it’s nice to sometimes realise just how stupid you are.