Lessons of Life & Leadership from the Game of Thrones

By Rijul Nadkarni (L&T RBG)

HBO’s Game of Thrones, a television show based on George R.R. Martin’s acclaimed novels entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, has become a cultural phenomenon. Although originally intended for adults, now everybody just can’t get enough of this show. Game of Thrones has obtained a wide-ranging  & active international fan base and has received popular recognition from various critics. Game of Thrones is not just a thrilling story but has epic fight scenes, thought-provoking dialogues, intriguing characters with complicated and complex personalities, and a compelling plot. The show runs deeper than your typical fantasy escapism. It is arguably one of the wittiest and most distinct shows on television, which can make its audience amaze in wonder. The Game of Thrones universe is full of life lessons. This show encompasses a lot of betrayals, deceits, and reigns of power. It teaches you about life, relationships, and, of course, leadership. This series will show you how to rule a kingdom or, in our reality, how to become an effective leader. HBO’s Game of Thrones is back for its highly anticipated Season 8. As the dead march past the Wall & beyond, let’s have a look at how the many different types of leaders in Westeros and Essos can teach us important lessons in management.

It will really help if you have a basic knowledge of the various houses, places and characters associated with the Game of Thrones to understand this piece better.

Good Managers Need Good Strategy

At a basic level, management can be defined as coordinated action in pursuit of performance. Managers at all levels and functions must design, direct, and shape various organizational processes in order to move the organization towards its goals.

One of my favourite characters , Petyr Baelish (popularly known as Littlefinger) knows this better than perhaps anyone in the Seven Kingdoms. Whether he’s accruing political blackmail as Master of Coin in King’s Landing, arranging strategic marriage proposals, or plotting his way to become Lord Protector of the Vale, each action he takes is part of a calculated process to move him further along on his quest for power. Though he may have to adjust his strategy along the way, he understands that his success will ultimately rely on a series of carefully coordinated actions with multiple players involved.

Petyr Baelish comes from humble origin, but because of his skills and knowledge on how to connect with people, he became one of the most powerful officials in the Seven Kingdoms. Knowledge is important in becoming a leader. Knowledge brings respect. If you are knowledgeable in leading people, it is easier for you to earn respect and trust from others.

Each Decision You Make Has Consequences

Decision making is another managerial process that involves social, political, emotional, and organizational factors and fact-based analysis. Good managers must recognize the pros and cons of each option and take into account all of these factors when evaluating which path will lead to the best outcome.

Daenerys Targaryen is no stranger to consequences. Liberating an entire region of slaves, wiping out all of the Dothraki Khals in existence, and planning a coup in King’s Landing does not come without repercussions. Along her journey from exile to the Queen of Meereen, she learns that decision making is a delicate balance that requires not only finding the greatest good for all parties involved but also planning for the future. In the process, she has lost a lot, but she still stands tall.

The only reason why Cersei did all the evil things were for the sake of her children. But her actions have now cost her the lives of all of them in shocking ways. She struggles to survive,  her people despise her and everyone hates her for what she has done. This is a case of exploring extreme consequences. So as a manager, it’s important to find a mid-point between a Daenerys and Cersei.

Learn from Your Mistakes

In order to improve and innovate, managers must continuously reflect and learn from past experiences. By acquiring, interpreting, and applying information from these experiences in the right ways, good managers can improve their processes and implementation skills to drive the organization forward.

Any of the remaining members of House Stark would attest, you must learn from your mistakes (or your father’s, mother’s, and older brother’s mistakes) in order to survive. Perhaps the quickest learner of them all is Arya Stark. From reluctant lady-in-training to the seasoned assassin, she’s made a huge leap since the start of the series, one that has forced her to grow and leave many aspects of her old life behind in the process.

Flexibility is Key

Another important skill in a manager’s toolkit is the ability to remain flexible. Recognizing the need for organizational change stems from multiple sources, both internal and external. A good manager must identify common dysfunctional habits, understand methods for overcoming such behaviors, and identify factors to help create a receptive environment for change.

Never one to be outwitted, Tyrion Lannister is the master of changing course. At countless points throughout the show, he manages to turn his less than desirable situations into positive ones. An inexperienced warrior forced to lead the defense at the Battle of Blackwater, he manages to destroy a large part of the enemy’s fleet with minimal causalities of his own men through the creative use of wildfire. Captured by Jorah Mormont on his way to Meereen, Tyrion is delivered to Daenerys as a “gift” to be executed. However, he manages to not only stay alive, but to become a key advisor to Daenerys.

Don’t judge a book by it’s  Cover

Throughout the first three seasons, Jon Snow was  referred to as a bastard and looked down upon. The audience also never took him too seriously in the beginning. But he never let it affect him and this confidence today has made him the King in the North. This is because some people saw his potential and trusted in him. And today, by chance , he is the actual heir to the Iron throne as a Targaryen .

