Genghis Khan: A Lifelong Learner

Genghis Khan’s image is that of a bloodthirsty tyrant. However, the reality is quite different if we view him through the lenses of a 12th-century world. Genghis was an unusual leader who made learning, his life’s pursuit.

His genius at the battlefield, ability to inspire loyalty and to organise a worldwide empire was acquired through lifelong incremental learning. His success was the result of a disciplined approach logical learning, experimentation and adaptation, sometimes from failures.

His genius also lay in the way he empowered his officers, something we are only implementing today in evolved organisations, making way for agility in campaigns, a hallmark of the Mongols. Genghis Khan organized long public discussion before embarking on a major campaign and everyone in the community was included into the process, and, most important, everyone understood why they were fighting the war and thus even the lowest ranking soldiers were treated as junior partners who were expected to understand the endeavour and to have some voice in it.

Genghis Khan absorbed the knowledge of his expanded lands to support his fighting men. He formed specialized support units for his army. He established a sophisticated but practical signalling system with drums, flags and smoke by day and torches by night. Part of Genghis Khan’s great success was due to his great devotion to pragmatic principles. If it worked, Genghis Khan had no reluctance to part with tradition and adopt a better strategy, whether it was his own creation or established practice of another nation. In every battle, he learned something new, bringing new ideas into an evolving doctrine of tactics, strategies, and weapons.

Genghis lived a simple life and warned his son about the folly of pursuing a life of luxury. This is a sure way of straying from your vision, losing everything you have achieved.

Our book, The VUCA Learner has a chapter devoted to the learning journey of this remarkable leader and a great source of inspiration to leaders of all ages.


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