The long awaited penultimate season of HBO’s Game of Thrones has begun, and women have take center stage. This season is a showcase of amazingly badass women who have risen and are playing the ‘Game of Thrones’. Each has her own story, personality, crosses to bear, and approach to leadership.
Recently, someone said to me, “We all know what a leader should be!” And I responded by asking, “Do we?”
Potentially great leaders run the risk of getting trapped into leading the way leaders are “expected’ to lead. People expect leaders to be archetypal; strong, confident, outspoken, extroverted, and assertive. But it’s a trap. When I was a young leader, I relied heavily on the leadership archetype and I wasn’t nearly as effective as I wanted to be. Over the years, I had to learn how to lead, and be true to myself. I had to develop new skills, and diversify my approach to leadership.
There is more than way to approach leadership, and each can be equally effective. This season of Game of Thrones is a great example of that as each women demonstrates a very different approach to leadership, from the unscrupulous tactics of Cersei Lannister to the more altruistic (but ruthless when necessary, for example this week’s episode 4) approach of Daenerys Targaryen.
And while they each approach leadership differently, there is something to learn from each of them. I’ve identified ten, that’s right ten, women who are a badass in their own right and have something to teach us about leadership.
(If you’re not up for reading today, scroll down for the slide deck summary!)
Here they are:
#1 Lady Lyanna Mormont: Don’t let age and inexperience get in your way.
Young Lady Mormont appeared for the first time in Season 6, and has quickly become known to steal every scene that she is in. She rules with clarity and decisiveness at the tender age of 11 (or 12). She does not let her let her youth and inexperience get in the way; she might be small, but she is mighty. Many of you may be in a leadership position for the first time and feel insecure or uncertain about it. You may be young and have less experience than your peers, or in some cases, your direct reports. It is important to believe that you were selected to lead for a reason and to trust those who put you there. Do the best you can with what you know, lead with confidence and character knowing you will do better the longer you are in leadership.
#2 Sansa Stark: Define your own leadership identity, incorporating lessons from all that you have learned, both the good and the bad.
No other character has suffered more than Sansa Stark, watching her journey has been painful. It wasn’t until the end of last season that we could begin to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Used as a pawn in the Game of Thrones, Sansa has encountered some powerful, and unbelievably sadistic and evil leaders. Now that she is no longer in bondage, she has taken control of her own destiny and is ready to lead. It is time for her find a way to reconcile her experiences with the more ethical morals and values instilled in her by her family. She knows now that leading as her father and brother Robert had will not lead them to victory. She said it herself, “It’s what got them killed…we have to be smarter.” She is going to take what she has learned from both the good and bad examples of leadership she’s experienced; she knows that there are valuable lessons to be learnt from both. Leadership is a journey, not a destination so as we seek to define our own leadership we must remember all of the experiences we have had, and resist becoming synical, and just be smarter and better than those who came before us.
#3 Meera Reed: Be a servant leader, serve others before you serve yourself.
More often than not when Meera was on screen she was porting around Bran Stark. She was first introduced to us with her brother JoJen, when they were seeking out Bran. She was a fierce and loyal protector for her brother, and carried on to do the same for Bran. She is the best example of Servant Leadership, an approach to leadership marked by a leader’s commitment to serve others, being a servant first. And like no other women in GoT, Meera has been silently serving and protecting Bran for a larger purpose, to fight the White Walkers and save human kind. Bran is essential to the war and ensuring his safety is paramount to her. The important lesson from this rarely seen and heard leader, is that you do not need a title to lead, and helping those who do achieve a common vision is equally valuable and empowering. Be a servant first and be willing to do the work without expectation of reward or recognition, but because it is what serves the mission or vision. Your time to lead will come soon enough.
#4 Daenerys Targaryen: Craft a vision, and then have the patience and willingness to do what it takes to make your vision a reality.
We learned in the very first season that this young woman was more than a pawn to be played in a man’s war. She laid out her vision to return to Westeros to claim her birthright to the throne. And now that we are nearly at the end we see Daenerys return to her homeland with the tools and resources she needs to realize her vision. Great leaders must have a vision, and be patient and willing to do the work necessary to make it reality. Daenerys took the time to build up a loyal army and prove herself to be a suitable queen. She did not return to Westeros until she had done the work. Visions are not realized over night, not even the best ones. Make time to craft a vision, and include your team. Next use that vision to identify the resources you need to make it a reality, then make and implement a plan that will allow you and your team to take the necessary steps to realize the vision. Remember it will take time so have realistic expectations.
#5 Arya Stark: Preparedness. Patience. Perseverance.
