Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows in television history. Even if you don’t watch the show, you have probably heard about it. There is a lot to be learned about business and politics from the show. I am not a very political person, so I want to focus on five key leadership skills from the show:
Being a Leader
In the World of Thrones, the central theme is families fighting to gain control over the Seven Kingdoms in Westeros. King's Landing is the capital or the seat of the Iron Throne. It is called the "Iron Throne" because the chair that the king/queen sits on is literally made of swords that were melted down, which says a lot in itself. It is not physically comfortable to sit on the throne, or easy to keep it from usurpers who want to seize control of it. Four main houses or families serve as the leaders in this world:
"Ours is the fury."
House Baratheon is the principal house in the storm lands. People in this family are tall, strong, and have black hair, blue eyes, and sharp jawlines. They are hot-tempered and fierce warriors.
Robert Baratheon is king when the story opens. When he dies, his two brothers, Stannis and Renly stake their claim to the throne. Robert is a warrior, but not much of a leader. He drinks a lot, spends most of his time with outside women (not his wife), and leaves the business of managing the throne to his Small Council.
Stannis is a great warrior as well, but also stern and uncompromising, which are not great traits for a leader. And then there is Renly, the youngest brother, and fourth in line to the throne. Renly is young, handsome, and charismatic. People like him, and for that reason, he thinks he is the better contender for the throne.
The positive leadership skill that we learn from the Baratheon’s is courage. Leaders must be courageous to try new ideas, admit when things need to change, and lead the way for their people.
House Baratheon Cautionary Tale (Relationship & Compromise)
The Baratheon Brothers had a fraught relationship at best, so when Robert died, they fought each other for the throne, instead of coming together to take it. They might have been able to rule for generations to come if they had partnered and worked together to secure it.
"Hear me roar."
Known for "A Lannister always pays its debts."
House Lannister is one of the wealthiest and most powerful houses in Westeros. Its seat is in Casterly Rock, which is considered to be an impenetrable location. When the story opens, Lord Tywin Lannister is the Head of House Lannister. He has three children: Cersei and Jaime, who are twins and lovers, and Tyrion, who they call the imp because he is a little person. It is important to note that Cersei is King Robert's wife, even though she is having an incestuous relationship with her twin brother.
Tywin is sort of a puppet master. His immense wealth and power give him access and influence over the kings of Westeros, including King Aerys (The Mad King), King Robert (Baratheon), King Joffrey (Robert’s eldest son), and King Tommen (Robert’s youngest son). He served as Hand of the King or second in command to Aerys, Joffrey, and Tommen.
Where Tywin excels is in strategic thinking. He is decisive and able to develop not only sound plans but also savvy enough to be flexible and adapt them when needed. He is also a skilled negotiator. Tywin knows the value of alliances and will do almost anything to protect his family name.
Tywin commands respect, and he is ruthless. He even murdered his enemies at a wedding, henceforth known as the Red Wedding, due to the gruesome bloodshed that took place.
Tywin became cold-blooded because he saw how his father Tytos, was disrespected by his banner lords. They treated Tytos like a joke, so when Tywin came into power, he sent a clear message to the banner lords and the realm at large that House Lannister is a powerhouse that is to be feared and respected.
The positive traits of House Lannister and Tywin, in particular, is that he built a great family dynasty because he is a brilliant strategist, knows how to command respect, and builds alliances.
House Lannister Cautionary Tale (Commanding Respect)
Although I firmly believe that we all should command respect for ourselves, it doesn't require that we be cold and callous to do it. Influence is also a useful tool to not only gain respect, but to also give it.
"Winter is coming."
House Stark rules over Winterfell and the North. The Starks are an old house and at one time ruled as Kings in the North until King Torrhen Stark bent the knee to Aegon I Targaryen.
The head of House Stark is Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark of Winterfell. Ned is married to Catelyn (formerly of House Tully). He has five children: Robb, Sansa, Bran, Arya, and Rickon. There is also his out-of-wedlock son known as Jon Snow. Westeros is not kind to children outside of marriage, and Jon suffers emotional damage at the hands of Catelyn and even Sansa, his younger sister. He is well received by his other siblings though.
