Team Leadership in Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon: The full version!

Earlier this year, readers of this blog may recall, I had an article appear on The Conversation, tying in with Management Lessons from Game of Thrones, entitled “Six models of successful team leadership from Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon.” I mentioned at the time that I’d originally submitted a longer piece. Which, as today is my birthday (legit, it is!) I’m now making available here. Enjoy additional unhinged-Targaryen and charismatic-preacher content!

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.

That time a thing I wrote was on the front page of a news website.
  1. 1. Daenerys Targaryen

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! 

Space Precinct, episode 4: “Flash”

After a decent episode last time, we’re now back to business as usual. Indeed, worse than usual. 

There’s a new drug on the streets in Demeter City: Flash. As we are painstakingly told at least twice (even though you’d think the cops would already know this), Flash gives its users massive confidence before causing them to burn up in, well, a flash, hence the name. It turns out it was developed by a legit pharmaceutical company, but never put on the market due to the above-mentioned toxic side effect.

And from there things just get more and more ludicrous. The person responsible for leaking it out to the streets is the CEO of the legit pharmaceutical company, who is also holding the chemist who developed it hostage and forcing her to develop a version without the side effect. Uh, why would he need to do either? Surely 1) he’s making enough money without needing to live-action-roleplay Breaking Bad, and 2) she would be more than happy to develop a version of the drug that does what it’s supposed to do? 

Also, four trained police officers, after stun-gunning the villain’s accomplice, simply walk away from the scene without cuffing her and taking her into custody, and they deserve everything they get from that.

The B plot this episode is that Brogan has to Take His Daughter To Work, and of course hijinks ensue. I wonder if this episode might not be one of the reasons American TV networks thought it was a kids show. We learn that Mrs Brogan (possibly even… Doctor Brogan?) works at a hospital, which makes her naïveté about what her husband does on the job rather puzzling.

“So you want to be a police officer, kid? First thing you’ve got to learn is how to put up with the constant tedious sexual harassment from Haldane.”

We also learn that Haldane is a country and western fan (it’s 1994 and there’s a craze on), and that no two actors can agree on how to pronounce his name. Also, referring to another 1994 craze, there’s a TV show called Demeter City Blue, clearly based on NYPD Blue.

Also for some reason you can really see the joins in the latex on the Creon masks this episode. Or maybe you could before, and I’m only noticing it now.

Space Precinct episode 3: “Enforcer”

Stop the press: This is a good episode. Repeat: THIS IS A GOOD EPISODE.

Interestingly, it’s because it focuses on the alien characters, and the (wooden) humans largely take a back seat.

There’s a vigilante on Skull Street, the dodgy neighbourhood where police chief Podly comes from. This vigilante is a Tarn who apparently has the ability to cause spontaneous heart attacks. But once he’s killed off the local gang members, he starts demanding protection money. And it turns out his powers actually come from a little alien girl he’s taken under his wing, convincing her that he’ll take her to her lost parents… as soon as they do this next murder… and the next one… and the next one… but don’t worry, dear, they’re all bad guys who deserve it…

And what we get is basically a story about manipulation, emotional abuse, grooming, and complex, stupid people.

E.g., we learn that police chief Podly was encouraged out of the ghetto and into his police job by an older Creon named Skefen. And when Podly goes back to talk to Skefen to find out what’s happening, the latter rails at him, accusing him of leaving his people behind. Maybe it’s bad characterisation? Or maybe it’s a reflection of the fact that people, even ones with fish eyes and no noses, are complicated? Maybe I’m being charitable but I’m inclined to the latter.

Spot the difference.

Even Brogan actually turns out decently characterised this week, as he and his family foster the alien girl and try to convince her that the whole world isn’t out to use her. And the alien girl is a makeup job without googly eyes, which helps.

Okay, we’ve still got the obligatory scene where Haldane sexually harasses Castle and I just want to throw things at the screen. And the dialogue is still stilted, and the acting still wooden, and the Brogan family pet looks like a Disneyworld animatronic. But on the whole– recommended!

