[April 12, 2019] When Mongol leader Genghis Khan and his armies swept across central Asia and China, his brutal leadership style was necessary to effect the subjugation of millions. The current wisdom is that leadership styles have dramatically changed since then, as have the conditions of leadership. Yet, perhaps the change is less than we might think.
Extraordinary leaders of the past (e.g., Hannibal & Caesar) possessed leader skills that remain steadfast character traits of leaders today.1 They are all great organizers and uniters of people, highly intelligent with clear visions, and they are determined to such a degree that most people cannot even imagine.
Certainly, leadership styles appear to be changing. However, I will suggest that we should be careful in attempting to compare a savage Genghis Khan to a statesman-President Bill Clinton to draw out the brutality of the former and the social grace of the latter. Both these men are probably more similar than different.
There is no doubt that the conditions of our current modern world are pushing change upon leaders. Like any good leader, they are sensitive to culture and technological movements. Ways of doing things are fundamental to any peoples and, as such, leaders adapt. For example, a nation’s elected leader today is less autocratic than ancient leaders who relied heavily upon brute strength.2
While leadership techniques change; they don’t do so as much as we sometimes like to think. True, today’s leader is more transparent and uses advanced technologies. But the ancient leader was just as inspirational, intelligent, courageous, and just as able to “connect” with people as a modern leader. Perhaps, the ancients are better than the modern leader.
We tend to view leaders of the past as dressed in animal skins or armor-platting with a bloody spear at their side and the modern leader with a suit and tie, carrying a briefcase. These stereotypes mask the similarities of these leaders. Modes of dress and technology are merely extraneous differences. Great ancient and modern leaders are alike; the modern leader perhaps just a little less bloodthirsty.
- Augustus, Cyrus the Great, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, and Alexander the Great were similar to Genghis Khan in that they were smart and yet utterly ruthless in building their empires. Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Mao are modern leaders and learned much from the ancient world because they figured out how to kill and subjugate more people.
- I believe, however, that great leaders of the past are not accurately portrayed. Biographies and the various sources from which we take our information are heavily biased in ways that are difficult to unravel. Thus, I propose that leaders such as Genghis Khan were not “smart, autocratic savages” that used brutality as their primary means to create their empires. They were far more intelligent and sophisticated than we will ever know.