Who Gains? Part 2: How Genghis Khan Built Morale and Conquered the World

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1. Sharing the spoils with his troops

Prior to Genghis Khan, Mongol tribal leaders typically kept all the war spoils for themselves or shared them with aristocrats. In theory, all the gains from the conquests belonged to the tribe at large, but in practice the aristocrats and tribal leaders enjoyed them the most. However, Genghis Khan recognized that his troops were the ones who were risking their lives fighting on the front lines, and all the spoils were really the fruits of their labor. As a result, he opted instead to share all the spoils with his troops and also reserved an amount for the families of those who died in combat.

2. Standing up for his troops against his peers and superiors

Genghis Khan’s policy of sharing spoils with his troops caused a big rift with his adopted brothers and uncles, who at that time had bigger militaries and were in some ways higher-ranked. It didn’t take long for them to turn against Genghis Khan because aristocrats complained that they were not receiving any share from the conquests. In response, Genghis Khan fought a war against his uncle (effectively his boss) and brothers, whom he defeated, and resumed his path of uniting Mongolia.

3. Promoting leaders based on merit, not birthright

Genghis Khan organized his military into 10-person units, which were then aggregated into 100-person units, 1,000-person units, and 10,000-person units. A new policy that he introduced was that each of the unit leaders (10, 100, 1,000, or 10,000) had to have been soldiers who had proven themselves capable in war in their previously smaller roles. There were literally no “armchair generals” — to be a 10,000-person unit leader, you had to have a successful track record as a 1,000-person unit leader. Similarly, to be a 10-person unit leader, you had to have been a successful frontline soldier. Furthermore, even 10,000-person unit leaders are required to do some menial tasks alongside the frontline soldiers.

Product-minded Engineering Leader. Organization & Cultural Builder. Traveler. Martial Artist (Muay Thai & Pekiti Tirsia Kali).

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