Genghis Khan: The Meritocracy that Conquered the World

Sharpening the knife

Mongols were mostly mountain farmers. But the Mongol army created what historians call the “biggest contiguous empire” in the history of mankind.

Experts attribute their success to a lot of factors. A Mongolian warrior’s superior ability to ride horses better than anyone is one. Even when Mongolia is but a long line of mountains, their army was virtually unstoppable in the 13th century. And the leader that made it all happen is Genghis Khan.

What many fail to grasp is that Genghis Khan is an organizational genius. And that’s something we can learn from. Today, we look up at Six-Sigma black belt professionals as the master of “lean and mean” organizations. But Temujin, another name for Genghis, already built a well-oiled machine of an army based on meritocracy. He gave positions to soldiers who deserve it even at a great price. And the results speak for themselves. When you have an empire that stretches from China to the Middle East to Russia, it sticks out like a sore finger.

The Rise of the Mongol Horde

If we judge Temujin by his beginnings, we might not be able to see the world conqueror in him. His father died early, poisoned by his enemies. As a result, the young Temujin lived in poverty, living off the land and surviving by eating wild fruits.

But over time, Temujin emerged as the leader of the Mongols, taking on the title of Genghis Khan in 1206 C.E.

His organizational genius helped him conquer most of the known world then. For one, Mongol fighters were trained to shoot an arrow even while riding a horse. Secondly, his army brought with them herds to survive. Further, they were able to sustain themselves by drinking horse blood.

So efficient was Genghis Khan’s army that it was able to conquer most of the lands in China, the Middle East, and Russia. They did this even when there were but about 2 million Mongols at that time worldwide.

In his book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford writes, “Whether measured by the total number of people defeated, the sum of the countries annexed, or by the total area occupied, Genghis Khan conquered more than twice as much as any man in history.”

Indeed, his army was so successful. Scholars determine that had it not for three years of bad weather, the whole of Europe would have succumbed to the Mongolian ruler.

Genghis Khan’s influence is felt even up to today. Researchers believe one in every 200 men walking on Earth today can be traced to the Mongol’s leader lineage.

The Honor System that Conquered the World

Giving credit is at the heart of Genghis Khan’s success. And it could be a major reason why his organization grew by leaps and bounds.

So he rewarded the positions in his army to deserving soldiers. One concrete example of this meritocracy is Jebe. Fighting against a rival tribe in Mongolia, Temujin nearly met death as one arrow felled his horse. The culprit revealed himself to him after the battle.

Instead of punishing the archer, Genghis made him a leader of his army. He named him Jebe, meaning “arrow.” History would show Jebe became one of Genghis Khan’s most efficient field generals. Along with Subutai, these two generals would make the conquest of Eurasia possible.

That’s a key lesson right there. Genghis saw talent, and he made use of it. This is despite the fact that the talent nearly got him killed. That shows us that Khan is a master of meritocracy. He made it a point to recruit the best for the leadership positions in his army.

Making Meritocracy Work for You

well dressed man sitting and talking

Giving credit where credit is due can be a great boost to your organization too. It need not be expensive. But it can work wonders.

A simple way to do this today is via challenge medallions. Such medals were given to deserving soldiers since the times of the Romans. American soldiers and the NYPD have utilized them extensively. This gives special access to recipients. Presidents of the United States have used challenge coins too.

It is said that challenge coins saved lives during World War I. One American soldier was nearly executed by the French, who thought he was a saboteur. But seeing a familiar challenge coin in his wallet made them think twice. And that soldier was eventually released and saved.

The Bottom Line

Take it from Genghis Khan. Meritocracy can help you build your team. When you recognize achievement even in a small way, achievement spreads like wildfire throughout your organization.

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