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4 Management Lessons from Game of Thrones
May 3, 2019
You don’t always need dragons (but they help)
What are you doing outside of work these days? Maybe watching final six episodes of Game of Thrones like everyone on the planet? Yes, the world’s popular TV show (last season each episode averages 23 million viewers across 170 countries) is coming to an end this May.
Based on George RR Martin’s rich and intricate books, Game of Thrones is a lot more than cool fire-breathing dragons - its real heart is the complicated relationships between characters, particularly people in power and the people who follow them.
It’s a story of interpersonal management - and mismanagement, often with deadly consequences.
If you’re a manager, you’re not making life-or-death decisions for your staff (we hope!). But Game of Thrones is full of lessons that can help you lead a successful team. (Dragons are optional.)
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
1) Ned Stark: Keep your promises
The ill-fated head of House Stark was honorable to a fault - and in the end, it cost him his head. But he did do one thing right: He kept the promise he made to his dying sister, Lyanna, to protect her son and conceal his identity as the true heir to the Iron Throne.
Ned renamed him Jon Snow, told everyone Jon was his out-of-wedlock child and raised him alongside his other kids - to the great frustration of his wife. But despite all the marital problems it caused him, he kept his word and saved his nephew’s life.
Lessons for managers: Hopefully you’re never asked to keep a promise that heavy!
But being the kind of manager who your reports feel safe confiding in without fear of reprisal will not only boost team morale, but also create an environment of honesty that’ll improve productivity and help retain your best talent.
2) Daenerys Targaryen: Protect your team
The exiled princess spent her life being underestimated by powerful people - and always defied their expectations.
Daenerys is a compassionate leader who has legions of devoted followers because she protects her people while outsmarting her opponents, whether it’s flame-broiling a slaver who wants to take her dragons and freeing his slave army, or uniting all the Dothraki tribes under her rule by overthrowing their cruel leaders (and barbequing them for good measure).
Lessons for managers: Pyro tendencies aside, Daenerys is very protective of her people (and dragons), who reward her with their loyalty. Look after your team and shield them from overly-heavy workloads and office drama, and they’ll look out for you, too.
3) Varys: Get your priorities straight
Westeros’ top spymaster is a ruthless political manipulator, having served multiple kings who lean on him for intel about enemies, allies and members of their own court.
Born an orphan, he rose through the ranks to the highest levels of power in the Seven Kingdoms, but he’s not out for glory - his top priority has always been the well-being of the common people.
Lessons for managers: Does upper management depend on you for information about your team? Do you have the ear of your CIO? Great. Instead of using that influence for personal gain, do what’s best for your reports and the company as a whole.
4) Samwell Tarly: Cultivate your staff’s strengths
A nobleman disowned by his father because he preferred books to swords, Sam was forced to join the Night’s Watch military colony, where he was out of place among the other soldiers.
Jon Snow befriended Sam and recognized he had strengths the others lacked: A keen intellect and love of knowledge. When Jon became Lord Commander, he promoted Sam as well, and sent him off to become a maester - a member of Westeros’ order of scholars and healers.
Lessons for managers: Do you have a developer who writes average code but has a knack for testing? Why not transfer them to your QA team? Play up your staff’s best qualities and even offer to retrain them for new positions; they’ll appreciate the investment and give you their best work in return.
Enjoy the last episodes or weekend binge while you consider how to leverage history and fiction to fuel your future management decisions.