Seven lessons from the Seven Kingdoms

I watch with expectation as the television dims to black. With the lights off, this strange faux darkness still manages to fill the room, illuminating it just enough for me to see the cup of tea on the table. I ease myself onto the couch, shifting my weight evenly across the cracked, leather expanse, positioning myself for optimum comfort. Once I’m down, I don’t want to get back up. I wrap my hand around my cup and feel a smile creep over my face as the familiar bar of ashen-grey snow appears on my screen. And when the sudden bssshhhht sound belches from the speakers, signalling the beginning of my favourite HBO shows, I know that for the next fifty minutes, I will exist in name only, and any consciousness I display is pure fiction.   

For ten weeks every year, this is my Monday night tradition. I happily surrender myself to the vast and nuanced world on the screen, knowing that I will be enthralled, titillated and overwhelmed by the many intertwined stories and character arcs that have made Game of Thrones the phenomenon it is.

There is, for many of us, a certain kind of reverie we experience when lost in another world. Be it in book or play or film or video game, the sensation of being completely immersed in the trials and tribulations of imagination both energises us and eviscerates us — metaphorically at least.  We become completely enamoured with the characters that we grow to understand as if they were our very own family. We know their histories, appreciate their motivations, cheer for them and sometimes wish the most grievous of deaths upon them. And when the back page is turned or the closing credits appear, we retreat to our world and reflect on these lives of fancy, and wonder how, if any, their stories impact us in real life.

Now, as I’m sitting at my desk, shivering and trying not to sneeze, I am doing this very thing. Perhaps it’s the cold, but my thoughts drift to the frozen barrens north of the Wall, and then to the kingdoms of Westeros and Braavos and Meereen. And as I flick from one article on leadership to another, I find myself listening to the show’s characters in my head and overlapping the words on my screen with theirs. After all, many kingdoms require many leaders, each with a unique take on things, each with something we can apply to our professional lives. Here is what I learnt.

‘The mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone — to keep its edge.’ — Tyrion Lannister

Good leadership comes from continual improvement. Undertake as much personal development and training as you can and ensure you learn something from every experience. Whether in Westeros or the board room, knowledge is power — the more you know, the better equipped you are to deal with troublesome situations.

‘What we don’t know is what usually gets us killed.’ — Petyr Baelish

This goes hand in hand with the previous lesson. An unprepared leader will put the whole team and project at risk. Spend the time to understand your environment, the risks your business faces and develop plans for any eventuality. A good leader hopes for the best case scenarios but plans for the worst.

 ‘Valar dohaeris. All men must serve.’ — Arya Stark

The best way to learn how to lead is to learn how to follow. One of the core skills of leadership is understanding people. We work to serve our clients and our success is directly related to how well we understand their motivation and needs. Spend time learning what drives people and you’ll be in a much better position to lead a team or a project successfully. 

‘People work together when it suits them. They’re loyal when it suits them. Love each when it suits them, and they kill each other when it suits them.’ — Orell

The environments we work in shape our experience. People are reactionary creatures and if we feel unsupported, self-preservation becomes our go-to philosophy. A good leader fosters a comforting environment for their team. A trusted, comfortable environment is conducive to building a successful team. If it isn’t we will risk losing the teammates that aren’t happy.

‘A Lannister always pays his debts.’ — Tywin Lannister

The quickest way to lose respect, and power, is to promise things you can’t deliver. Every relationship is built on trust, whether it is with your colleagues or your clients. To build that trust, you need to follow through on your word and make sure you deliver what you’ve promised. Lost trust is difficult to regain and no debt collector will be able to retrieve it.

‘Titles breed more titles.’ — Petyr Baelish

While this may reflect the nature of a world where birthright reigns supreme, we can substitute titles with the term brand. The bigger your brand, the more likely you will attract favourable attention and move up the ladder. Invest in your brand by taking on opportunities and communicating your achievements. No one will know who you are unless you tell them.

‘A mother does not flee without her children.’ — Daenerys Targaryen

Empathy is one of Daenerys’ greatest strengths as a character and leader. She understands the plight of those she has freed and inspires them to follow her. People want to know their leaders care for them and are genuinely interested in their lives.  A leader needs to understand the needs of their team places the team’s wellbeing at the top of their priorities.

Originally published .