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More lessons on leadership from Game of Thrones

Even though there is now a dragon queen close to the Iron Throne, fasten your safety-belts because the 7th season of Game of Thrones has been a tumultuous ride and it’s not over yet. Even with only a few episodes aired, it was clear that everything was spiraling out of control, and the number of factions vying for some semblance of power would only continue to grow.

George R.R. Martin has created a plethora of strong leaders within the novels, and almost all have demonstrated the wisdom in Robert Baratheon’s words, “I swear to you sitting on a throne is a thousand times harder than winning one!”

The characters embrace different leadership styles, which are mirrored in the real world. We discussed several of these last time, including the Ruthless Leader, the Accidental Leader, the Ineffective Leader, and the Reluctant Leader; but there are even more leadership types out there. All have strengths and weaknesses inherent to their style. Let’s explore a few more.

Sansa Stark – The Quiet Influencer

Like many, I initially struggled with calling Sansa a leader. In previous seasons, she seemed to be more like an ineffective child, swept away by the events and people surrounding her. She never really took charge. Except maybe she did. When you look back, you can see her slowly developing into a quiet leader with the ability to manipulate her situation and surrounding circumstances. And it’s no wonder, she learned to scheme from Littlefinger himself, arguably the most manipulative character on the show.

Sansa also developed a strong sense of ruthlessness after suffering at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. This is evident in her icy tone when, prior to the big battle, she tells him, “You’re going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton. Sleep well.”

She got Jon to do battle for her and she persuaded Lyanna to as well. Sansa quietly pushes the pieces around until the threats to her brother’s legitimacy and power are effectively eliminated. Who knows? Perhaps this young, sheltered, naive Stark girl who was engaged to a wicked prince, and ultimately married a monster, will emerge to become one of the strongest leaders in the seven kingdoms.

In the real world, Sansa’s counterpart could arguably be Ivanka Trump. She was born into a life of privilege, and now sits next to some of the most influential world leaders at G20 summits. She regularly accompanies her father, the president of the United States, and quietly influences policy by using her status as his favorite child. In some ways, she leads the United States just as much as he does; only she selects the parts that she’s interested in as it suits her.

Lesson? Don’t underestimate those who stay below the radar. They can still powerfully lead and get their own way without shouting orders and giving loud speeches.

Catelyn Stark – The Purposeful Leader

In Game of Thrones, everyone has an agenda, but very few people have the drive that Catelyn Stark did. Daenerys is the only character who comes close. Catelyn’s anti-war and humanitarian efforts were a beacon of hope, which ultimately cost her everything – her husband, her kids, and eventually her life. But she was devoted to her cause to the very end.

Catelyn’s firm, unwavering beliefs provided a foundation to both her children and her followers. Without her guidance, Robb Stark would never have gotten as far as he did. Catelyn did everything she could to help Robb lead, knowing that it was the best way to further her own agenda, and obtain a sense of security for her family. True to form, she did not mince words when she warned him of the dangers of failing her plan, “If you lose, your father dies, your sisters die, we die.”

Kris Jenner, mother of the infamous Kardashian clan, and until last year, producer/manager for just about everything Kardashian, could be Catelyn’s real-life counterpart. Just to be clear, I am absolutely, categorically NOT (shudder) a fan of the Kardashians, but – honour where honour is due- Jenner has certainly got managerial chops. It takes an impressive blend of dedication, creativity and leadership to successfully manage a brand, and a critical part of that success is understanding the target audience, the brand message – and then being consistent. Jenner has this covered.

 In an interview with Forbes a few years back, she said, “Everything we go after or that comes to us, we just say: “Is this something that we love? Is this something that we can really put our stamp on?” Because, according to Kris, that’s what the Kardashian brand is all about: women doing what they love. This works for them because they can talk excitedly about it to their fan base with authenticity.

Jenner has kept the family on track, strategically developing their brand for some 22 years now. By sticking to their message, she has grown the net worth of the Kardashian name to over $450 million.