Space Precinct episode 1: “Double Duty”

Right from the start, it’s obvious this series is really just a standard police-department drama, complete with all the cliches, albeit slightly transposed into the far future of, erm, 2040 (or maybe not; it’s unclear from the title sequence if that’s the year or just Brogan’s badge number. Considering that Gerry Anderson’s earlier series gave us an alien invasion by 1980 and a functioning moonbase by 1999, however, a near-future date is on brand).

Let’s just say he’s transferred to a new precinct.

The characters are all police-series cliches. We have our hero cop, Brogan, transferred in from New York to Demeter City with a trailing wife and kids struggling to adjust and make friends; our wise-cracking, womanising young smartarse cop, Haldane; our outwardly-cold but inwardly-caring woman cop, Castle. The city is multi-species, with humans rubbing shoulders with different sorts of aliens. Someone is apparently knocking off all the drug dealers of Demeter City, with a B-plot about a bag lady who turns up claiming to be alien royalty. In and of itself, that’s not terrible; so far, so NYPD Blue.

As well as the nice model work, there’s a teensy bit of CGI that’s not unconvincing.

Less good points: everything about it is boringly predictable. I’d guessed the murderer straight away (though admittedly I’ve also seen Space: 1999, which helped). Brogan suspects his teenage son is doing drugs with a dodgy friend… only of course it turns out, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine style, that it’s all perfectly innocent. The bag lady? Spoilers, she is alien royalty.

Much more seriously, we never actually learn what the murderer’s motivation is. And nobody seems to question it because, well, drug dealers are bad so it’s only natural someone would want to kill them. But I’d expect a little more: ex-junkie? Parent/sibling/child died of drug overdose? Home planet devastated due to drug extraction?

There’s a small role for a pizza delivery man, played by some British kid called Idris Elba. I wonder what happened to him? I should look him up on IMDB.

Management Lessons from Game of Thrones contributes to The Conversation

I’ve got an article on The Conversation, promoting Management Lessons from Game of Thrones and expanding it with a little House of the Dragon content! Please read and share. 

The original article was about one-third again as long– and it may well be appearing on this blog in future months. Stay tuned!

https://theconversation.com/six-models-of-successful-team-leadership-from-game-of-thrones-and-house-of-the-dragon-192906

Space Precinct: An Introduction and an Apology (sorrynotsorry)

Saddle up, buckaroos: I’m about to watch Gerry Anderson’s Space Precinct, so you don’t have to!

First off, a shoutout to Alison Scott, who suggested I do this. She has many projects, but check out her most recent, the Octothorpe podcast for science fiction fans, at the link. It turns out Space Precinct is also coming out this autumn on BritBox, so those of you who do want to watch-along, can do so, at least for as long as you have the stamina.

Space Precinct was a live-action series by the co-creator of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, UFO, Space: 1999 and other 1960s and 1970s series I love shamelessly. While his puppet series are fairly solid, Anderson’s record on the live-action front is always patchy: UFO and Space: 1999 both have moments of sheer brilliance, and moments of sheer WTF, and not in a good way. Space Precinct, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), is almost entirely on the latter end of the spectrum.

In some ways it’s a victim of bad timing: coming out in 1994 meant that it just preceded the space opera boom of the late 1990s (Star Trek: Deep Space 9/Voyager, Babylon 5, Andromeda, Farscape, Firefly). But it’s got a lot more wrong with it than just that.

I would argue that throughout, its biggest problem is too much ambition. The plots are incredibly complex, and usually fall flat as a result. Most of the aliens have got complex full- or partial-head masks with animatronic eyes, which must have been very difficult to do (they blink! They roll!), but make them look weirdly muppet-like and don’t let much of the actor’s personality come through. There’s a tragic logic visible here: you can see the effects team thinking “everyone laughs at Star Trek because of the Cornish-pasty-headed aliens, let’s show them how it’s really done”, and yet Michael Dorn and/or Nana Visitor with a bit of crinkly latex are way more convincing.

About the only complex thing that consistently works is the models. They’re beautiful and brilliantly done, and there’s a lot of compositing that mixes models and live action work near-seamlessly. The effects team includes some big names, including Neill Gorton, who would go on to dominate the look of Davies and Moffat-era Doctor Who.

Also a shoutout to the alien makeup team. You can’t mistake any given Creon (or Tarn) for any other Creon (or Tarn). While they must have four or five masks they’re re-using in rotation, you can only tell if, like me, you’ve binge-watched the series in quick succession, suggesting the makeup teams are working overtime making each alien character look distinctive.