Lesson – Society exposes us to identities and categories from a very tender age and knowingly or unknowingly, we also start to discriminate people on the basis of their identities. Stop it and judge everyone on the basis of their actions and intent, not on their background.

Be Controlled in Aggression & Generosity

Being the mother of dragons is not the only reason why Daenerys Stormborn is a queen today. Her followers call her Mhysa (mother) by choice and not by force. Daenerys has a kind heart and she has freed many slaves and given them the choice to join her as free folk. Qualities such as kindness, generosity, humility backed by extreme confidence in herself are the reasons for her boisterous success. But that makes her no less fierce.

Lesson – Your employees are your biggest strength. You need to have faith in yourself and your goals, but to achieve that you will need their unquestioned loyalty. If you do not trust them and if you fail to empower them, chances are high that your empire might face the destiny of House Tyrell.

Great Leaders Always Attract The Best Supporters

Ned Stark is known for being an honourable and just man in Game of Thrones. His character is one good example of being an effective leader. He always means what he says and does what he means. Ned puts his swords to his words and doesn’t stay out of duty, no matter how unpleasant it could be. A true leader is someone who can be a role model in all aspects. You must be accountable and must embody the values you want others to follow. Remember, they are watching you so you should exemplify the best. Take responsibility and inspire greatness to those you lead.

With The Right Guidance And Experience, Anyone Can Lead At The Top

It is only in Season 7 that we have got to witness a leadership side to Sansa. The seasons prior to this showed her struggle and challenges that made her transition into this admirable personality. All this coupled with mentorship from Petyr Baelish and Jon, she has managed to be in charge of the North now in Jon’s absence. She had the tips at her disposal, but it was her nature to be a good listener and pick the traits that work for her and have made her the person she is today.

Brutal Life Experiences Teach The Best Lessons

Arya finally returned home after the first season and is a different person. She is fierce, brutal and fully confident in her abilities. Her experiences at a tender age have taught her well. She even gave Brienne of Tarth a hard time at the sword fight. She is a survivor.

Lesson – Irrespective of your age or background, sometimes life gives us really sour lemons, both in our personal as well as professional lives. It is what we make of such desperate times that make us who we actually are

Keeping yourself updated with the latest trends

Cersei Lannister said it best in season 1, episode 7 of the hit HBO series Game of Thrones, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” While she is clearly referring to the ruthless world of dragons, betrayal, and fierce battles, the same could be said for any business organization. Making use of the resources available at the Golden Company, building a modified “Mountain” with help from Qyburn, stacking up ammunition to tackle dragons with help from Euron Greyjoy. She sure does know how to tackle problems by using resources at her disposal

In the modern marketplace, rapid change is par for the course. With the rise of cloud-based technologies, decentralized currencies, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (A.I.), organizations that can deliver innovation at speed have a competitive advantage.

Discover Your Strength

Tyrion Lannister might be small in size, but he is known for being good at ruling behind the scenes. His fascinating ability to see everything from a different perspective is what makes him one of the best characters on the show. Though he had been humiliated throughout his life, he makes up for it in his wit and intelligence. Tyrion is driven by nothing other than his strength. As a leader, Tyrion should inspire you to discover your strengths and use them to achieve your goals. By understanding your strengths, you can focus on what you are good at and you can further develop your skills to become more effective in leading people

“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”- Tyrion Lannister

Stand Firm in Your Convictions

The manipulative, brilliant strategist and stoic commander, Tywin Lannister, urges you to stand firm in your convictions. He is known for his unfettered and dominant attitude to ensure that the Lannister legacy lives on. He rules based on what he thinks is right and never allows anyone to deter his decisions. More often than not, leaders are either making decisions with other people or their decision impacts others. Being a leader you are bound to make decisions for the good of all and not only for yourself. Learn how to stand firm in your convictions. Do not let the personal choices of others make you doubt your own.

“The lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinion of a sheep.”- Tywin Lannister

In the fourth season of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow has proven his leadership skill. Snow is a wise, compassionate, and a natural leader. Using his natural leadership, he led the Night’s Watch in the battle against the wildlings and successfully holds the Wall against overwhelming odds. He repeats the same in the fight for Winterfell against Ramsay Bolton . Taking command is having the authority to direct people into a strategic position. As a leader, he knows how to guide others into action and not coerce them. Engage and energize the workforce by motivating them and earning their trust. Once you trust your people you can establish command by supporting behaviours that bring good results.

“I’m the watcher on The Wall.” – Jon Snow

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Prashant Rajpoot

HAHA..great study & application of concepts. I think u missed Varys who teaches us – Love your Job, not the organisation ;).