Success

The Game of Thrones guide to success at work (with spoilers)

Winter is coming…on Sunday night to be exact, when the eagerly anticipated season 7 of HBO’s Game of Thrones comes out. 

In case you’re slightly worried about your obsession with GOT as something irrelevant to every day life, don’t worry: it’s already a topic of study for scholars of business and management. Consider the fact that in Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, there’s a freshman elective course called “Business Lessons from Game of Thrones.” Since every aspect of the show has already been dissected in nearly every way possible, we thought this handy and informative list would provide you with a legit way discuss your favorite show during even the most stressful interview or meeting. And yes, this post is dark and full of spoilers, so consider yourself warned.

Ygritte, AKA the one with the answers

One of the most frequently repeated lines from Wildling Ygritte to her sometimes rival/sometimes love Jon was “you know nothing, Jon Snow.”

Ian Atkins, Financial Analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com, says that “every good manager needs to recognize and listen to their Ygritte(s).” He explains that “Managers typically will have a lot of experience and knowledge to draw from, which means they’ll usually have an answer to the problem at hand.” But not always. Atkins says “managers need to be comfortable not having all the answers, too. In those cases, you need to know who your Ygritte is.” That person has to be willing to tell you: “you don’t have the answer, but here are some thoughts.” Even more than that, Atkins says “Ygritte(s) can be cultivated by encouraging honesty and openness among your team. To do that, you need to welcome differing opinions and thoughts, respectfully consider them, and give equally honest/open feedback.”

GOT leadership inspiration: If you don’t have all the answer, find someone who does, and while you’re at it, find ways to encourage feedback in your team.

Tyrion’s soft skills (and Joffrey, who doesn’t have any)

“One can learn much about leadership from Tyrion Lannister. His leadership demonstrates a rare ability to hone in on what matters to others, and this empathy allows him to bring deep understanding of his opponents and peers into all interactions” says  Sharon Loeb, Chief Marketing Officer for Cengage. She said that it’s also telling that “as the (physically) smallest and weakest character on the show, he is among the few that have survived.” Loeb believes the lesson here is that “leaders should not ignore the soft skills; great EQ (emotional quotient) still matters, perhaps more than ever.”

Loeb believes that Joffrey Baratheon embodies the flip side of Tyrion and lacks any soft skills. “He leads by brute force, focusing solely on his own whims and immediate agenda.” To that end, Joffrey “completely misses the subtlety of leadership and never considers the implications of his actions. He does not engage with or try to understand others, but rather uses them for his own ends or amusement. Never listening to his advisors, he instead acts impulsively or even petulantly when he feels threatened or things don’t go his way. This behavior garners him many enemies, leads him to war, and ultimately gets him killed.”

GOT leadership inspiration: While many bosses and managers seem to believe that being aloof or barking orders at perceived underlings will garner them the most respect, it’s frequently quite the opposite. Being strong but emotionally connected is a winning combination for some leaders.

Cersei, a product of her environment

In a show filled with reprehensible characters, Cersei Lannister stands out as being the worst of the worst. “Cersei Lannister is a terrible human being, to say nothing of her abysmal management of House Lannister after Tywin’s death” says Ben Storey, the lecturer who created the GOT business class mentioned above. He describes her as being “morally bankrupt, a drunk, and a hypocrite, likely labeled ‘The Mad Queen’ before the end.”

So, is there anything to be learned from Cersei? Yes and no.

As a product of her sex, upbringing time and circumstances, Storey explains that “Cersei is a feudal figure, a villain, the Ice Queen archetype, a tragic product of a less progressive time.” Storey reminds us that Cersei began Game of Thrones as chattel, both off and on camera and that “In Martin’s Westeros, Cersei’s most powerful weapon (as it is for Catelyn Tully and Margaery Tyrell) is her sexuality.” Not only doesn’t The Realm allow Cersei “unfettered use of her ‘natural’ political gifts,” Storey reminds us “We’ve seen her stripped naked and shamed, power defused and diminished as she’s paraded through King’s Landing.” And even with the endgame in sight, he says “She is Queen. Not Queen Regent, not Queen Mother, not Queen Consort. Despite the tradition of primogeniture in Westeros, Cersei sits the Iron Throne in her own right.”

