We've written an article for Flybe/July 2019:
LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM GAME OF THRONES
THE HIT SERIES MAY HAVE COME TO AN END, BUT THERE’S STILL PLENTY WE CAN LEARN FROM THE CAST OF UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTERS, AS BUSINESS LEADERS EXPLAIN
Ever since the first episode aired in 2011, Game of Thrones has captivated audiences around the world. We’ve watched leaders rise and fall (often in quite spectacular fashion) in their quest to take the Iron Throne, and we’ve seen beloved and despised characters plot, scheme and fight for power through very different leadership strategies. So, avoiding any major plot spoilers for anyone who hasn’t yet watched it, what can we learn about leadership from the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros? We asked five business experts to pick out the lessons that we should (and shouldn’t!) take away from their favourite characters…
“Tyrion Lannister embodies three virtues every aspiring leader should seek to cultivate: wisdom, wit and the ability to find strength in his weaknesses.
“Let’s start with the wisdom: he understands that to overcome prejudice, it is first necessary to understand how and why that prejudice exists. And to accept that injustice is an unavoidable part of life, but what we can avoid is squandering our time and energy moaning about it.
“He’s a dwarf in a world inhabited by giants. Unjustly accused. Abducted. Demoted. Mocked. Framed for murder. But he’s wise enough to focus on the many advantages life has presented to him: ready access to stack-loads of cash, support from international power brokers and an obvious point of difference from the usual leadership candidates.
“And then there’s the wit: who can’t help but like someone with an archive of quotes that would give Oscar Wilde a run for his money?
“His defining characteristic, though, is his ability to tread that fine line that divides being weird and being remarkable. Tyrion’s weaknesses endear him to others because they aren’t used as excuses for failure. They make him different and interesting because he’s over himself enough to sport them in public and show the world that being diminutive doesn’t make him small – it’s part of what makes him great. And I’m not just saying that because I’m under five foot eight.”
Nick Liddell is director of brand consultancy The Clearing, and co-author of new book, Wild Thinking: 25 Unconventional Ideas to Grow Your Brand and Your Business, published by Kogan Page.
“Sansa, raised to be a lady (who suffered the innocent loss of her direwolf by that very name), had everything she believed in torn brutally away from her at 13. She has suffered – although in a dramatically- theatrical way – what many women face. Wanting to ‘be feminine’, deferring to others out of a sense of duty, seeking a quiet life, is criticised – even by women. Why is she not raising dragons, or learning swordsmanship, or seducing her way to the top in a toxic world?
“To escape King’s Landing, she aligned with unlikely sources who showed her sweet disposition kindness. To return to Winterfell she played the game – without losing sight of her integrity.
“She built her character from those she admired without turning persecutor or victim. She stood up as a determined diplomat for The North before Daenerys and Jon Snow. She did not rush into battle, but she was prepared to ‘stick them with the pointy end’ when the need arose. Sansa has grown – and without an advisor or protector (eg. Jorah, The Hound, Jaime). She’s thought critically, trusted her judgment, accepted help when required. She wouldn’t ignore the bells of surrender because she is a lady – Lady Sansa of Winterfell, and doing a fine job of leadership.
“It is Sansa’s resilience, innate ability to learn – to adapt while retaining integrity and grace, that is her strength. And in a world where the fight is not always rewarded, let us not underestimate Sansa Stark.”
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and the author of The Leader’s Guide to Mindfulness, published by FT Publishing.
“Daenerys is passionate about people being free from oppression. When freeing the slaves, she empowers them and shows them that everyone is, on some level, equal. Here her leadership impact is strong, she believes in people and that makes them believe in themselves.
“She is also good at listening to others, her trusted advisors in particular, before making decisions. In doing this she shows that a good leader doesn’t need to have all the answers and that she values others’ experience and opinions, which boosts them and builds their loyalty.
“On the negative side, you could argue that she offered freedom but, in some cases only if they gave up their freedom to her. This diminishes her positive impact as a leader as it seems she can only fully get people’s loyalty through threats and ultimatums. Would she have been as powerful without her dragons? Probably not. The dragons acted as, and were used as, a very real threat, which enabled Daenerys. She didn’t really allow people freedom; her hunger for power showed that anyone who didn’t support her had to be disposed of. This made her look weak, and ultimately sealed her fate.”
Mandy Flint and Elisabet Vinberg Hearn are leadership strategists and authors of The Leader’s Guide to Impact, published by FT Publishing
“She is good at listening to others, her trusted advisors in particular, before making decisions. In doing this she shows that a good leader doesn’t need to have all the answers”
“Looking for a new leader, you identify someone who is a bit of a loner, overwhelmingly driven by revenge and surrounded by people they don’t trust. Probably not your top candidate – and who could blame you? But when it comes to Arya you may want to reconsider… when you plumb the depths of her complex character, several positive traits offset those negatives:
“Inner strength: From day one, Arya had the confidence and determination to be more than a ‘man’s wife’, defying convention and the expectation that she become a lady, leaving the safety of the castle to forge her own path.
“Long-term strategic focus: From practising with the bow and arrow, to learning sword fighting, to spending a year with the Faceless Man, blind and beaten, to become an assassin, Arya demonstrated focus, drive and commitment, investing the time and effort necessary to develop the skills to succeed.
“Resilience: Her year with the Faceless Man indicates Arya’s ability to rise above day-to-day challenges (no matter how terrible), making sacrifices (her eyesight!), motivated by achieving the greater goal.
“Agility: While still focused on her long-term plan, Arya remained agile, setting a personal vendetta aside and shifting focus from killing the Lannisters to killing the leader of the Whites to save her brother and ultimately the world.
“Independent thought: She’s an independent thinker who knows her own mind and remains true to herself – in the end, walking away from power, safety and security to travel west, exploring the unknown in search of excitement and possibility. That’s an independent thinker!”
Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton are the authors of new wellbeing bookPhysical Intelligence, published by Simon & Schuster, and directors of Companies in Motion.
“My chosen character didn’t make it to the final disappointing episode. Instead, he came to an end in a rather undignified way, while sitting on a different kind of throne. The despicable Tywin Lannister has a couple of lessons for us when it comes to getting the best ideas out of an organisation. And with innovation being such a focus for so many companies, great ideas are exactly what is needed.
“The first lesson is that he had a diverse team of people on his council. The more diverse a group is, the broader the knowledge, perspectives and skills it can draw upon. The job of a great leader is to allow and encourage a breadth of thinking, rather than stifle it with corporate homogeneity. So I’ll give him credit for that.
“The second point is that he didn’t seek the credit. His vision was bigger than his own ego. Other people wore the crown and got the glory when he was the one really driving things forward.
“People who come up with ideas tend to want to take the credit for them. In fact, it’s one of the things that drives them. If you want to lead a team in a way that encourages them to keep coming up with great ideas, you need to put the spotlight on them. Maybe even give them credit for your own ideas. In fact, go even further and make a public show of their success. This kind of recognition is worth more than a king’s ransom. Even if the king in question is the most repugnant little worm you could ever imagine.”
Dave Birss is co-host of the ultimate “anti-conference” event, the Fast Forward Forum, due to take place in Venice from 6th to 8th October 2019. See www.FastForwardForum.eu