Arya Stark has probably been the character I have loved to watch grow up and evolve the most. At a young age she saw her father decapitated and was forced to go out into the world on her own. Recognizing the injustice of her family’s deaths, she has had a single mission to defy societal expectations to become a warrior and seek revenge on all those who brought harm to her and her family. Now that we are close to the end we see that Arya has taken her mission quite seriously. She teaches us to be prepared and patient, and to persevere. She sought out those who could teach her to fight and be prepared, she was patient and took the time to be trained, and she persevered through some painful and tough lessons. No matter your approach to leadership, preparedness, patience, and perseverance will be a benefit to achieve your goals and making an impact.
#6 Lady Olenna Tyrell: Honesty and Transparency will take you far.
Lady Tyrell was bold, and lived longer than any other member of her family. Her ability to outlive the others can probably be most attributed to her being smart and strategic, but what we loved most about her was her ability to be brutally honest. More often than not, her honesty came with a bit of wit and sarcasm, but we could always rely on her to tell the truth. And that is an admirable quality in any leader. Honesty with good intentions and tact will take you very far. It allows you to create transparency among those you lead and build trust. When you are consistently honest and transparent, people will respect and trust you. Too many leaders and organizations hoard and hide information and the result is distrust. But remember, you are not Lady Tyrell so have a little more tact.
#7 Brienne of Tarth: Be Brave. Be Courageous. Be Loyal.
From the first moment we met Brienne, we knew she was going to be a fierce and loyal warrior. It was early in season 2 that she pledged her loyalty to Catelyn Stark and her daughters. She then spent several seasons searching for Arya and Sansa, fighting off many a foe, taking down the Hound and even fighting a bear. Now that she has rescued Sansa and returned her to Winterfell, you can better believe Sansa isn’t going to be anyone’s “bitch” EVER AGAIN. Followers want that same level of loyalty from their leaders, and that takes courage and bravery to be there for your team. Be willing and able to take on their enemies and fight anyone who threatens their security. That’s leadership.
#8 Yara Greyjoy-Believe in yourself, even when others don’t.
Queen Yara Greyjoy is tough! But she is also a smart and strategic thinker and destined to be the leader of the Iron Islands. And despite the fact that her father had little respect and trust for her, she fought for what she believed was right and earned her position as the Queen of the Iron Islands. It is important to know your worth and not to let others, even those close to you, discourage you from doing what you believe is right and striving for what you know you are capable of doing. Believe in yourself.
#9 Sand Snakes: Hone Your Craft and Sharpen Your Tools.
When we first met these three sisters, and I was immediately taken by their badass fighting skills. The Sand Snakes, Obara, Nymeria, and Tyene, are the daughters of Prince Oberyn Martell from Dorne and have been expertly trained in combat. Each has their own weapon of choice that they wield; Obara a spear, Nymeria a bullwhip, and Tyenne short daggers. They remind us that it is important for leaders to be experts, not only in your industry, but in leadership. Great leaders should have a variety of weapons or tools they use to effectively lead others. Take the time to learn to be a great leader. Increase your skills in communication, conflict resolution, emotional and cultural intelligence, team building and group dynamics, and continually sharpen them.
#10 Cersei Lannister-Treat people with respect. Karma is swift and just.
If this show has taught us anything, it is that that titles and power are fleeting, but the impact we have on others lasts a lifetime. So leadership isn’t about position, but how we use our influence to impact others. Cersei has ruled the Seven Kingdoms, as the Queen and the Queen Mother, and she rules with cutthroat brute force, and paid a very high price for it. While it may seem there is little to be learned from Cersei’s approach to leadership, there is actually much to be learned. Most importantly is karma, and that what you put out is what you get back. Leadership is about relationships, not brute force. Effective leaders lead with integrity, and build mutually beneficial and respectful relationships and alliances. Now that the series is coming to an end and we are anticipating the final fight for the throne, Cersei is left with virtually no allies. All those bridges have been burnt and more than likely she will end up all alone with nothing. And while the expression “It’s lonely at the top” is common, it doesn’t have to be true. Leaders who are ambitious, patient, loyal, courageous, confident, forward thinking, strategic, well prepared, well trained, and in service to others will find themselves surrounded by people who trust and respect them, and will never be lonely. So surround yourself with great people and treat them well.
So as you develop your own leadership, be intentional about your approach to leadership. Don’t get trapped in the leadership archetype, consider your own values and beliefs and the impact you want to have on others. Take lessons from those around you and lead with confidence and know-how.
Here it all is summarized in a slide deck:
And if you have never seen the Game of Thrones, now might be a good time to start.
Check out my Game of Thrones posts from 2015: A Game of Thrones Lens on Leadership