On to the setup! Our hero, Patrick Brogan, is a New York cop transplanted to the 89th Precinct of outer space settlement of Demeter City. The population is mixed-species, but dominated by humans and two particular alien species: Creons, who look sort of like bulbous-eyed fish, and Tarn, who are teal-skinned space-elves with a third eye that gives them telepathic and telekinetic powers. There seems to be some decent attempts at worldbuilding: e.g. the Tarns all have human names but the Creons all have names like Podly and Romek (possibly Tarn names aren’t pronounceable by anyone else) and the Tarn have a religion which requires household shrines. Everyone wears human-spec clothing, though everyone also seems to eat everyone else’s cuisine (which, having lived and worked in a few postcolonial places, does ring true).

Space Precinct is a Gerry Anderson series so that means merch. And it’s 1994 so merch means POGs. Action figures and model vehicles are also available.

Supporting human characters include Haldane, a wise-cracking smart-arsed young officer whose personality is entirely built around sexually harassing Castle, a female officer whose personality is entirely built around being female. Among the aliens, we have Took, or “Tookie,” a female Tarn officer who is best friends with Castle and in any other cop series would have a massive lesbian subtext, but it’s hard to do that with a googly-eyed muppet. There’s also Fredo, the Other Tarn Officer; Chief Podly, a Creon with an inexplicable Irish accent; and Orrin and Romek, two Creon officers who mostly exist to do the comic relief subplots. Minor recurring characters include Brogan’s wife and kids, who turn up almost every episode regardless of whether or not it’s relevant to the story; and, halfway through the series, someone in the Anderson operation apparently notices that the entire human regular cast and almost all of the human one-off cast is White, meaning the division acquires a computer expert, Carson, who happens to be Black. Finally, there’s Slo-Mo, the division’s robot, who reminds me of nothing so much as the awful “comedy Black sidekick” trope one gets in 1940s films, except the 1940s comedy Black sidekicks have more agency.

With all of that in mind, it’s time to enter… the Space Precinct!

The Starlost bonus “episode”: Ben Bova’s The Starcrossed

In the interests of completism, and possibly masochism, I decided it might be worth reading and reviewing Ben Bova’s novel The Starcrossed. This book always comes up when The Starlost is discussed because, as the title suggests, it’s based, albeit loosely, on Bova’s time as technical advisor on the series.

The novel is set at some unstated time in the relatively near future: there are rejuvenation techniques, 3D holographic televisions, and legal marijuana, although pollution and climate change are getting worse (in a near-the-knuckle satire, the city of Los Angeles has taken to dyeing the smog pretty colours and perfuming it to make it more attractive). A television company, hearing of a revolutionary new 3D production technique, decides to make use of it with a blockbuster space opera written by Ron Gabriel, a popular SF writer, which is a sort of mashup between the concept of The Starlost, and Romeo and Juliet (two lovers from feuding clans of space-faring merchants run away together, fleeing from planet to planet with their families in pursuit).

Hijinks inevitably ensue as the production is moved to Canada to save costs: the Canadian production team prove to be hopeless incompetents, a Neanderthal hockey star is cast as the male lead to improve local ratings, the scripts are sourced from a high-school writing competition (something which I’ve heard asserted about the actual Starlost, but I wonder if it isn’t something that Bova made up which bled out into popular perception). Eventually it becomes apparent that the production company is just using the production as a cover for embezzling investor funds, and it all goes, well, south. Bova does, however, give his series the happy ending that The Starlost never had, perhaps a bit of wish-fulfilment, and incidentally invents the deepfake in the process.

Reasonably accurate cover art– most editions are just generic spacescapes.

As a satire of 1970s TV production it’s, well, okay I guess. The portrayal of the Canadian TV industry as small-scale and incompetent seems a bit ironic in hindsight, but then, at the time of The Starlost, it was. The parade of evil Hollywood executives, profiteers, drug-addled directors, prurient censors and ageing stars is entertaining, though not terribly original, and the SF elements are fairly slight but used to good satirical effect.

