5 Leadership Lessons from Game of Thrones

Winter has come at last. Who will survive?

Resources 7 min read Sep 25, 2019

“Game of Thrones”is more than just an epic piece of fiction; it’s also a pretty good lesson in how to be a leader.

Set a BHAG (albeit more iron than hairy) and do everything in your power to reach it. Raise an army of The Unsullied. Become accidental King in the North. Maybe even lead the most hostile takeover the Seven Kingdoms have ever seen, Night King style.

It has come a long way from being just another medieval-themed fantasy series. Now a certified cult classic, the show will not soon be forgotten, from the high-level brinkmanship and endless plotting to the baddest women of Westeros and the string of bizarre shipping.

And so, before we bid a final farewell to the most successful export to come out of HBO, we’d like to leave you with five practical takeaways that every startup founder and GoT nerd can appreciate and apply in everyday life. Warning: If you haven’t seen the first three episodes of Season 8, there are major spoilers below.

What Every Startup Founder Can Learn from Game of Thrones

#####Ruthlessness has its benefits, but balance is everything
The story of Daenerys is so good, it deserves its own spin-off. Being the last of the Targaryens, or so she thought until S8E2, she has a solid claim to the Iron Throne. A lover and a fighter, respected but also feared, Dany is the poster child of the fake-it-till-you-make it school of leadership. Well, when you’re a single woman living among Dothraki, sometimes posturing is a useful tool to wield! Starting her long journey with no wealth, no family, and no friends (at least, not real ones), she’s never lost her regal bearing and has always been a fair ruler.

Of course, she does have the tendency to sic her dragons on anyone who would get in her way (why else would you keep dragons, after all), but she did free a city of slaves to make a point.

#####Build creative alliances, especially in times of war
Unfearing and unrelenting, Cersei is definitely one of the most creative problem solvers in GoT mythology. Got a dragon infestation? Others would simply cower and hide in the nearest crypt, but the lone surviving Lannister woman, with her barely discernible baby bump, did her homework and found the long-lost blueprints for the ballista designed to maim the giant reptiles in mid-flight. She’s no Luddite, that’s for sure, and for that, she has our respect.

With Ser Jaime no longer by her side, Cersei Lannister IS King’s Landing. She may not have a pair of dragons to lead her army, but she has the Lannister brand going for her, and not to mention the massive war chest she’s built up over the years. Known across Westeros for her cunning, cold-blooded style of management and unusual taste in lovers, Cersei had everyone fooled into believing that she would join in and take up arms against the White Walkers. Ba-ha. A master of the art of war, this one.

A fine display of foresight, Cersei skipped out on The Long Night and has taken up instead with Euron Greyjoy and his Ironborns. Clearly, she now has the numbers against, well, everyone else.

Failure is the best teacher

Arya Stark has had it hard. She lost her home, watched her father get decapitated at the village square, lost her mother and her brother two beats later, and had to drive away her beloved Nymeria, all before barely reaching puberty. For a while, all she had going for her was a silly, little kill list; but to her credit, she did cleverly ditch The Hound, got history’s most awesome revenge on Littlefinger and Walder Frey, and finally bartered her way back to Winterfell. And now, she can cross the Night King (and the Red Woman) off her list, too. Daaang, Arya. Bar none, you were the boss of Episode 3.

Without a doubt, this Stark is a proven survivor, a fierce warrior, and a dark horse in the race to the Iron Throne. And if there’s anything to her Episode 2 tryst with Gendry Baratheon, her chances may very well have shot up overnight. If anyone is taking bets, all our money’s on Arya. Besides, we wouldn’t mind investing in the Faceless Men technology, should she decide to take it to full production. That app is a sure winner.

Pick a niche and be very, very good at it Even his father gave up on him the moment he was born, but Tyrion Lannister made the best of what he had and found - no, created - his own place under the sun. The best of the Lannisters (erstwhile wife Sansa herself said so) but also the most underestimated, Tyrion invested in his smarts, weaponised his gift for gab, and built a mighty reputation for himself - a rare combo of soft skills and perhaps the only reason he’s still alive. How else would a reformed drunk become Hand of the Queen, especially since the monarch’s entire family was wiped out by the sword of his very own brother?

For their folly, practically everyone who’s ever misjudged him has somehow ended up dead, missing, or rotting down in some dungeon. Westeros could do worse than having this Lannister for royal chief of staff. But mostly, all we want for Christmas is to see Tyrion on a dragon. Wouldn’t that be something.

The best leaders attract the best followers Who will take the Iron Throne in the end? So many contenders and only six episodes in the season! But if we’re to pick a name out of a hat, we wouldn’t be too disappointed to see Jon Snow, err Jon Stark, err Aegon Targaryen on the coveted royal seat. From Winterfell to Castle Black to Bastard Bowl and now back again in the North, the man who seems to have never belonged anywhere appears to be home at last.

Born to lead - literally, it turns out! - he is never without a loyal band of followers. When he was crowned King, the world made sense again. It was a short-lived victory, however, as he soon found himself bending the knee, all to bring the Kingdoms together and have a decent chance at defeating an impossible enemy. All the royals were up in arms, but Jon kept his eye on the ball and did not think twice about giving up being CEO, because he knew it was the only way to survive. And survive, they did. Now, that’s true leadership.

Winter has come at last. If it’s the end or just the beginning of The Long Night, we can’t say for sure. Until we get to the last episode of this last season of the series, mainly because HBO has gone so way off manuscript, whoever ends up sitting on the Iron Throne is still anybody’s guess. But one thing is certain: Game of Thrones gave us great television for nine years and our Mondays will never be the same again.