Ned is known as an honorable man. He is dedicated, loyal, and considered honest, except for the fact that he bore a child out-of-wedlock. And he didn't just have the child but also allowed that child to live with him and his family at Winterfell, which depending on your thought process could be considered a scandalous act or noble gesture.
Jon’s presence causes great contention between Ned and his wife because he won’t reveal the name of his mother to her, King Robert, or anyone else for that matter. We later find out that Jon’s mother is Ned’s sister Lyanna and that Rhaegar Targaryen is his father. Ned keeps Jon’s identity a secret to protect him from Robert and others in the realm that would cause him harm. This storyline runs deep so we won't elaborate on the details any more than this.
Ned is not the warmest or friendliest person, but he is fair and treats the people that he is responsible for in the North with decency. People like Ned. They consider him to be a good person. Stark honor and dedication to family and duty is well-known throughout the Seven Kingdoms.
The leadership skills we learn from Ned Stark are holding to our principles and being respectful to others.
House Stark Cautionary Tale (Inflexibility)
Holding to your principles is positive, but when you become so grounded in them that you are closed to other ways of thinking, seeing, being, and doing things, you become stuck, inflexible, and cease to grow.
"Fire and blood."
The last major house in Game of Thrones is House Targaryen. House Targaryen came from a place called Valyria. They were a minor house in Valyria but became a significant one in Westeros after the Doom of Valyria and because they were the only house left in the story with dragons.
The character representative of House Targaryen in the show is Daenerys or Dany. In the beginning, we have both Dany and Viserys Targaryen. There is also Maester Aemon Targaryen, but he renounced the throne years ago and chose to join the Night’s Watch, which is sort of a military order that guards a Wall in the North.
Viserys is older and crueler than Dany. His only objective is to take back the Iron Throne, which he feels was stolen from his father Aerys, known as the Mad King. Aerys was known for burning his subjects, and once there were no more dragons, he had the Alchemists' Guild create wildfire. Wildfire is this green liquid that produces a green flame that burns for a long time. Aerys had it placed throughout the Red Keep to burn the kingdom if necessary.
In the end, Aerys is killed by Jaime Lannister before he burns the kingdom, and then King Robert takes the throne. Viserys and Dany are saved and exiled to Essos, which is a continent in the Free Cities across the narrow sea. They are regularly moved for their safety.
Viserys will stop at nothing to take the Iron Throne back. He even sells his sister Dany to Khal Drago, who is the leader of the Dothraki (pronounced doth-rack-ee) for any army. Dany learns the language and customs of her new people, and they grow to love her. Dany’s husband eventually kills Viserys because he threatens their unborn child.
Dany's desire for the Iron Throne comes from years of listening to Viserys talk about what happened to their family, and the belief that she is entitled to it. She believes her destiny in life is to save the people of Westeros from tyrannical rulers, and in the end, becomes one herself, at least on the show. The books may tell the story a little different.
House Targaryen Cautionary Tale (Hurting Others for Personal Gain)
What we learn from House Targaryen is what it means to conquer and control something or someone. Having a sense of entitlement can cause you to hurt and destroy others to get what you believe is yours. The Targaryen's style of play is to use force. Fire and blood aren't just their house words. They are words that they actually live by.
The main thing that I learned from Game of Thrones is that a fantasy fiction show is a lot like real life. The world-at-large is one big Game of Thrones filled with politics, monarchies, religions, companies, and the like, all fighting for some element of control over things and people.
How we choose to play the game determines how we live and do business individually and collectively. Each house that we talked about has positive characteristics and cautionary tales to watch out for.
There are likely elements of these house traits in all of us - both positive and negative. The key to success in anything is dedication, negotiation, diplomacy, focus, balance, practical problem-solving skills, self-mastery, building alliances, and being willing to adapt, change, and grow.
We must be willing to learn something new and do something different. This is how we become better people, build better businesses, and create a better world than the one we have now.
So, in my opinion, effectively "running the throne" is how you indeed "win" the Game of Thrones.
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Until next time...
Latarsha Horne is an ICF Credentialed Coach who helps new and emerging leaders feel more confident, decisive and empowered to take charge and do their jobs. Her coaching style is energy-action based, open-minded, and straight-forward. If you want to be challenged and grow, she's the coach for you.