Eight Paths to Successful Team Leadership from Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon
As anybody who’s ever been in a leadership position knows, no single style fits every situation! In my book Management Lessons from Game of Thrones: Organization Theory and Strategy in Westeros, I show how managers can learn from how various characters in Game of Thrones tackled and overcame their leadership and team management problems using strategies that fit their personalities and situations. If you’re struggling with a team management project, here are eight different approaches from Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon that might help you find your perfect leadership style.
Daenerys is a a charismatic leader, someone who inspires others simply by the force of her personality and vision. However, she clearly finds the day-to-day business of management boring and is always looking for new challenges.
In a team management situation, you’d want Daenerys in charge whenever quick and drastic decisions need to be made, and when you need the team to be united and following a specific plan or vision. Bringing a new and controversial product to market on time, for instance, or carrying out a project with a certain element of risk.
2. Jon Snow
Jon Snow is a transformational leader: he excels in bringing out the best in the people around him and seeing organizations through time of change. Transformational leaders don’t generally seek out leadership, but are often just what a struggling organization needs to get back on track.
You’d want Jon in charge when a team is having trouble finding form or purpose, or meeting its established goals. Jon would be the sort of leader who can analyse what the team’s strengths and weaknesses are, can organise it to play to its strengths, and focus it away from the problem areas.
3. Tyrion Lannister
Tyrion is a transactional leader, someone who gains the trust of their supporters by making deals and compromises. While he may not be glamourous and exciting, people trust him always to get the job done.
Tyrion would excel in a situation of day-to-day team management, where there is either a project of indefinite duration, or where the projects renew cyclically. You could see Tyrion heading up an audit team or a tax consultancy: something that needs to be done consistently, reliably and well on a regular basis, with plenty of challenges but no surprises.
4. The High Sparrow
The High Sparrow is a contingent leader, someone who moves into a leadership role from an unexpected quarter at a critical time for the organisation. His idealism and dedication inspires loyalty but he can also find himself at the heart of conflict.
The High Sparrow wouldn’t be the first person you’d put in charge of a team, but he’d be the one who steps in when more conventional leadership fails. He usually comes in from the ranks of the team members and is able to use his knowledge of the team’s internal dynamics to refocus the team and give it a direction. However, you might not want him in charge for the long term, in case his personal agenda starts to replace the organisation’s.
5. Sansa Stark
Because of her gender and her personality, Sansa’s talents are not immediately apparent. She struggles to be accepted in a leadership role, but, when she’s in charge, she’s focused and willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. She takes a long view of success and it generally pays off.
Sansa is the person you want in charge of a team working on a project with long-term objectives. She’s also very good at bringing together people with very different interests and getting them to work together over a period of time, and also at taking difficult decisions and sticking by them. The biggest problem you might have with Sansa is that, if you underestimate her, you might lose her to the competition!
7. Daemon Targaryen
Like his distant relative Daenerys, Daemon is a charismatic leader. He clearly inspires the loyalty of the Gold Cloaks and attracts supporters among his extended family. Daemon is also, however, a toxic leader, thinking little of murder and brutality as ways of achieving his ends.
Strangely, sometimes this kind of leadership can have good results! Daemon clearly achieves a number of victories simply through not caring about what other people think, or through treating other people as assets or obstacles without caring about them as human beings. However, this means that Damon is also not somebody you want in charge for a long period of time. He may be able to deliver necessary shock treatment, but he shouldn’t be allowed to keep on delivering it.
8. Corlys Velaryon
Corlys Velaryon is a pragmatic leader. He does what it takes to get the job done, even when this means making questionable alliances or difficult compromises. At times when others are concerned about short-term pride and prestige, he is concerned about the longer term consequences.
Corlys clearly excels in any situation where there is the opportunity to develop a strategy and see it through, and one where difficult, even painful, decisions might need to be made. He can weigh up costs and benefits rationally, and can choose the most appropriate path, even if it involves difficult alliances or accepting the second best option, with a view to pursuing strategic success over a more extended period.
8. Rhaenyra Targaryen
Rhaenyra provides a good example of what we call “servant leadership”: a leader who puts the needs of the team first and encourages both her followers and her organisation to grow and develops. She accepts that everything she does has to be what’s best for the throne and for her House, and tries to find ways of doing so that make herself and the people around her happy.
Rhaenyra is the sort of person you’d want in charge of any team that needs to develop to meet new challenges, and to stay together while doing so. It’s deeply ironic that she faces so many people opposing her elevation to Queen of Westeros, as she might actually be the most suitable person to lead the country on to greater successes.
Management Lessons from Game of Thrones: Organization Theory and Strategy in Westeros is a management textbook with a difference. I examine how characters, organisations and situations in a fictional television series about a fantasy world have, perhaps surprising, parallels to people, organisations and situations in our own world, and how we can learn valuable lessons for our daily working lives from these stories. As well as leadership, the book discusses human resource management, organisation theory, strategy, mergers and acquisitions—and how to manage all of these without resorting to dragonfire!
The other day I had a question from a work friend who has been reading this series: “do you apply this to your academic writing too?”
Which was unexpectedly revealing. Because, on one level, I don’t. As part of my job, I have to write papers, course outlines, funding applications, and so forth. But I don’t tend to approach it thinking “I’ll do 500 words a day.”
And yet, on another level, I do. The way I get a project done, especially if it’s a big scary one like a monograph, is to tackle it in small chunks, every day. Not “I’ll write 500 words” necessarily, but “I’ll get down to the end of the page,” or “I’ll make notes on one article every day for the next week.” It’s also certainly true that I usually do at least a little academic writing every weekday, though I’ll only do it at weekends if I’m up against an unanticipated deadline.
Which is, however, where the first significant difference applies. When I’m writing fiction, the deadlines are usually self-imposed– or, if they’re imposed from outside, they’re at least ones I’ve got enough advance notice on that I can work towards them. In academic writing, I’m almost always writing to a deadline, and sometimes it’s the sort of deadline that requires more than 500 words a day to complete.
The other significant difference is that my work writing is often a collaboration with other people. This means you have to take other people’s schedules and writing styles into account, and that sometimes doesn’t work with a 500-word-a-day habit.
So I would say that, while the philosophy of Lunchtime Writing can help you write non-fiction or other types of work writing, one generally has to be flexible with its actual execution, and it may need a little more in the way of advance planning than regular Lunchtime Writing.
And I can definitely confirm that, if you’re struggling to begin a piece of work or find that you keep putting it off, that approaching it as if it were Lunchtime Writing is a good way to start and to see it through to completion.
The wonderful people at my university have made up a “Which Game of Thrones Leader Are You?” quiz to promote my book Management Lessons in Game of Thrones! Go on, take it– we don’t send any data back to evil corporations!
I’ve been interviewed on New Books Network about my Taiwan research project! Click the link to hear me talk about how the study came about, what I learned, and what’s been going on since: https://newbooksnetwork.com/global-taiwanese
Here’s where I’m going to be at Worldcon! If you’ll be there, please come to any of these– especially my “Table Talk”, where I’ll dish behind-the-scenes info on Management Lessons from Game of Thrones.