Genghis had the Horde on his side

Office Karma
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It was not exactly reassuring for us Westerners to discover, this week, that the figure most admired by Japanese civil servants is Genghis Khan. The great Khan is best known west of the Urals for having started out in the deserts and plains of Mongolia and having worked his way rather quickly towards us at the head of a Horde. That he didn't manage to get all the way to Kentish Town is more attributable to his early death from badly fermented kvass than to fear of the generalship of Henry III (arguably the least impressive of all Henrys, even including the sixth).

What seems dispiriting about this choice of paragons (as revealed in a poll) is that we are supposed to have moved on from the age of macho Conqueror heroes. Current management theory posits that the successful new company - Japanese or British - will be a warm, collective affair, in which the needs of the individual employee will be taken care of, which will be unhierarchical, and in which we will call each other Tony and Diana.

Allow me to illustrate this trend. A whole page of a broadsheet newspaper - one that used to support all the toughest nostra of the "lean 'n' mean" Thatcher era - was given over this week to a glowing report on a highly competitive company based in a business park near Slough. Twice a week employees and boss give themselves over to collective chi-gong, involving rainbow dancing, making themselves like a crane (the bird, not the machine) and generally getting relaxed. There is an in-house homeopath - with whom all new employees have a two-hour session, chimes tinkle in the wind, the plash of water is to be heard in all offices and Buddha sits cross- legged, smiling, on the shelf. Fresh fruit sits in colourful bowls, free to staff members who want it.

But how are we to reconcile these two seemingly antagonistic world-views, Genghis and Buddha? Is there not a clear choice to be made between beastliness and beatitude at work? One must be right, and one must be wrong. Surely.

But no. In the first place, it now turns out that Genghis wasn't such a bad guy after all. Yes, he sacked a few cities and put all their inhabitants - including the children - to the sword, but that was only if they resisted or refused to get on message. If they were more compliant, he sent in a Mongol governor and left them alone. He was also tolerant of other faiths, including Zoroastrianism.

And his Horde really liked him, apparently. For all we know he may well have joined them on the steppe for a bit of rainbow dancing, group massage and other touchy-feely activities. The whole encampment of yurts was probably crawling with homeopaths, dispensing herbal ointments and fiddling with warriors' feet.

It's just that when they had all finished being holistic they would then get on their horses, hoist their rats' tails standards, descend on a nearby Persian polis or Kievan gorod, smash its army, pillage its artefacts, rape its cattle and generally completely take over.

So what is the point of all this? I suppose it is to emphasise the fact that people who are nice to each other within a group are not always nice to those outside it. Our chi-gong company, for instance, is currently murdering the competition. But more important, it is to suggest that the most effective competitor is not the one who treats his or her own staff like (as country ladies put it) ess aitch one tee.