Business Leadership Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Game of Thrones
Free Book Preview: Unstoppable
Whether you enjoyed the final season of Game of Thrones or signed the petition to remake Season Eight, one thing is for sure -- it’s been an epic journey. As you debate about the finale and go back to look for Easter Eggs, think about what you can learn. If you are a founder or entrepreneur -- everything you do in your life can help your business -- whether it's watching TV or whooping it up at Disneyland with the kids. Note the following eight leadership lessons that have appeared throughout the series of Game of Thrones.
1. Always keep your word.
It’s of the utmost importance that you keep your word to your team, customers, investors -- everyone. Research has found that simply doing what you promised does more to establish you as someone with integrity who can be trusted than exceeding what you promised to make up for not doing so in the first place.
This is a frequent GoT theme. An infamous example is the season three episode, "The Rains of Castamere," more commonly known as “The Red Wedding.” This is one of the most horrific and brutal episodes of the series -- if not all of television -- all because Robb Stark didn’t keep his vow to marry a daughter of Walder Frey. Others plotters were involved but it could have been avoided if Stark had kept his promise.
2. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses.
Effective leaders surround themselves with experts because they realize they don’t have all of the answers. At the same, they are confident about what they excel at and how to use that to their advantage.
In season four, Tywin Lannister tells his grandson, Tommen, "A wise king knows what he knows and what he doesn’t."
Cerersi never learns this lesson. In the same season, after she’s driven most of the members away, Grand Maester Pycelle warns, "The small council grows smaller and smaller."
"Not small enough,” Ceresi replies. Spoiler ahead! Being a know-it-all gets her killed in the final season.
On the flipside, Samwell Tarly knows that he is not a great fighter like Jon Snow but his strength is his brain and his quest for knowledge -- if not for him Westeros likely would have been taken over by the Night King. Because he knew his strengths and weaknesses, everything works out quite well for Sam in the end.
3. Know your values.
“Leaders have an obligation to understand the challenges and opportunities presented by our values,” wrote Bruce Craven, an Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School and author of Win or Die: Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones. We saw this in the first season when poor Ned Stark was exploited by the sleazy underbelly in King’s Landing because of his honor and devotion to duty.
4. You have to keep your emotions in check.
Showing you’re human builds stronger relationships with your team but you have to maintain a healthy balance. Yelling and threatening will not motivate your team -- you don't rally the troops when you figuratively burn everything down. King Joffrey and Daenerys are just two examples of leaders who were dispatched because they couldn’t keep a grip on their emotions.
5. Don’t ever let failure stop you.
Failure is inevitable and unpleasant but overcoming it makes you resilient and stronger. It's one of the best opportunities to learn and grow, if you take the lesson and don't repeat the mistake.
Many GoT characters suffered some setback:
- The Night’s Watch betrayed Jon.
- Cersei and Daenerys both lost loves, had setbacks and were humiliated.
- Bran Stark was paralyzed.
- Sansa was tortured mentally and physically.
They drove past these roadblocks and fought even harder, often finding ways to use adversity to their advantage.
6. Make the tough decisions and own it.
Leadership is all about making difficult decisions and getting your hands dirty when needed. It's not for the faint of heart. As Ned Stark said before executing a deserter from the Night’s Watch, “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.”
Leaders need to own their decisions -- even when unpopular -- and hold themselves accountable. Admitting when you are wrong is an effective way to demonstrate you’re honest and confident.
7. Knowledge is power.
Knowledge makes a leader confident they can avoid mistakes and stay ahead of the curve.
Tyrion's response was classic when Jon Snow asked why he read so much: “A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.”
As I mentioned above, however, Sam also proved just how powerful is knowledge.
8. When facing a common foe, unite.
Conflict can result in organizations that include diverse personalities with diverse motives but a great leader is a unifying force who focuses everyone on a shared goal the Jon convinced the great Houses of Westeros, minus Cersei, to put aside their differences to join forces against the White Walkers.