With the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones capturing everyone’s attention recently, what better way to analyse workplace leadership than turning to the on-screen characters from the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
Feuding families, fire-breathing dragons and the Army of the Dead hardly seems the perfect setting in which to find relevance to today’s business leaders. Yet with the recent return of so many strong characters to our screens, from Cersei Lannister to Jon Snow to Brienne of Tarth, it isn’t difficult to find leadership personalities and characteristics that resonate with the modern-day workplace. Poor managerial and leadership skills are perhaps the biggest reasons for employee disengagement - according to a survey conducted by the Chartered Management Institute, bad management could be costing UK businesses more than £19 billion in lost working hours every year.
So, what can we learn about leadership from some of the powerful characters who made it to the final episodes of Game of Thrones?
A loyal leader, who is fair and smart in his approach and capable of making difficult decisions. Somebody with integrity who treats everyone equally and is skilled at building teams and morale.
We have seen the development of Jon’s character - from once being considered the illegitimate son of Ned Stark, to devoting himself to the Night’s Watch and leading the fight against the Army of the Dead, to finding out he is in the fact the true heir to the Iron Throne - not that he wants the crown. But if anything, this is perhaps why Jon becomes one of the show’s most beloved and respected leaders - noble, unselfish and intellectual traits often drive an individual towards positions of leadership.
A compassionate, courageous and resourceful leader who has a clear vision. Someone with a sense of morality and vision for the future which evokes respect, but also carries traits of ruthlessness and does whatever it takes to get the job done.
Throughout all eight seasons, we witness the "Mother of Dragons" develop into a natural-born leader, gaining love, respect and loyal followers, and watch her work tirelessly towards her goal of reclaiming the Iron Throne. One of the strongest on-screen female characters, Daenerys spent seven seasons overcoming countless obstacles and heartbreak, although this final season we have seen her character develop in a completely unexpected way - the closer she got towards her goal, her unwavering idea of destiny turned into her downfall.
A headstrong, ruthless and fearsome leader. Someone with very little compassion who does everything in their power to remain on top and doesn't care about those beneath her, but is also smart and calculated.
From the very beginning of Game of Thrones, Cersei has always been a character to be feared. Her attention to detail and tactic-driven mind has seen her all the way through to the final episodes, even so far as planning to have her brothers Tyrion and Jamie killed with the very same crossbow Tyrion killed their father with. Unsurprisingly, this kind of top-down, autocratic leadership approach was most unpopular in a survey on leadership styles. You may hate her - it would be surprising if you didn't - but it's hard not to admit that she knows how to become and remain a leader by commanding obedience and ruling with fear and discipline.
A headstrong leader who uses tactics and wisdom, as well as quick wit to get people on side and gain respect. Someone who uses their charm and intellect to push and develop people in the right direction, and really believes in people.
The youngest Lannister brother is most often cited by male business leaders. When we first meet Tyrion he cares only about drinking and womanizing - against the will of his political and powerful family - but by Season 8 he is undoubtedly one of the most headstrong, fair and intelligent leaders, relied upon by so many important characters in the series. As Tom Blomfield, CEO of Monzo Bank, surmises, he uses his wit and intellect to survive in a world of regicidal maniacs, fire-breathing dragons and the undead - who wouldn't want those skills to survive in the workplace!
Brienne of Tarth
Someone with an unwavering determination to do the right thing. An incredibly loyal individual, who sticks to their morals and goes against the odds of what is expected from them.
It is back in Season 2 that Brienne makes a pledge to Catelyn Stark that she will return her daughters Sansa and Arya to Winterfell safely and protect them. It is her determination to carry out this promise and to do the right thing that defines her character throughout the series and earns her the most mentions by women business leaders. Although not a main 'leader' in the show, Brienne is undoubtedly someone from whom leaders could take a few tips! An excellent fighter and feared in the field by men, she is someone who goes against the grain - a valuable trait in the workplace in generating new, innovative ideas - and we can all agree that the moment of her knighthood in Season 8 was truly deserved and a long time coming.
Results! A headstrong, independent and determined personality, and someone who puts the overall goal before their personal needs. A leader who shows great resilience, morality, and the ability to deliver results.
There is no doubt that the youngest of the Stark daughters became the hero of the series with her performance in the Battle of Winterfell. Arya is a character who gets things done and delivers results - best shown by her long kill list which now includes the Night King. Admittedly, Arya tends to lead herself as opposed to others, but she is also a great team player and incredibly kind and moral, traits of a leader that people would want to follow. However good a leader's goals are, you need someone who delivers results and having someone like Arya in your workplace would be nothing but an asset.
According to Ann Francke, CEO of the CMI, the UK has roughly 2.4 million ‘accidental’ managers - those in managerial positions because of job skills, not qualifications or skills in leadership. However, it is almost impossible not to notice the changing role of management in workplaces, with companies increasingly recognising the problems with micromanaging their employees, and today’s workplaces instead tend to promote and follow a more transparent, coach-style of leadership.
As the saying goes, ‘people leave managers, not companies’, and some of the most powerful leadership skills and lessons can be learnt on screen and from pages. Building morale, inspiring employees, encouraging team-work, using wit and intellect, and showing determination to deliver results in the right way are all traits that make a great modern-day workplace leader, and are traits that could perhaps be encouraged or introduced in your business.