7 lessons everyone can learn about leadership from Game of Thrones

Sex, murder, dragons, warring leaders, and a wall impossible to scale. Does this sound like any corporations you know today? Perhaps, but I am talking about Targaryens, Lannisters, Starks, and Baratheons in Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones is set in a medieval world of knights, dragons, and magic, characterized by long, cold seasons, and populated with White Walkers. This most amazing and compelling TV series has captured the hearts and minds of people around the world. In the history of mankind, never has a TV series been so downloaded and watched, so are there leadership lessons we can take from this series?

Before I answer this question, I will tell you a story; I run a training company, after all. A man in a hot-air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced the altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a bit more and shouted, “Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The woman replied, “You’re in a hot-air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You’re between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude.”

“You must be an engineer,” said the balloonist. “I am,” replied the woman, “How did you know?”

“Well,” answered the balloonist, “Everything you told me are technically correct, but I’ve no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is, I’m still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help at all. If anything, you’ve delayed my trip.”

The woman below responded, “You must be in Management.” “I am,” replied the balloonist, “But how did you know?

“Well,” said the woman, “You don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air.”

Photo: HBO

“You made a promise which you’ve no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you had been in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault.”

I don’t know about you but I want to know where I am going so I am always looking for lessons on being a leader.

Here are 7 leadership lessons I learned from Game of Thrones:

1. Good leaders are hard to find

The fact is there have been many leaders in the Game of Thrones, but very few of them are good leaders. Is this true about corporations? Are good leaders hard to find? The fact is that there are few good leaders throughout history, and in corporations today. What can we do about that? “The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.” — John C Maxwell.

2. Family-run organisations can weaken through the generations

Blood does not equal brains. Research shows that only 30% of family businesses make it to generation two, and a mere 3% still generate profits in generation three.

What we see in Game of Thrones as well as history is that promoting family leaders without adequate training and mentoring from a leader with integrity leads to pride, arrogance, and power-crazy leaders who care not for the people, only for their selfish purposes e.g. Lannisters. On the other hand, we see that the Stark children were mentored, given responsibility, and taught leadership values, and they have the power to change a generation.

3. Women leaders need to have tenacity and courage to believe in themselves

Some of the most powerful leaders in Game of Thrones are women, for good and evil. The women leaders for good have learnt that tenacity and courage are key ingredients to leading great armies, fighting warriors, and overcoming oppression.

4. Don’t lose your head when attending corporate functions

Two of the most powerful figures of Game of Thrones were killed in corporate functions. Catelyn Stark was set up by corrupt leaders and killed, and Joffrey Baratheon was poisoned by an employee.

We like to say to leaders when it comes to corporate functions, “The cardinal rule is to remember that no matter how festive the occasion, it’s still about business. Don’t fall off the fast track to success or risk damaging your professional reputation in one night of inadvertent blunders.”

5. The Dragons will eventually be chained

There are some leaders who think that Dragon managers give them power and authority. In some cases, they have helped to get the leader their job. However, their intimidation and fire-breathing ways eventually break out, and good people in the organization become casualties. The leader will either be brought down or make a decision to remove them from power.

6. Be true to your values, even if you have to walk away

In Game of Thrones, we have the eternal fight between good and evil, right and wrong, and justice and inequality. The same thing happens today in corporations. Leaders can lose their way and the values they once expounded no longer exist. In these times, some people choose to make a stand, and some leave. Many men and women through history gave their lives for what they believed. We may not have to go that far, but we may have to decide if we want to stay in such an environment or go and fight for another king.

7. Influence and connections can be life savers and bring promotion

Whether you are a king, dwarf, eunuch or banker, there is definitely power in influence. We see throughout the Game of Thrones that with the right connections and influence, your life can be saved; without these connections, you will lose your head.

In the series, there is no greater influencer than Tyrion Lannister. In 15th and 16th century Europe, any imperfection — dwarfism, blindness, a child born abnormal — was ideally smothered, gotten rid of, or put in a bucket or anything. The fact is that since birth, Tyrion has been an influencer. He used this skill to become indispensable. Please see post: 5 Keys to Become Indispensable at Work.

Chris Gaborit is a serial entrepreneur who has built three successful companies without seed funding. For most of his life, Chris has traveled the world inspiring ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. He believes that within every person is a destiny and calling that can be realized, released, and remarkable. He is cofounder of The Learning Factor, an outsource training company that delivers leadership training to Fortune 500 companies globally. Chris regularly writes for The Sydney Morning Herald, LinkedIn, and FastCompany. Find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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