Watchtowers of the Great Wall near Jinshanling, China.
Photo Credit Jakub Hałun

The Great Wall of China is arguably one of the most impressive man-made structures of all times. It spans over 31,070 miles in length – to put it into perspective, the circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,902 miles (Zhou, 2013). 

It was constructed over the lifespan of several Chinese Dynasties, with the intention of creating a line of fortresses to stand and defend China against attacks from all enemies (Lovell, 2006; Swope, 2014). 

Yet the Great Wall was discontinuous, and as a result Mongol invaders led by Genghis Khan simply went around the wall and subsequently conquered most of northern China between A.D. 1211 and 1223 (Ionescu, N.D.; Pinder, 2014; Swope, 2014).

The un-authentic leader will spend a great deal of time and resources building figurative walls around themselves in an effort to protect their position, or perhaps their lifestyle. As a result they forget the simple truth that any wall can be breached by simply going around it. It’s been suggested that another time the Great Wall of China failed to protect as advertised, was due to the compromise of a gatekeeper. While this story may not be validated, it does bring home the point that, “Even the strongest of defenses can be undone by the weakest of individuals.” The greater the ‘defenses’ the weak and un-authentic leader surrounds themselves with, the greater the opportunities for defeat.

Although this is certainly a lesson for the un-authentic leader, there is room in the message for all. As a leader, manager, or supervisor, what sort of defenses are you piling up around yourself? Do you have layers of assistants between you and your direct reports? Do you have an ‘open door policy’ but keep the door closed? Are you practicing the fine art of being a ‘Teflon Don’ where you’re not responsible for any calamity (or nothing sticks to you)? If any of these descriptions sound familiar, then perhaps its time for you to peel back your defenses and get engaged with people. After all, that’s why you are the leader…isn’t it?


Ionescu, D. T. (n.d.). Alexander the Great in the Persian Legends: From Alexander of Macedon to Sikandar. The Circulation of Mythical Topoi between the Greek Alexander Romance and Firdousi’s Shah-Nameh.

Lovell, J. (2006). The Great Wall of China: China against the World 1000 B.C.-A.D. 2000. New York, NY: Atlantic Books.

Pinder, A. (2014). Journey Through Time Doodles. Running Press.

Swope, K. M. (2014). The Military Collapse of China’s Ming Dynasty, 1618-44. Routledge.

Zhou, H. (2013). Probes on the Great Wall. Asian Culture & History, 5(2).
Dr. Eugene Matthews