It doesn’t really provide much insight into The Starlost, however, mostly reading like the author’s rant against television production more generally. Some of it’s plainly not true: For instance a scene where model designers are shown as having no understanding of design or physics, which is certainly not the case for The Starlost‘s actual model team. Although Robin Ward might not be the greatest actor in the world, he’s certainly not a belligerent thug along the lines of “Francois Dulac”, the hockey player in The Starlost, Gay Rowan isn’t an ageing star rejuvenating herself to stay current, and the series never recruited any brilliant but drug-addicted Hollywood directors. Ron Gabriel, the Harlan Ellison-alike character, rings true as an antagonistic figure, but Ellison walked out on the series much faster than his fictional equivalent did. Beyond that the Canadians of the early 1970s were small-scale operators with a lot of anti-American chauvinism, I can’t really see much of the actual production experience in it at all.

Generally, then, I’d say it’s an interesting coda, but not one which really explains much about what actually happened to turn The Starlost from a good idea into the mess it became.

The Starlost, Episode Sixteen: Space Precinct

No, not the Gerry Anderson 1990s cops-in-space series, though I’ve been asked to do that one next by readers who like making me watch bad television so they don’t have to, so I’ll be starting it in October, after a couple of palate-cleanser articles. You were warned.

Meanwhile, on The Starlost, Garth decides to split with the hero trio (now back in their cotton shirts) for no sensible reason (he says they’ve been wandering the Ark for months and achieved nothing, which is fair, but how the whole “we’re all gonna die if we don’t move the Ark” thing will be furthered by him going solo is unclear), and takes a left turn into a whole different subgenre.

Suddenly we not only find that the Ark has some kind of police force (who have apparently been keeping tabs on the trio but doing nothing about it), but that there’s a whole interplanetary federation of humans who are engaging in interplanetary political shenanigans, cold-war espionage, and so on, which this police force are involved with. Meanwhile, Devon and Rachel literally spend the episode in a stalled elevator.

All the usual The Starlost problems are there, too; weirdly flat acting, characters whose motivations and personalities change from minute to minute (first the police chief is begging Garth to join the force, then he’s accusing him of inviegling his way into the force to spy on it), bizarre inconsistencies in how the Ark works and how much danger it’s in (Garth keeps on about how he thinks he can build a life here with the police force, while the rest of us say “until you meet your firey doom, that is”), and velour jumpsuits that must make going to the bathroom a challenge.

And the whole series ends with a sort of a whimper. Devon and Rachel trudge off on their seemingly futile quest, and it’s ambivalent whether or not Garth will rejoin them or stay with the police, suggesting that someone was making a desperate bid to keep the series going by changing the format completely, making it a series about space cops in an interplanetary federation and sidelining the quest story.

A glimpse of what might have been, though I doubt it would have been any better.

But then again the series forgot its USP a while back, turning from a story in which the hero trio visit biospheres with different cultures and different problems into a formula where the hero trio wander into a workplace led by an older man with a female sidekick, get into trouble, and wander out again. At this point it was probably unsaveable, so ending it there is probably merciful, for the characters as much as the audience.

The Starlost, Episode Fifteen: The Beehive

The hero trio find a lab full of apiculturalists (beekeepers to you and me) and before long we’re in not one but two bonkers bee B-movies, as one of the scientists, attempting to communicate with the bees, winds up pissing them off mightily, and then we discover the whole hive is being controlled by four giant telepathic mutant bees who are mind-controlling the leader of the project.

One of the giant mutant telepathic bees is on its coffee break right now.

This really ought to be wonderfully insane, along the lines of one of the more balls-to-the-wall LEXX episodes or possibly a late 1970s Hammer movie, but this is The Starlost, so it’s curiously flat.

There are two good guest star performances (sadly there are four guest stars), and some really appallingly badly researched biology (the scientist who’s trying to communicate with the bees thinks they communicate by humming, for a start, and that’s before we get into the whole impossibility of giant bees), though there’s a nice shoutout to the then-ongoing Washoe experiment when one scientist observes that chimps are good at sign language.

Continuity: the hero trio are wearing brown velour jumpsuit or leisure-suit combos, like “Gallery of Fear”, with no real explanation why, or what they’ve done with their usual outfits. Once again the scientists know about the accident (which is firmly back 200 years in the past again), but don’t seem inclined to try and do anything about it.