Violence, intrigue, and sex: this is what first comes to mind when one thinks of Game of Thrones- not necessarily in that order. The whole damn show is more riveting than the last two overs of an IPL match. But when one is watching from season 1 all over again for the third time, as I am (thanks to being grounded by a surgery for two months), the gyanu in one awakens. So I embraced the role of gyanu and bolstered by over 2 decades of CXO level experience, 6 years of start-up experience and a certificate in success coaching, started analysing the show episode-by-episode for leadership lessons. Here is the first of many to come…
1. Be true to your nature and be consistent
By the end of the first episode itself, one gets a feeling that Ned Stark is an amazing leader. Every sentence he utters adds to the aura of dignity and honour. He has that gravitas that you associate only with leaders who take their job damn seriously, and he doesn’t deviate from this even once. Imagine if we had seen Ned Stark pinching the bottom of a maid in the first episode! Or even in the privacy of his room if he had uttered something totally bitchy, such as – “that Jamie Lanister is a dickhead”!! Not only him, but also the whole Stark clan would have come down in our estimate.
The important lesson to learn from this is that you need to have a vision of what you want to be. Then invest in that brand image consistently. Try never to deviate from that, till it is completely internalised. Remember – you build or break that brand with each and every action of yours.
2. Do not slimily pass on difficult tasks to subordinates
One of the actions that establish Ned as a true leader is the way he takes on tough and distasteful tasks himself without passing it on to subordinates. He has to behead a poor guard who deserted his post. You can see Ned actually feels compassion for the chap. But you don’t see him telling one of his knights to cut off the guy’s head. He does it himself. “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword,” he tells his son Bran.
Once I had to sack a person because my boss didn’t like him. I knew the person’s performance was bad, but I didn’t think it merited sacking. However, the boss’s view prevailed. I was the one who had to do the actual sacking of the subordinate, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But what struck me was that my boss, who was always the first to directly speak even to employees 3 levels below him in case they were being rewarded, even refused to meet the people getting sacked. The word ‘Coward’ was what flashed in my mind. I never respected him again.
The lesson is that the leader needs to step up to take on the toughest jobs. They need to lead by example.
3. Employee development is a critical leadership task
Ned knew that tough times were ahead- “winter is coming”. He ensures that his third line (Brandon Stark) is also exposed to real life challenges and not only takes him for the execution, but makes sure he watches it. Then he spends time with him to explain why he did it.
The lesson is simple- Effective leaders foresee difficulties and plan for capacity in advance. They spend their own time building leadership-redundancy and managerial depth by upskilling people. They do so by means of hands-on training followed by coaching sessions.
4. Own up and embrace your life experiences
“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like honour. It can never be used to hurt you,” said Tyrion to Jon, advising him not to bristle when anyone refers to him as a bastard. Tyrion himself steals one’s heart in the first episode itself. He is what he is – a learned, happy-go-lucky dwarf who doesn’t give a rat’s ass what others think of him.
I never hide the fact that I lost one year at IIT due to my lack of focus or that I was sacked from HP when I was Director, Operations. These are events that made me a much stronger person. I flaunt it.
The lesson is to never try and hide what you truly are. It will come through. People who are authentic and transparent are way more likable and trustworthy and hence way better as team players.
Hope you enjoyed and agree with the first dose of Leadership Lessons from GOT. If you did, do share it. Valar Dohaeris.
RamG Vallath, Bestselling author of “From Ouch to Oops”, Success Coach, Startup Guru