10 leadership do's & don'ts as seen on HBO's Game of Thrones


Game of Thrones, HBO's smash hit TV show, offers more than just thrills and shocking twists — it also gives us some great examples of good, and bad, leadership. The characters vie for power in the fictitious land of Westeros, however they all take different paths to get there. Through their journeys we see a number of leadership do's and don'ts.


1. Inspire, and then lead. The ability to inspire sets leaders apart from the rest. Daenerys Targaryen is on a mission to win back her family's place on the Iron Throne of Westeros. But when the series begins, she has no army to speak of. Over the course of the show she builds an army by inspiring people to follow her. Twice she emerges unscathed from the midst of a fire — she is immune — and those who witness this cannot help but be inspired. She also rallies the moral support because she makes it her mission to end slavery in Slaver's Bay. Successful leaders inspire their employees to work hard toward a common goal, thereby spurring their business to great heights.

2. Assemble a great team. Man is no island, and neither is a leader. A strong team working under the leader is essential for a successful business. Daenerys assembles a team to help her rule the cities she freed from slave masters in Slaver's Bay and, ultimately, help her win back the Iron Throne. She has surrounded herself with men and women with varied experiences, including Missandei, a former slave, and Tyrion Lannister, a consummate statesman with extensive experience in diplomacy. Surrounding oneself with with smart, efficient people makes a leader much more successful.

3. Have a long-term strategy. Running a successful business requires a well-thought out strategy. In the world of Game of Thrones, no characters exemplify the ability to focus on the end goal better than Petyr Baelish, also known as Littlefinger, and Varys. Both characters take decisions with their long-term strategy in mind. They seize any opportunity that will allow them to get closer to their end goal, displaying strategic thinking at every turn. The Harvard Business Review, through research at the Wharton School, identified six skills that together allow leaders to think strategically:

•    The ability to anticipate
•    The ability to challenge
•    The ability to interpret
•    The ability to decide
•    The ability to align
•    The ability to learn

4. Know your strengths and weaknesses. An honest assessment of one's leadership abilities helps leaders hone the skills they do possess and gain the ones they don't. In Westeros, Tyrion Lannister best displays this ability. As a dwarf, he is used to being undermined and underestimated. He knows he cannot win any fight based on physicality alone. And so he sharpens his mind and wit, and uses them as weapons in his arsenal. Leaders will not possess every skill necessary to ensure their business succeeds; however, they can build on their talents. For the skills they do not have, they can either learn them or hire people who naturally possess those talents.

5. Keep an eye on the bigger picture. It is important for leaders to focus on the big picture even, and especially, when their employees cannot. Jon Snow, as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, makes a decision to align with the wildlings — a decision seen as blasphemous to many working under him because the Night's Watch and the wildlings are sworn enemies. However, Jon knows that a far bigger threat faces both factions in the form of the White Walkers, zombie-like beings who will destroy everything in their path. Thus, he aims to bring the Night's Watch and the wildlings together so they can present a united front. Similarly, leaders are most successful when they do not allow themselves to be bogged down by the smaller losses and quibbles.


1. Neglect to monitor engagement and progress. It is the responsibility of the leadership to continually monitor the progress of any changes or new processes implemented in a workplace. Daenerys makes the rookie mistake of bringing change to the way of life in Slaver's Bay and then failing to assess the progress of the implementation. In the current season of Game of Thrones, we find out that many of the cities and slaves she liberated are once again under the control of the Slave Masters. Ensuring you have the resources to continually assess new processes is an essential aspect of strategic leadership.

2. Follow advice blindly. Strong and successful leaders take on decisions that they are confident about rather than follow advice thoughtlessly. Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones shows us the unfortunate outcome of listening closely to advice with no evidence to back it up. He allows Melisandre, his advisor, to dictate his every move, which results in his eventual defeat at the Battle of Winterfell. Leaders who follow the advice of others without thinking through every outcome could be setting themselves up for failure.

3. Lack transparency with regard to strategy. Clear-cut goals and expectations are an important aspect of ensuring a productive work environment and satisfied employees. As mentioned above, Littlefinger and Varys display a unique ability to strategize for the long term, but they are not transparent regarding their goals. Time and time again, this causes the people of Westeros to distrust them. Their end goal is known only to them. While they can manipulate people with ease, they will never be able to inspire followers the way other strong leaders can, such as Daenerys. Leaders who are transparent in their decision making and strategizing can inspire those who work for them.  

4. Be impulsive. While spontaneity has its merits in the workplace, it can be a double-edged sword. Impulsive decision making can derail strategy. In Game of Thrones, Catelyn Stark makes the impulsive decision to take Tyrion Lannister as her hostage, which sets off a chain of events that ultimately leads to the death of her husband and children. She does not wait to gain sufficient evidence against Tyrion before making a decision that has terrible consequences. The best leaders will weigh the pros and cons of big decisions to understand the consequences.  

5. Be inflexible. While confident decision making is a hallmark of good leadership, being completely inflexible can be severely detrimental. The leaders of the Dothraki race in the HBO show refuse to accept change even when it is staring them in the face. Lost in antiquity, they refuse to see beyond their small piece of the world and when Daenerys offers to lead them to greater heights of power, they refuse. When they try to force Daenerys to submit to their ways, she reveals the true extent of her power. The Dothraki leaders' inflexibility in the face of opportunity leads to their demise. Good leaders will learn to recognize opportunities and change with the times, when appropriate.

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