Iron Throne: HBO
Even if your battles take place in Martin Place rather than Kings Landing, you may have encountered a Stannis Baratheon or Robb Stark in the workplace.
With the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones Season 3 airing today, we asked psychologist Elizabeth Neal and executive coach Iain Crossing where the Westerosi power-grabbers are most likely to find a foothold in today’s organisations and what they should do to be more effective leaders.
Crossing, who consults with major ASX-listed companies, says the fictional monarchs demonstrate traits that all occur, to some extent, at various levels of the management chain.
Only one character has what it takes to be an effective corporate executive. Others may flourish with the right training.
Stannis is a blustering leader with powerful allies - the kind of person Crossing says may be found in junior management or senior operational roles in a family-run or semi-government business with no dedicated HR resources and weak governance.
Neal says Stannis is cold, lacks empathy, has a grandiose sense of self-importance and tends to overestimate his abilities. He is authoritarian and is unlikely to go back on decisions, which can lead to negative consequences.
'Stannis has a strong work ethic and is likely to be respected by his subordinates however his need and greed for power allows him to be influenced contrary to his principles,' she notes. 'There certainly are qualities that are promising but there would need to be professional development.'
The psychologists say Stannis would benefit from having a mentor, along with regular coaching to make him less reliant on his allies. He should work on grounding his goals on realistic expectations and timeframes, they say.
Joffrey was born to power but has never demonstrated any effort or desire to lead, Neal says.
Emotionally unstable, antisocial, immature, unreliable, reckless and irresponsible, Joffrey ‘displays a pattern of pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others’, she says.
In a workplace, Joffrey is likely to be verbally abusive; his ‘casual bullying’ will likely drive subordinates to leave the organisation.
Narcissism can make executives more charismatic and isn’t always a bad thing, but the psychologists don’t think Joffrey is likely to respond to professional development programs because his narcissism indicates that he is too insecure to change.
When facing a Joffrey in the workplace, your best bet is to lodge ‘complaints with HR and try get him moved on’, Crossing says.
Robb was pushed into the job and while inexperienced, has so far been successful on the battlefield by being a collaborative leader.
He leads his northmen with a high degree of integrity, earning their respect and loyalty with higher ideas and moral values.
Of all the would-be monarchs we’ve seen in the HBO TV series so far, Crossing says Robb best fits the archetype of the ‘traditional Aussie battler’ – a manager who has risen through the ranks in a difficult situation.
Crossing says Robb’s hands-on, collaborative approach works well in the lower ranks of management, but he will need to take a wider view if he is to lead a larger organisation.
‘You can definitely be a collaborative leader but what tends to separate people as they move up the leadership ranks is an increasing level of self-belief backing the decisions they make,’ he says.
‘They need to define their vision and think about how to manage politics and culture.’
Daenerys Targaryen is the only character who would make it as a corporate executive as she is, psychologists say.
The 'mother of dragons' is collaborative and resourceful, a fast learner and highly adaptable to change. She leads with compassion and what Neal says is 'an appropriate amount of maternal instinct while remaining unswayed by emotion'.
'I can’t fault her leadership style. That’s the kind of leader I would respond to well, personally,' Neal says.
Daenerys is a risk-taker who has strong beliefs about right and wrong and takes it upon herself to champion her ideals of social justice.
Crossing says she is most likely to be a self-made businessperson who may have burned some bridges on the way up, noting that she may have to rethink her strong moral positions if she were to be leading a publicly listed corporation.
'Ultimately, when executives have to answer to shareholders, they have to be pragmatic about certain things,' Crossing says.
'When the game changes - when they risk becoming irrelevant because of a stance they’ve taken - they need to opt out or change their stance in some way.'
Balon Greyjoy leads the Iron Islands. His ideas tend to be old-fashioned and outdated and he is likely to be resistant to new ways, approaches, process or systems regardless of their proof of efficacy, Neal says.
Balon tends to be irritable, impatient and unapproachable, and seems to be deeply resentful of his failures.
Crossing likens him to a resentful professional who wants a management role but doesn’t have the influence, skills or style to climb the corporate ladder.
Although the psychologists doubt that Balon would respond well to training, they suggest he work on his interpersonal skills and try hard to improve his personal brand in the workplace because chances are, nobody likes him.
Mance Rayder is the 'king beyond the wall': a pragmatic, unassuming leader who seeks to save his people from the coming winter.
Mance is a powerful leader who inspires great loyalty in his disparate followers. He is innovative and humble, preferring a flat organisational structure and honest egalitarian dialogue with his subordinates to the more traditional style of ruling from above.
In the modern world, Crossing says Mance is most likely to lead a lobby group or NGO, in which members are self-motivated to work towards a common goal.
‘A lobbyist group needs a different leadership style to a global conglomerate,’ he notes. ‘Because there is a communal belief, it is relatively easy to manage while the purpose remains strong.
‘But if the message that you’re selling is you’re the underdog, and you start gaining market share, at some point you’ll need to develop skills to run and manage a bigger organisation.’
[Editors’ note: the Game of Thrones Season Finale is out. This is a post from last year that we’re republishing.]