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Genghis Khan’s Guide to Deliberate Leadership

Frustrating. That’s a word you often hear from leaders. They are frustrated with:

  • Not being valued as a key contributor
  • Not getting opportunities to lead bigger opportunities
  • Not being considered for key leadership roles
  • Not seeing the change in government that’s been foretold for years

As a result, you’re seeing a more rapid departure of highly skilled and talented employees. More employees are retiring at a rate and pace that is hard to match in onboarding new talent. And the drain of intellectual capital, tacit knowledge and wisdom is staggering. It is frustrating…for everyone.

How does someone who wants to stay, grow and contribute in a public service role find their focus when things around them are shifting and changing rapidly?

We can look to history for both an interesting approach and inspiration.

According to The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, in 1219, tribal leader Genghis Khan sent an embassy to the shah of Khwarezm with gifts and the finest goods. Khan suggested to the shah that they form an alliance to reopen the Silk Routes to Europe and share in peace between the two empires.

The shah looked upon Khan as an upstart not of his caliber to align with. After sending some not-so-pleasant replies to Khan demonstrating his power, the shah invited trouble.

A not-to-be-trifled-with Khan decided to change the one thing he could – the misperception of his strength as a leader. His brilliance at strategy would reflect his true power.

Khan struck the shah when and where he least expected, not only taking over Khwarezm, but re-opening the Silk Routes, ruling them completely on his own.

As Khan demonstrates, one clear step is to focus on what you can do from where you are now. Movements that lead to real change rarely start en masse. They begin quietly with a groundswell of those who are staunchly committed to the change they want to see. The change that you can make begins with you.

Khan was committed to starting small by sending gifts. He did not acknowledge the shah’s actions (shaving the heads of his emissaries and more) as aggression but looked on in disbelief. However, with repeated “mistakes” by the shah, his path became clear. As Khan said to the shah…” you have chosen war.”

Like Khan, you must commit to focusing on the things you can do. Not on what appears to be the current climate. Oftentimes, you find a climate that just needs a strong, steady wind to shift it – and not the declaration of war.

Here are a couple of specific ways to do this:

  • Declare that you want to stay, grow and contribute in your public service role. Let your leadership know that you’re ready to step into the gap and lead (you’re needed).
  • Gain control of your focus. Identify what skill gaps you have and the plan to close them, quickly (you’re needed now).

A side note – after addressing the shah’s “mistakes” with deliberate focus, Khan’s ownership of the Silk Routes was never questioned.

Certainly, no one is suggesting that you become Khan, since he was ruthless.

However, learning from a leader who takes a calm, collaborative and deliberate approach with a clear focus can help you achieve your goals no matter what change is in the wind.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected] And to read more from our Spring 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Christine “Chris” Makell has worked for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for over four years, having held positions of increasing challenges and responsibility in that short time. She is currently a Program Analyst in the Knowledge Management & Transfer office. She joins federal service after a 28-year career in the private sector and six years as the owner of Chris Makell Consulting/Coaching working with individuals and sales teams to achieve greater success.

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