Somaliland: What Makes a Good Leader?


What makes a good leader

Somalilandsun – My title remains a moot point, and is a question that has become rhetorical as opposed to one that might be considered an open question – it can’t really be answered because, as you might agree, the factors that make up a ‘good leader’ are too numerous, or far too complex. But does it have to be that way? I’m not so sure. In one of my recent articles I made mention to Genghis Khan and the way in which he mobilised disparate, fractious, and completely unmanageable groups of nomads to form alliances and to subsequently create the world’s largest land empire, an empire that eclipsed the vastness of Rome and heralded the coming of the modern world, in the words of Jack Weatherford, one of Mr. Khan’s more contemporary biographers. But what made Genghis do what he eventually ended up doing? Did he have a plan, a strategy? Did he seek out the wisdom of advisors – or consultants – and formulate a structured and hierarchical paradigm that he and his warriors then adhered to, checking off milestones met and debating how to meet their unmet targets – or conquests? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Genghis Khan, in the words of another of his contemporary biographers, John Man, was born into obscurity, poverty, and impotence. Being born and raised on the lush Mongolian steppe he encountered all such experiences that formed the lot of nomads at the time: susceptibility to the extreme seasons; vulnerability to the whims of raiders; abject destitution; and a tormenting, as well as continuous uncertainty – not knowing what to expect or from which quarter. These, then, were the fundamental experiential paradigms that set Genghis Khan – herdsman, tribal leader, scourge, menace, warlord, and conqueror – on his way to subjecting Central Asia, southern Russia, and western China, all within the meagre timeframe of a paltry twenty years. Ah, but wait – more was to come – this was, merely, the beginning. So the foregoing provides us some glimpses of Genghis’s external – or environmental – motivators – or factors – that led him on his drive to becoming who he ended up ultimately becoming – but what were his internal – or personal – motivations? In his own words, Genghis said that he was driven by poverty and humiliation.

What’s even more interesting than all of the above is the fact that Genghis – quite obviously, you might be thinking – eyes raised to your collective ceilings – did not remain poor and humiliated: as tribal leader, conqueror, and emperor he had at his disposal unimaginable power and riches from all corners of the Thirteenth Century world. But what kept him going? What kept his passions aflame, what kept him conquering land after land, country after country? What were the internal and external factors that enabled him to vanquish – not merely destroy – established centuries’ old Empires – the Islamic and Byzantine? Well, according to Paul Kennedy, the external factors might be attributed to the fact that those particular centuries’ old Empires were on the downward spiral anyway – or, to put it more concisely, their time to fall had arrived, and the Mongols – or Mr. Khan, in particular – merely precipitated – or facilitated – their incipient – and mutual – demise: a feat that Sun Tzu would have been well proud of. Okay, fine, can’t argue with that – but that’s just one factor – what might be the others? The Mongol conquests began in Mongolia itself – for if there was no peace and stability at home, how might external conquests be made possible?

Well, after subduing some rival clans and tribes, intermarrying, and allying with others, the Mongols formed a Thirteenth Century symbiotic relationship among their tribes that came within the sphere of their alliances. Following this period of unprecedented gestation the Mongols targeted China – a similarly fractious and disparate entity of states – but with wealth beyond the Mongols’ collective imagination. It was on his return from one of his Chinese conquests in later years that Genghis realised the importance of conquest as a necessity: he saw that if his – now vastly expanding – company of troops weren’t being sent off to do battle, that they’d sooner be at each other’s throats, which formed the crux of his expansionist – or imperial – ideology. So now we see clearly that Mr. Khan’s internal motivators were set in his not too distant past – his experienced poverty and humiliation – and that his expansionist tendency was formed as a result of practical necessity: keeping the troops constantly engaged: the by-product of which was booty, wealth, and riches – all benefiting the newly emerging Mongol dynasties and Mongol nation. It wasn’t planned this way, but this is the way it happened.

Let’s step out of the Thirteenth Century now, return to the Twenty First, and ask ourselves one question: in this day and age of social media, mobile communications, trains, planes, and automobiles – this period of unimaginable ease, convenience, and luxury – how is one able to become a good leader? In business, where good leadership is essential, how does one cultivate the necessary traits required to drive a company forward, to manage disparate and fractious groups of people at all levels within an organisational – and hierarchical – structure and to keep in tandem with one’s original aims, dreams, and aspirations? Well, for Genghis, it was easy: he made a choice never again to be poor and humiliated, and his Destiny followed. Sun Tzu, a military strategist from Ancient China of obscure renown, refers to motivation as The Tao – or The Way. He says that The Skilful Warrior of old won easy victories.

The victories of the Skilful Warrior are not extraordinary victories; they bring neither fame for wisdom nor merit for valour. His victories are flawless; His victory is flawless because it is inevitable; He vanquishes an already defeated enemy. Almost three thousand years old, Sun Tzu’s teachings unwittingly confirm the deeds of Mr. Khan and, indeed, many a superpower that has come after him. The Skilful Strategist – who is also the Skilful Warrior – cultivates The Way and preserves the law; thus he is master of victory and defeat. Perhaps it is as Sun Tzu made clear nearly three thousand years ago: if one adheres to The Way (whatever motivation that might be), then perhaps there’s no stopping one’s inevitable rise.

Hamid Shahid Khan

Managing Director – INTELIPAK Institute of Leadership, Training & Development