Useful Lessons in Leadership from the Popular Game of Thrones

WARNING: Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t finished Game of Thrones, proceed with caution.

“When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die” ~Cersei Lannister

With the final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones finally over, what have we learned? That fans don’t like it when you outpace the books and fundamentally shift narrative styles? Absolutely. But more importantly, we’ve learned vital lessons about what it means to be a leader and the importance of emotional intelligence.

Game of Thrones styles of leadershipThis series had many examples of leadership; however, by the end, only three major Iron Throne contenders remained—Jon Snow, Daenerys “Dany” Targaryen, and Cersei Lannister—and it’s from them that we can draw perhaps the greatest lessons.

Embrace Diversity to Solve Tough Problems

According to Scientific American, diverse groups are better at innovating and solving complex problems. Social diversity inherently brings new viewpoints and information, but it also forces those within the group to prepare more and be willing to put in the effort to reach a consensus. 

Jon Snow: “They were born on the wrong side of the Wall—doesn’t make them monsters.”

Jon innately understood the value of those around him, including those who were most distrusted or disliked. He brought the Free Folk (including a literal giant) south, which enabled defense of the Wall until the Night King blasted through it with a dragon. Jon also allied with Daenerys even when his Northern allies cautioned him against it. This alliance gave his little sister, Arya, the opportunity to defeat the Night King. His willingness to embrace diversity ultimately saved humanity.

Daenerys Targaryen: “I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”

Dany embraced diversity more than perhaps anyone. After all, she didn’t go from exiled and abused orphan to “Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons” by sitting in a castle ignoring the advice of those around her. With nearly every step toward her goal of reclaiming the Seven Kingdoms, she welcomed advisors, allies, and the diverse armies of the Unsullied, Dothraki, Northmen, and dragons. However, her tolerance of diversity only went so far. She regularly resorted to excessive displays of power to silence nay-sayers and maintain control.

Cersei Lannister: “Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.”

Cersei is arguably the opposite of Jon Snow in every way. Cersei’s leadership style is the antithesis of inclusivity and empathy. Incestuous, ruthless, and power-hungry, Cersei only trusted her children and her twin brother Jaime (who was also the father of her children). She despised or disposed of anyone whom she thought didn’t agree with her. In the end, she was left with no options and no allies.

Related Article: Why Companies Fail Without Leaders with Emotional Intelligence.

Empathy Inspires Loyalty

Empathy is the ability to see the world as others see it, to be nonjudgmental, to understand another’s feelings, and to communicate your understanding of those feelings effectively. When a leader practices empathy, they can inspire loyalty and greatness.

Jon Snow: “You all crowned me your king. I never wanted it….But I accepted it.”

Jon is the epitome of empathy and emotional intelligence. Just watch any of the clips in this International Business Times article to see why. Jon never wanted to be a leader, and yet, because of his unrelenting authenticity and empathy, he was the only one in the series to be nominated to multiple positions of power by his peers, from Commander of the Night’s Watch, to King of the North, to the veritable “King Beyond the Wall.”

Sword and helmet in the snowDaenerys Targaryen: “Anyone who wishes to leave may leave…Will you fight for me? As free men?”

Throughout her rise to power in Essos, Dany identified with the enslaved and downtrodden, in part because she had been abused, too. By freeing these people, she gave them choices and power over their lives, and her empathy for their struggles earned their loyalty. However, as her power grew, and she arrived in Westeros, which had no enslaved peoples, she struggled to show empathy and ultimately enforced her rule by killing Cersei and burning King’s Landing.

Cersei Lannister: “A Lannister always pays her debts.”

Cersei sees people as pawns, and whatever loyalty she has is due only to her wealth and brutality. Empathy is not a virtue to Cersei, and as a result, everyone abandons her at one point or another, including her twin Jaime and her zombie, Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane.

Related Article: Emotional Intelligence and Empathy in Leadership

Bottom Line: Emotional Intelligence Is the Key to Survival

In the end, Jon Snow is the only one of the three to survive, and that’s thanks to his emotional intelligence and doing what was best for the well-being of his people. He welcomed diverse points of view, treated everyone with empathy and respect, and remained authentic (even at great peril to himself). 

To learn more about becoming an authentic, emotionally intelligent leader, check out Heartmanity for Business.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity for BusinessJennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity for Business
As an Executive Coach and Relationship Strategist, Jennifer’s specialties are empowering leaders, team building, and teaching emotional intelligence. Her emphasis is on utilizing brain science to short-cut change and create personal and organizational transformation. For over two decades, Jennifer has worked with entrepreneurs and businesses to remove the obstacles to authentic communication, collaboration, and teamwork. Jennifer also acts as a Human Resources independent consultant in larger companies and trains Customer Service teams in the art of empathy and handling difficult conversations. Her passionate mission is to create thriving relationships at work and home.

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