Leadership, Game of Thrones style: one size does NOT fit all

About the Author: Ashley Thomson
Ashley Thomson

Like many people, I’ve just finished watching the fourth season of Game of Thrones.  And like many workplaces, the plots and characters have been a hot topic around the coffee machine in our business coaching practice.

There are many leaders vying to be the king of the 7 kingdoms or have control over the throne.  They all come from different backgrounds and have very different leadership styles.  So I thought as a an exercise in business coaching theory t would be interesting to assess the main players, see how they lead and how their leadership styles compare to common business leadership styles today.

Tywin Lannister

Tywin while not being in line for the throne, wields significant power over the Lannister/Baratheon children.  As a leader he is a brilliant strategist and rolls out his plans in a pragmatic manner.  He understands the value of strong alliances and keeping your enemies close.  He uses a firm and sometimes fair approach to leadership, to achieve his single minded ambitions.

How would he stack up in the business environment of today?  I believe he would do OK.  His strategic mind would serve him well.  As a business leader he would amass the right people around him to achieve his objectives.  His single mindedness would take him a long way in driving towards his ambitions.  However, Tywin’s leadership style is often based on fear, any hint of weakness on his behalf would be an opening for one or more of his followers to mount a challenge to his position.  After ruling them for years based on command and control, there would be many that would welcome the opportunity to take him down.  They would respect him while he had the authority, but they wouldn’t willingly follow him if he lost the authority.

Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys comes of age as a leader throughout the series.  She is thrust into the role after the death of her husband, Khal Drogo and embraces it more and more as time goes by.  She is a leader with great charisma and draws her followers to her.  This obviously is helped by her initiatives to free the slaves – why wouldn’t they want to follow her! Daenerys however is a ruthless leaders, you are either with her or against her and this black and white attitude can be dangerous.

In today’s business environment, Daenerys could do well.  You can imagine her standing up  and leading a company of the brink of collapse, igniting the imagination of her workers and gaining their loyalty for the tough road back to profitability.  Daenery’s single mindedness leads her to often disregard the counsel of her advisers.  Mostly, she has proven to be correct in her decisions, but time will tell whether this approach works for her long term as her followers and reputation increases.

Eddard (Ned) Stark

Ned is a leader thrust into the role of ‘Hand of the King’. Unlike many of the others he never sort this role and would prefer not to have been given it.  Ned struggles with the ‘politics’ of the capital (Kings Landing) where his new role is based.  You often feel that Ned is out of his depth, lacking the ruthlessness and strategic thinking required to success in the role he is given.

Ned reminds me of a successful General Manager running an outlying division or branch office of a large corporate company.  Upon being promoted and returning to head office, he finds himself in the midst of the head office ambitions and egos and doesn’t adapt to the environment.  Maybe Ned Stark’s leadership style is more suited to the present day.  His softer approach is more appealing to a present day workforce where significant power lies in the individuals, not just the leader.  However I can’t help but feel, that Ned’s failure to embrace his ‘Hand of the King’ role would put his position in jeopardy no matter the environment.

To date Games of Thrones has been compelling watching.  It will be interesting to see how the various other players/leaders mount their case to ascend the throne.