Both the worst and the best of the great achievers had the belief in themselves and the resilience to overcome early failures. One of these was none other than Genghis Khan. There are powerful lessons we can learn from him.
In 1162 a child, called Temujin, was born in Mongolia clutching a blood clot – a sign that he was destined to be a great warrior. Signs like these encouraged Temujin to believe in his own ability despite early defeats. We, too, need to believe in our own ability, power and destiny.
Temujin came to rule the largest land empire ever known. It was four times the size of the empire of Alexander the Great and twice the size of the Roman Empire. But success only came after failure.
Temujin, who later became known as Genghis Khan, was the son of a tribal warrior chief in Mongolia. When he was nine his father was poisoned by a rival tribe. Temujin commented: “From that day I would never be a child again.”
His tribe was little more than an extended family They were at risk unless they forged links with other tribes. Temujin wisely enlarged his tribe through marriage with Borte.
However, even an alliance with Borte’s clan did not make him safe. The tribes of Mongolia were locked in a spiral of vendettas. There was only one law on the steppes: “Take what you want.”
The Merkit tribe had once feuded with Temujin’s father. Now Temujin was in danger and his new wife was especially vulnerable. The scene was set for his first failure.
The Merkit’s stole Temujin’s wife on a raid. Temujin failed to defend his wife and prevent her capture. He was faced with accepting defeat and escaping or staying and dying. Temujin escaped:
“They had taken my wife. I knew what I had to do. Only a fool fights a battle he knows he cannot win.”
His wife too had to submit to her captor or die. She submitted. Temujin may have been beaten in a skirmish by the Merkit but he was not defeated. He made plans to get his wife back and take his revenge.
He could rely on his blood brother, Jamuka: “I had just one friend I could trust.” But he needed even more support. He and Jamuka sought the help of a khan who was once the blood brother of Temujin’s father: “I told him he was as a father to me. A man who seeks power needs friends who have power.”
He was accepted by the khan. Temujin was delighted: “My power had been increased by heaven and earth.” The man who later conquered the world knew the importance of support from the powerful.
He now went looking for his wife at the Merkit camp, rescued her and took his revenge: “We made the Merkits pay for their deed. We destroyed their families and emptied their breasts.”
Temujin was barely 20 and he had already eliminated one of Mongolia’s great tribes, rescued his wife and had turned his first failure into victory. He had also begun to build his power base.
Nine months later Borta gave birth to his son. There was some doubt as to who was the father but Temujin again turned defeat into victory by treating him as his own son. His pragmatic, practical approach helped him throughout his life.
However, there was tension between Temujin and Jamuka who in the early days shared the leadership of the tribe. They disagreed over how you value a man’s worth. Both were sons of aristocrats. But only only Temujin had really suffered adversity.
After his father was murdered Temujin experienced betrayal by his own people: “Our tribe deserted us. Men are loyal only to a strong leader. They left us with nothing. We had no friends but our own shadows. Like the wolf, we endured and from hardship I grew strong. Now I cared only for the strength in a man’s heart. A warrior does not win a battle by virtue of his birth.”
Temujin rewarded ability and loyalty alone. One of his most promising warriors, Subuday, was the son of humble herdsman. Jamuka, however, believed high rank should only be reserved for aristocrats His blood brother was throwing out the old ways. The gulf widened between them.
A shaman said that Temujin and his sons would rule the whole surface of the world This was a decisive moment for Jamuka who now wished to move away from their homeland. Temujin realised that disunity would follow.It did.
Two years later Jamuka’s men ambushed Temujin’s tribe. It was a huge defeat. Again the future world conqueror had failed.
“My army was unprepared, outnumbered and outwitted; the earth was soaked with the blood of my warriors.” Temujin knew how to face reality and admit his own responsibility but the worst was to come.
Jamuka lined up the generals of his blood brother and had them thrown alive into a cauldron of boiling water.
When Temujin heard of the atrocity he swore a vow: “By the power of heaven, I swore to gain my vengeance. Never again would I be defeated nor my loyal warriors so dishonoured.”
He told his warriors: “They say the Mongols are descended from the wolf. Like the wolf we are famous for our ferocity and courage but to win a battle we have to fight fiercely not as individual warriors but as parts of a whole.”
Temujin trained his warriors to a high standard and in 1204 rode west in search of his blood brother and his army.
Jamuka was the first to face an army that eventually conquered much of the surface of the earth. Temujin’s men advanced in silence saving their battle cries till the last. He used discipline, teamwork and controlled tactics to defeat Jamuka.
Arrows were released and then “my cavalry attacked without mercy.” Each tactic was meticulously planned. One squadron fled luring Jamuka’s men into a trap.
Jamuka saw his army destroyed and ran. His men lay like “felled logs in the forest.” He hid through winter of 1204. In spring, he reappeared escorted by two of his generals who expected a reward.
Temujin rewarded the two generals with death for their disloyalty to their khan and gave Jamuka the chance to rejoin him. But Jamuka knew there could only be one ruler so he simply asked for a noble death in which none of his blood would be shed. Temujin granted his blood brother’s final wish. Two warriors bent him backwards over some logs breaking his back. Both early failures had been revenged. Defeat had been turned into victory.
Temujin was declared universal ruler In 1206 at the age of 44. A new title was created to honour him which meant “Ruler of all men” i.e. Genghis Khan. It was declared that: “All who hear him shall obey him.”