8 minute read
So you’d like to learn how to become class president? Well, join me for a story of the man who was class president of his country. And he founded the country too!
Genghis Khan attended no school and didn’t get an education. He was actually a barbarian. But the man had street smarts like few people ever have. That is, if there was actually a street back when he lived.
But this guy and his ancestors got A LOT of hate after he took over the world.
The French naturalist Compte de Buffon wrote in the 18th century that Mongolian “skin has a slight dirty-yellow tinge, and is deficient in elasticity, giving the appearance of being too large for the body.”
So Genghis Khan was subject to racism. Trust me, he earned every vote of confidence he ever got. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
He also had people imitating him in all the wrong ways. Try to imagine with me a high school bully that throws you into lockers, steals your girlfriend and kisses her in front of you, and then somehow becomes friends with the principal. The bully then claims to be best friends with the class president, but doesn’t even follow him on Instagram!
This was Timur the Lame and he falsely claimed to be a descendant of GK. But the guy enjoyed torturing people, and GK never stood for that.
Then there was Matthew Paris who was alive when the sons and grandsons of GK invaded Hungary and Poland way back in 1241. Matthew called GK’s family “an immense horde of that detestable race of Satan.”
With all that hate, here’s rule number one:
If you want to be class president, you’re going to make some people mad.
That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. You want to do something cool in life? You want to stand for something, anything at all? You’ll eventually make some enemies.
And Genghis Khan made a lot of people mad. He was a 12th century Mongolian warlord who came from nothing and ruled over land that stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
Now you might be asking yourself “what does Genghis Khan have to do with becoming class president?”
Well, a lot actually. GK knew how to lead people. He wasn’t from the race of Satan, and he was actually a really healthy person. GK probably did the Keto diet before it was even a concept since he ate almost exclusively meat and dairy. Growing up on the steppe, he constantly rode horses too.
But GK was at his best when he was surrounded by smart people. When he defeated a territory, he would look for talented craftsmen, artisans, entertainers, and doctors that could share their expertise with others.
And that’s the second rule for becoming class president:
If you want to be class president, you should work on your campaign with people smarter than you.
Here’s what GK did to take over most of Asia:
GK limited the power of religion by accepting all religions. Under his empire, he accepted Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and the shamanism of his own people. At the end of the day, they were all subject to rule by GK.
If you want to be class president, be willing to accept and embrace jocks, nerds, and band geeks. Remind them they all go to the same school.
GK created wealth by spreading information. Arab doctors knew how to do surgery really good, but the Chinese understood better how to identify internal organs. GK advanced medicine by bringing them together. The Arabs were experts in astronomy in the 12th and 13th centuries, but the Chinese excelled at creating textiles. What one civilization possessed in excess, Khan would send to other territories where it was exotic, useful, and desirable.
If you want to be class president, identify people’s strengths and position them to help others who would benefit the most.
GK insisted on egalitarian behavior. When a territory was defeated, scribes would come in to fairly distribute the loot among not just the soldiers but all the people. Everyone had a stake in the success. Your job as class president is to help other people develop personal skills, professional skills, and study skills to fully realize their potential.
If you want to be class president, look for opportunities to celebrate. Throw parties and create parades. When someone succeeds, then publicly recognize them. Give others credit for group success.
GK also installed leadership with mixed backgrounds. Competing tribes, civilizations, cultures, and religions sat on the same boards to administer the governance of a territory.
If you want to be class president, find people who are talented and different from you that can get on board with your agenda.
Khan made the rules simple with high stakes treatment. Submit tribute and be part of an extended family that accords you rights and protection. Break the law and bring death to not just yourself but your family as well.
So this one’s a little much, no killing here!
If you want to be class president, make sure your core team wins together. Get little things for them like snacks and timely help. Serve their needs first, and don’t tolerate negative gossip. At all.
GK recognized that loyalty was a character trait. In taking over a newly conquered territory, he would accept the followers of his enemies as long as they hadn’t worked against the reputation of their former leader.
If you want to be class president, find out how the people that want to work with you treat others. They will do the same to you.
GK abhorred blood and violence, but valued winning above all. Death and loss were considered cultural taboos and unfit for discussion. However, GK valued his soldiers and used tactics ideally suited to ensure that he would not have to lose anyone on the battlefield.
If you want to be class president, brush off the losses and setbacks that will come. Take the blame for failure if necessary, and never throw people under the bus.
GK succeeded because he was constantly curious to learn from the people he conquered. This made him a great judge of character. If you weren’t competent, you didn’t get the job. Didn’t matter if you were family or not.
In fact, there is a story from Genghis Khan’s reign where the shaman Teb Tengeri earned a position administering the estate of GK’s mom. Unfortunately, Tengeri also beat up Khan’s brother Khasar. After Khasar begged for help, Khan immediately sided with the shaman until he realized he was being manipulated by the shaman. Family loyalty could not surpass the ability to do the job.
If you want to be class president, don’t pick your friends for jobs just because they’re your friends. Pick them because they’re the best at what they do.
Now, that’s a lot of advice. And I’m convinced Genghis Khan set an example as one of the greatest leaders in world history. The best part is that we can all learn from him!
But you should know his greatest weaknesses too. In a letter sent to a Taoist monk in China at the end of his life, GK wrote:
I have not myself distinguished qualities. I wear the same clothing and eat the same food as the cowherds and horse-herders. We make the same sacrifices, and we share the same riches. I hate luxury. I exercise moderation. But as my calling is high, the obligations incumbent on me are also heavy.
The key word here is obligations.
With so many obligations, GK’s greatest task of finding a successor was crippled by his inability to trust his family. GK killed his older half-brother when he was but a teenager because he threatened Khan’s influence in the family.
And after acquiring great power, he failed to mentor his sons. Sure, they knew how to win wars. They were the best in the world.
But seriously, GK spent so much time leading conquests that he didn’t have time to teach his family the nuances of taking care of his own people.
GK’s lack of mentoring for his immediate family resulted in family fighting that eventually tore apart the Mongol regime. His sons and grandsons did not agree on political leadership and cooperated only by mutually existing economic interests.
If you want to be class president, create incentives for people to work together. And be willing to mentor others to do your job after you graduate.
The second weakness of the Mongol Empire was their failure to recognize their greatest strength as their greatest liability.
When the Mongols were struck by the plague like the rest of the world in the 14th century, their empire began to disintegrate. They failed to identify the root cause of their problems, which had started with fleas spreading the plague.
Now, the Mongols did communication at a world-class level. They had to as rulers over such a large territory. So they set up post stations for soldiers and merchants traveling across Asia. The Mongols planted trees along the paths, provided shelter for travelers at the post stations, and ensured there was enough pasture for the horses by removing any surrounding farmland.
But the greatest strength of the Mongols for creating networks of commerce between cultures turned into their greatest weakness as the Bubonic plague traveled along those very same paths.
That killed at least 75 million people worldwide from South China all the way to London.
If you want to be class president, consider your strengths as your greatest areas for growth. Try to become world-class at 1 thing or very good at 2-3 things.
You will find people smarter than you and dumber than you at school. You will meet people with conflicting interests. Students will know all the clever tricks to beating the academic system. GK lived among people just like that, but he never wavered in his commitment to building systems that were fair to all. He understood that people need to feel protected and have a stake in the success of their society.
And now you know how to get elected class president. Whether you win or not, we can all learn to understand others before taking action.
For more on the history of Genghis Khan, see Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.