Transactional leadership: Tyrion Lannister

'Game of Thrones' director on why Tyrion is worried about ...We conclude our introductory tour around the leadership trifecta of “Game of Thrones” with a look at Tyrion Lannister, the transactional leader (for those just joining us: charismatic and transformational leadership are covered in earlier articles).

Much as Tyrion himself doesn’t tend to get much love from his siblings and father, transactional leadership generally doesn’t tend to get much good press in the popular management textbook world. It’s another of Max Weber’s coinages and, as contrasted to the charismatic leader who leads through charisma and force of will, the transactional leader is one who gets things done through, well, transactions with his or her followers: if I do this, then you will do that. Subordinates are kept in line with a system of rewards and punishments, and transactional leaders can’t necessarily count on their love, or their support during the tough times. Transactional leaders can often, however, count on trust; these are generally leaders who make promises and, if you hold up your end of the bargain, they’ll hold up theirs. Transactional leaders are organised, and performance-focused, which means that they’re often the ones who get the results that the sexier leaders don’t, because they’ve worked their subordinates to burnout or have spent too much time wrangling their team to address ongoing concerns of day-to-day management. Transactional leaders tend to be self-motivated, and prefer subordinates who are likewise inclined to go away, do their part, and come back with the results.

Tyrion’s not unappealing (he’s got the best lines in the series, for a start), but as leaders go he’s not particularly charismatic. Although he’s been on the battlefield, and successfully, several times, people tend to forget about that. What he’s famous for is, in his own words, that “I drink, and I know things.” But that last phrase gives us his strength as a leader: he’s competent. He has no illusions about his charisma, but he knows what will motivate people to do what he wants. When Joffrey, the charismatic leader (yes, he is; we’ll be talking about him later) is paralysed with fear, he’s the one who takes over and competently runs the Battle of Black Water into a Lannister victory. Tyrion does all right when he doesn’t have followers, or support; he’s as much at home pursuing a solo quest to find Daenarys as he is at the head of an organisation.

If Tyrion winds up on the Iron Throne– and that’s a distinct possibility– he won’t have got there through charisma, and looks, and social capital. He’ll have got there through careful deal-making and knowing things. Because if that’s his goal, he’ll look at what he needs to do to achieve it… and do it.

Next up: before we go on to consider paths to leadership in Westeros, I’ll take you through a brief overview of two schools of thought about leadership: behavioural and contingent.

Transformational leadership: Jon Snow

Picking up the Leadership in Game of Thrones thread again and moving on from last episode’s discussion of Daenarys Targaryen as an example of charismatic leadership, this time we’ll be looking at the concept of the transformational leader, as exemplified in Game of Thrones by Jon Snow.

Onjon snow - Free Large Images the surface of it, Jon Snow looks like another charismatic leader. As with Daenarys, he’s good-looking, knows his way around an epic speech, and people follow him even though he’s young, illegitimate, and has handed away any chance that he might inherit via a sidewise route to power (we’ll be talking about Ramsay Snow/Bolton and his alternative career path later in this series) by joining what is effectively a militant monastic order.

The key difference between him and Dany, though, is that he helps the people under his leadership to develop. Consider his relationship with Sam; while he teaches him swordsmanship, he also allows Sam to figure out what skills and abilities he can best contribute to the Nights’ Watch, and steers him towards becoming a scholar rather than just another man with a big stick on top of a wall. When Jon leaves the Nights’ Watch under the command of Dolorous Edd, you really do believe that, through Jon, Edd has developed to the point where this wouldn’t be a completely disastrous idea. Where people develop through Daenarys’s actions, it’s largely by accident or through the results of something she’s done rather than through her active sponsorship; she frees Grey Worm, but, if anyone helps him to develop his skills as a leader, it’s Missandei, not Daenarys. Which is the key point of a transformational, rather than a charismatic leader; that they help the people around them to “transform”.

They also come into their own as change managers, and this can certainly be seen to be true of Jon Snow. Almost every organisation he comes into contact with, he changes, and for the better; he’s got two groups of historic enemies working together, he’s developed an alliance with Daenarys. He’s been instrumental in getting the Northerners to accept his sister Sansa as their ruler. It’s no wonder Jeor Mormont marks him early on as a possible successor as the commander of the Nights’ Watch, above people with greater experience and seniority.

Given all this, a transformational leader might seem more than a little heroic. But that’s not necessarily the case. Transformational leaders, Jon to the contrary notwithstanding, aren’t inherently charismatic. Transformational leadership involves working with people to figure out what change is needed, and to deliver it, meaning that it involves giving way and compromising a lot more than traditional charismatic leadership does. Notice how Jon leads through building alliances and developing trust, not through railroading his way across two continents with a trio of magic beasts and an army of super-tough eunuchs. It also doesn’t make you stronger, or a better human, or smarter, than anyone else. Or to put it another way: Jon Snow’s transformational… but so, in her way, is Cersei Lannister.

Transformational leadership has become a very popular idea in management studies recently, and managers are being urged to be, or to become, transformational leaders (through reading a certain book or taking a certain course, naturally). In some ways, this is a good thing; the business world is currently in a period of upheaval, change is in the air, and the sort of leaders that are needed right now are often change managers. Problem is, this isn’t always true. In periods, and places, where change isn’t needed, your transformational leader becomes a micro-manager, constantly trying to fix what isn’t broken.

Transformational leaders are much nicer than charismatic ones from the perspective of the led– but, in an organisational setting, there’s nothing that makes transformational leadership inherently any better than any other sort of leadership. Context matters a lot to successful leadership, and transformational leaders are at their best when weathering change, not leading a charge or keeping an organisation going. In the end, given the amount of change going on in Westeros right now, Jon Snow is the man of the hour. And now, you know something.

Next time: Tyrion Lannister and transactional leadership.

 

Leadership Lessons from Game of Thrones: a series

From today, I’m starting a new feature on this blog.

The backstory: One of the things I teach is leadership theory. In order to make it more fun for the students (and for myself), I started doing a lecture where I used examples drawn from Game Of Thrones. This got to be enough of a thing that I was asked to develop a cut-down version as a taster lecture to give to propsective students, which you can watch here if you like:

Since this is a blog about the anthropology of business, and about science fiction and fantasy, I’m building on this to do a series of posts focusing on different characters in Game of Thrones, and how their story relates to what we know about leadership.

This week: Daenarys Targaryen, and the pros and cons of charisma.