3 leadership lessons to die for in “Game of Thrones”

Whether you want to build a world-class business, double your bottom line, or surround yourself with a high performing team, there’s much to learn about what not to do as a leader from your favourite Game of Thrones characters.

The TV show, based on the best selling book series, is a veritable master class on power, influence and leadership. This fantasy drama revolves around the battle to rule the seven kingdoms — to sit on the Iron Throne — and as you might suspect, many characters feel they have the only legitimate claim to lead. They are willing to lie, cheat, steal, and kill to get what they think is rightfully theirs.

It’s a heavily styled science fiction, depicting the battle between good and evil. Not surprisingly, some of the most interesting and colourful characters are the ones who have become corrupted by the lure and ensnarement of power. The lines between good leadership and outright dictatorship are suitably blurred, and if you think about it, this same struggle for power (albeit more subtle and subdued) is very likely playing out right now in your business or office.

Let’s take a look at three catastrophic attempts at leadership — how three key characters essentially sabotaged themselves in their epic quest to sit on the Iron Throne.

1. The Authoritative Leader

Game of Thrones Tywin Lannister
Photo credit: IMDB

Tywin Lannister is the brilliant, cashed-up schemer and ruthless overlord behind the House of Lannister. He is both an accomplished general and a strategist, relying on authority and control rather than leadership to reach his goals. He is also an opportunist.

While others — the Baratheons, Starks, and Greyjoys — squabble internally about who should rule, Tywin unites the entire Lannister clan and exploits every opportunity to solidify his grandson Joffrey’s rein. Even though he does not win every battle, he is clever enough to minimise his losses and maximise the damage he inflicts when he is victorious.

Leadership Lesson:  Some battles are won with swords and spears, while others with quills and ravens. Organizations that are built on shared vision, values and collaboration can excel at maximising the creativity, skill and productivity of each individual and the team. However, cohesion cannot be forced through fear, punishment and bullying.Unfortunately, his heavy-handed style leads to his own undoing. While his leadership kept his family united and focused on their grip over the Iron Throne for most of Seasons 1 through 4, it ultimately pushed his dwarf son Tyrion to rebel and shoot him through the chest with an arrow.

2. The Coercive Leader 

Game of Thrones Joffrey
Photo Credit: IMDB

Joffrey Baratheon held the Iron Throne for most of the first four seasons, yet he is without doubt the worst leader and the least deserving. As the illegitimate son of an incestuous relationship between siblings Jamie and Cersei Lannister, he was not technically entitled to take up the throne after the death of Robert Baratheon.

He is best characterized as a bully, braggart, coward, intellectual lightweight and a terrible negotiator. Joffrey chose not to listen to anyone’s advice, even though he was very young and had little experience in battle, life or leadership.

During his wedding celebration to Margaery Tyrell in season four, Joffrey was poisoned by a guest at the banquet. Even his final act, as he lay dying in the arms of his mother, was reprehensible. He reached out to point his finger towards his uncle Tyrion Lannister, and accused him (without any actual proof) of the murder.

Leadership Lesson:  It is impossible to lead effectively if you are despised and you refuse to listen to feedback from your team. This sort of leader is a death sentence to the whole business, as he or she will often take down others — or the brand’s reputation — on their way out the door.

3. The Servant Leader

Game of Thrones Ned Stark
Photo Credit: IMDB

Eddark (Ned) Stark was a great father, beloved Lord of Winterfell, merciful leader, and formidable swordsman — but a terrible politician. He is one of the few characters who took responsibility for his actions ad maintained a very close relationship with his subjects and servants. It was not uncommon for him to be seen eating with them, which was not a common practice, as most Lords would have been concerned about their status and keeping up appearances.

In making decisions, he was not afraid to call a spade a spade. He was mindful of the opinions of others and often put service to others (and the team) above his own self-interest. A prime example of this was when he let Cersei Lannister know that he had reason to believe Joffrey Baratheon’s lineage was in doubt.  Even though he was correct, Ned was beheaded for this revelation, which was a shame since he was a beloved leader and a fan favourite.

Leadership Lesson:  A good leader meets regularly with team members. He or she helps members build personal strengths and buy into the team vision. However, if a team member is defiant or unwilling to change or learn — or there is a need for quick decisions (such as in an emergency) — this style of leadership can be very ineffective.

When you look around your office, do you spot any of these leadership archetypes?  Studying the virtues and shortcomings of these unsuccessful leaders is a great way to experiment with different leadership styles and develop some great strategies for improving or polishing your own unique style.

Do you agree with my list? What other leadership lessons do you think can be learned from your favourite characters in Game of Thrones? Get in touch and share your insights now via the comments section below.