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How to proceed when you take on a new role or a new job? What are the first things you need to do? Episode 3 opens up a lot of interesting points on this question. Two people join their new jobs and take on new roles in this episode, though in diametrically different positions. Jon Snow and Ned Stark.
We can equate Jon Snow joining the Night’s Watch at Castle Black to a fresh MBA joining his new job as a management trainee, along with a bunch of others who are graduate trainees. Jon has been coached and trained extensively by his father, Ned Stark at Winterfell on weaponry and also on various values. He finds himself surrounded by a bunch of other recruits who range from rapists to destitute people who haven’t had the privilege Jon has been brought up with. He treats them with utter contempt and they in turn attempt to kill him. Finally it was his uncle Benjen who tell him “You are better than no one. Here a man gets what he earns; when he earns it.”
What could Jon have done differently? The most effective way for Jon to assimilate would have been to come down from his high horse, spend time with other new recruits, and truly get to know them. Then he would have realised that there are some great people among them and more importantly, he would have realised that it was his privilege that made him better equipped than them and not any inherent superiority.
When I joined Titan as one among 14 management trainees 27 years back, the ones who succeeded among us were the ones who quickly struck up great relationship with the non-MBAs who were at lower levels. The ones who had a chip on their shoulders refused to build bridges and in turn got ‘killed’ career-wise by their less privileged colleagues.
Observe, learn and plan before you act
As hand of the king, Ned Stark took on a unique role. It was that of COO, CFO and advisor to CEO all rolled into one. With those powers and with the additional advantage of being the CEO’s (king Robert Baratheon) best friend, he could have turned the kingdom around. He screwed up spectacularly. His first act after entering the head office (Red Keep) was to insult each and every other member of the small council (the senior leadership team).
If I were he, I would have done the following…
1. Have 1-on-1 meetings with each member of the senior leadership team to primarily probe and listen without revealing my hand
2. Meet up with some of the other influential people in the organisation including direct reports of senior leadership team and do the same
This will help in understanding a) the equations and politics of the team b) who is with me, and who against c) what drives each individual d) a SWOT of the overall organisation.
Apart from this, the other crying need was for Ned to put some sense into the CEO (King Robert). It is not an easy task, but Ned, with his unique position as the CEO’s bestie and also his COO/CFO/Advisor role, was in the best position to make a difference. A series of coaching sessions with Robert, rekindling a vision to get things back to the former glory, could have made a huge difference. In fact, I play a role very similar to this as a co-founder and CEOs close friend in Zentron Labs, a startup. This gives me the ability to be a mirror without giving offence.
Once Ned had done all the above, he could have made his moves, building relations and aligning with those in the leadership team he deemed fit, getting other influential people on his side, and finally easing out those who are detrimental to the kingdom, the king and himself. Ned Stark was honourable, but he was an honourable blundering fool, who ultimately was more detrimental to the kingdom than his far more devious enemies.
RamG Vallath: Bestselling author of “From Ouch to Oops”, Success Coach, Startup Guru.
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