4 Leadership Styles Showcased on 'Game of Thrones'

A lot has improved since medieval times but the foibles of leaders remain the same.

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By Heather R. Huhman

Game of Thrones | HBO

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The popular HBO television series Game of Thrones keeps the audience on its toes with the right mix of power dynamics and political schemes. Each of the characters take a different approach to leadership, all resulting in various levels of success.

Though today's workforce isn't set in the mythical land of Westeros during medieval times, there are still lessons to be taken away from the successes and failures of these characters.

Here are a few different leadership styles seen in the iconic show and some ways to create a better working environment with happier, more engaged employees:

1. The surreptitious, self-serving leader.

The manipulative Cersei Lannister isn't someone who'd land a leadership position by popular vote. She knows how to get things done, but her approach is a little shady, secretly working with others behind the scenes. This approach isn't far from one some leaders take today.

Only half of employees believe their managers are open and up-front with them, according to APA's 2014 Work And Well-Being study, which surveyed 1,562 full-time employed U.S. adults between January 28 and February 4, 2014.

Unlike Cersei, leaders need to build a culture of trust through open communication without keeping secrets from employees. Employees can tell when managers aren't being honest. In fact, 32 percent of employees in APA's study reported their employer is not always honest and truthful with them, and 24 percent don't trust their employer.

2. The naive leader with all the best intentions.

Daenerys Targaryen wants to make all the right decisions for her people, but her youth and naivety leave her susceptible to being mislead by others. Even so, she makes up for what she lacks in wisdom by putting her people first, as a good leader does.

In fact, employee perception of their leader's involvement in their growth, development, health and safety was shown to increase engagement, in APA's study. The leader's efforts in these areas accounted for about 27 percent of variance in predicting work engagement.

As a leader, it's important to be committed to the growth, development and well-being of employees. Even leaders who aren't the most seasoned gain advantage by putting employees first.

Related: How Thoughtful Leaders Earn Employee Loyalty

3. The leader who's not so great with people.

Stannis Baratheon is a determined leader, but he's not exactly a people-person. He can come off a little rough and cold-hearted. His high expectations make him a little critical, but only because he values success, like most leaders.

Of course, leaders always want their employees to do their best, but the wrong response or the wrong feedback can disengage employees quickly. Positive feedback is the key to reinforcing behaviors and performances leaders want to see repeated, according to 94 percent of respondents in SHRM's 2013 Employee Recognition Programs Survey. Much fewer (6 percent) believe negative feedback can improve employee performance.

Instead of constantly correcting employees, give positive feedback to support and encourage continued good practices. If a correction needs to be made, address it along with what employees are doing well so they can replace negative actions with more positive ones.

Related: How to Handle Employees Who Avoid Criticism

4. The young leader who inspires engagement.

Though inexperienced, Jon Snow knows how to inspire action. He leads by example, which inspires others to join him in his ventures, no matter how daunting they may be. His bold moves capture his followers' attention. There's no doubt they're alert and engaged in what's coming next.

With nearly a quarter of working Americans in APA's study reporting low or very low levels of engagement, it seems leaders could learn from Jon's style.

Like Jon Snow, a good leader doesn't order people around, but jumps right into the front line of battle. Leaders should take initiative in performing the duties they expect employees to do. When employees see leaders rolling up their sleeves and unafraid to face the difficult tasks, they'll act too and they'll be more engaged.

Related: 'The Wolf of Wall Street' and 'Game of Thrones' Top the Most Pirated Media of 2014

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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