Leadership lesson? Know what you stand for, communicate it clearly, never, ever, ever give up.

Robyn Arryn – The Undeserving Leader

Robin Arryn is one of the most eccentric characters in the entire series- and that says a lot! As his father is deceased, Robyn has become the head of House Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie, Defender of the Vale, and Warden of the East. With a list of titles that long, it could be assumed that he would be a rather commanding figure. Nothing could be further from the case. He is sickly, small, and pale and prone to fits of tantrum that are usually reserved for toddlers.

His mother, the dark and complex character, Lady Lysa Tully, is nothing at all like her sensible sister, Catelyn Stark. Being a strong mum is one thing, but Lysa plunges the definition of ‘smother mother’ to whole new, creepy depths.

Robin’s impulsiveness is largely a result of his upbringing. He was sheltered from any balanced perspective of leadership since his mother also served as regent and completed all the ruling duties herself. She further played into his immaturity by allowing him even his most base desires, ranging from tossing anyone he wanted to their death through the ‘Moon Door,’ and allowing him to breastfeed from her many years longer than most might consider ‘normal.’   A damaged, fragile soul, Robyn seems incapable of ever becoming a competent leader, and with his mother deceased, he proves to be easily manipulated.

Arryn’s real-life counterpart could be Kim Jong-Un, the current leader of North Korea. Due to the secret nature of any social or political circumstances in North Korea, not much is certain about his life – even the year of his birth is unknown. However, what is known indicates that his early life was filled with privilege and indulgence, which has led to a level of emotional under-development and a lack of real perspective in his leadership.

Like Arryn, Kim is sheltered, prone to acting on his whim’s, often (it would seem) to serve his own base instincts and indulgences. Both these leaders inherited their power, with no indication that they were deserving or even capable — and both are unpredictable: a dangerous combination!

The lesson here comes from Lord Varys: “Any fool with a bit of luck can find himself born into power, but earning it for yourself? Now, that takes work.”

Tyrion Lannister – The Leader That No One Believed In

Tyrion Lannister is always willing to give advice to anyone who will listen to him. Sure, he might do it in a sarcastic “if-you-were-as-smart-as-me-you’d-already-know-this” tone, but that’s only because he’s never had anyone take him seriously, until recently. Still, that doesn’t prevent him from trying to help even if it’s not openly requested.

You see, Tyrion is pretty perceptive about people – and he has a kind heart. He instantly identifies someone’s weaknesses and, rather than exploiting them (as vicious Cersei would), he dispenses advice that can be life altering. For example, when he talks to Jon Snow on the wall he says, “Let me give you some advice bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.”

Jon replies, “What the hell do you know about being a bastard?”

Tyrion’s eyes are sad when he responds, “All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes.”

You might be surprised to learn that Elon Musk has a very similar story, although he is the antithesis of Tyrion in stature, claiming to be 6’2” on Twitter. At a young age, his fellow school pupils bullied him for being a know-it-all nerd, and his father dismissed any of his successes. Musk said of his father: “He can take any situation no matter how good it is and make it bad. He’s not a happy man.”

Musk pushes all of his 30,000 Tesla employees, asking that they be totally devoted all the time. He has slept overnight on the floor of the factory in the past, and expects the same level of commitment from everyone else. It’s widely said that those who work under him tend to hate him, but there is no arguing with the results of his leadership style. His accomplishments are breathtaking.

Lesson? Everything that has happened to us in life makes us who we are. Understand that your weaknesses can be reframed into your greatest strengths, once you become aware of them and make peace with them.

Now, Tyrion may not have promised Mars by 2025 like Musk did, but he did promise to give Daenerys the keys to the Kingdoms, and so far, thankfully, he’s been delivering on his promises.

Sarah Pearce is a professional speaker, business coach, social strategist and author of Online Reputation: Your Most Valuable Asset in a Digital Age.

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