In the Keirsey temperament sorter, Storey pegs Cersei as a Guardian Provider, or an ESFJ (Extraversion, Sensing, Feeling, Judgment) in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. “She is a political animal, barely hiding her disdain for rivals. Her triumph at court is a testament to her shrewd understanding of power dynamics. As she tells Littlefinger, putting ‘the most dangerous man in Westeros’ in his place, ‘power is power.'” Storey likens Cersei to Margaret Thatcher, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer and he cautions “Call her ‘bossy’ at your peril. ‘You’re fired’ has other meanings in Westeros.”

GOT leadership inspiration: Strong women tend to have the decks stacked against them professionally:too strong and they’re seen as bossy; too empathetic and they’re perceived as overly emotional. In the case of Cersei though, she’s lost her humanity and is no longer in any way relatable, always a bad move for an authority figure in any career.  

Petyr Baelish, the loveable/loathsome social disruptor

“Petyr Baelish has done more than any character to upend Westeros’ established social order,” said Storey. “Daenerys Targaryen may wish to ‘break the wheel’ in our Game, but Baelish has accomplished the most, even if his objective is personal gain. Along with fellow champions of the underclass, Varys the SpiderBronn of the Blackwater, and Daario Naharis, Baelish is a “mirror darkly” role model for millennial leaders today.”  

Storey says that Baelish’s name likely inspires fans with “a mix of revulsion and begrudging respect” since Baelish’s wealth and influence “materialized out of nothing, the product of his intelligence, amorality, and willingness to use information as a weapon.” What’s confusing about his character is just how likeable he can be, and why we might secretly root for him the way we want “Walter White to perfect his meth batch and why Tony Soprano, despite murdering people, is our loveable hero.” If you flip the idea that the ruling classes should always stay in power, even Baelish’s more odious actions – and they are manifold – seem strangely justifiable. Storey also explains that “Littlefinger represents the upstart capitalist, the carpetbagger, the Trickster archetype, “which on some level makes him thoroughly modern, thoroughly “American.”

 GOT leadership inspiration: Modern politics proves that sometimes people vote not by capability, ethics, or quality, but rather driven by the force of charisma or he need to shake things up, even in a negative way. As Storey puts it “Baelish is a populist/Trumpian/Huey Longish politician and carries with him all the complexity of that description.” Baelish, like many successful leaders is a character worthy of both “admiration and disdain.”

Olenna Tyrell, the steely matriarch

Storey describes Olenna as “part Maggie Smith, part Betty White, the Queen of Thorns is surely Westeros’ most powerful, politically sagacious, remarkable matriarch. Consider adjectives that capture Olenna’s character: wise, protective, cunning, jocular, formidable, and potent. She is Tywin Lannister with a sense of humor, Roose Bolton with a conscience, Walder Frey with humility or decorum, and Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully with caution.” 

She also symbolizes a female leader who manages the perfect balance between her so called feminine and masculine character traits and as Storey puts it “in a land hostile to female advancement…her character is well versed in what’s required for women to advance socially in Westeros.” It’s also worth noting that while families and familial duty seem to be the shared theme of all the main characters “While Tywin has managed to make his children hate him, Olenna is beloved by everyone, proving her capacity to build social capital.” Olenna is ruthless, but with “Harrison Ford’s smile and for the right reasons.”

GOT leadership inspiration: Storey says “For young businessmen and women, Olenna Tyrell proves sharks may have hearts as well as teeth.”

Rachel Weingarten is a marketing & brand strategist and president of 729.marketing. She's a pop culture and trends analyst who frequently writes about business and style and the business of style. Rachel's a sometimes professor, teaching personal branding on the graduate and undergraduate levels. She leads corporate seminars on topics including evolving communication and spirituality in the workplace. Rachel is also the author of three award winning non-fiction books.