The world of Game of Thrones was rife with betrayal, jealously rivalries, and decayed morals... just like what most of us face at work in the office every day, really.
And while Westeros might seem like a long way from the world of corporate HQ when it comes to being an office villain or a workplace hero, some of the same rules apply.
Scheming, trickery and lies are often rewarded (although admittedly, beheadings, incest and castration aren't so popular now).
Now, a new book explains how you can use leadership lessons from Game of Thrones to score your own version of the Iron Throne – a corner office.
"Game of Thrones offers a rich tapestry of characters where the stakes are high and the lessons you learn from the characters will be remembered when you need to remember them," says author Bruce Craven, author of Win or Die: Leadership Secrets From Game of Thrones.
Here, we break down Westeros’ main power players to create a leadership blueprint that could help you ‘break the wheel’.
JON SNOW - THE BASTARD CROW
Jon Snow is not ruled by ambition to the same degree as other characters on the show- and often makes costly mistakes.
After stepping up to lead the Night’s Watch, Snow is responsible for bringing the Wildlings across the wall. The problem, Craven says, is that he mismanages the move. “He doesn’t convince his people of the wisdom of the idea.”
The result? They assassinate him. LEARN FROM SNOW.
After this massive fail, Snow's appetite for leadership has understandably shrunk.
“He’s like, ‘That’s it, I’ve had it’,” Craven says. It’s only when he realises his family is still alive that his commitment is renewed.
The lesson: Whether it’s introducing a new IT system or overhauling email protocols, you must convince those affected by the changes of the value of your plan. “If you ignore people that are resistant to your idea it’s at your peril,” Craven says.
Real-world example: Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was adept at drawing different allies to his side during the American Civil War. But like Snow he was ultimately caught between two parties with conflicting interests. Both were assassinated.
ARYA STARK - THE SILENT ASSASIN
The biggest strength of Thrones’ most lethal assassin, Stark, is that she seeks out mentors, Craven says. From Syrio Forel and Jaqen H’ghar, to The Hound and even Tywin Lannister, “She takes it upon herself to learn from people who can make her better.”
The lesson: For Arya, her commitment is often her undoing. Fortunately, in the crucial moment, instead of pursuing Cersei through a crumbling Kings Landing, Arya heeds The Hound’s warning not to let bitterness destroy her. “There are moments where we have to listen to our mentors, step back and reevaluate how we are leading ourselves,” Craven says.
Real-world example: Miyamoto Musashi – Japanese Samurai. “The Samurai emphasise the need to be strong and recognise threats while also having moments of inner calm,” Craven says.
CERSEI LANNISTER – THE VENOMOUS VILLAIN
Thrones’ big bad, at least after the Night King gets iced by Arya, is Cersei, one of the story’s most complex characters.
“There was so much that was admirable about her,” says Craven. “Her courage was often inspiring.”
Her weakness, however, is a familiar one. “She doesn’t seem to ever care about anyone more than herself,” says Craven.
“The people she leads are a resource important to her individual power. We don’t see her empathise with her followers.”
The lesson Prioritising success and power as goals in themselves can consume and destroy you. “Cersei had a chance to leverage her courage to help her followers, but she was obsessed with destroying her competition,” Craven says.
Real-world example: Trump. Like Cersei, he was never expected to secure the ‘top job’. Both subsequently fight tooth and nail to maintain the power they’ve accumulated. It’s easy, Craven says, to imagine Trump, alone in the Red Keep, only tweeting instead of holding a glass of wine.
DAENERYS TARGARYEN – THE DRAGON QUEEN
Let’s face it, if you walked into a pyre with dragon eggs and came out with fire-breathing creatures of destruction, you’d probably feel the fate of humanity rested on your shoulders.
“Until the very end her commitment is to break the wheel,” says Craven. “To free the vulnerable.” Tragically, her commitment to her cause is so extreme that in her eyes, the ends justify the means and she proceeds to lay waste to Kings Landing. In the process, she betrays her original cause and the values she once stood for.
The lesson Dany’s predicament is a challenge faced by many leaders. “It’s a reminder that we can be committed to our purpose but we have to be careful that we don’t lose our humanity in its pursuit,” says Craven. Perhaps the intern who messed up your coffee order doesn’t need to be ex-communicated after all . . .
Real-world example: Henry Ford. “Achieved global success, but also supported anti-Semitic views,” says Craven. On a more positive note: Jessica Alba. “Someone who has started a company based on “breaking the wheel” of unhealthy products.”
TYRION LANNISTER – THE LION
Tyrion’s greatest strength is his ability to connect with people. Later, he builds a strong relationship with Daenerys. The problem, Craven says, is that once he’s established that relationship his sense of strategic superiority gets the better of him.
“He makes decisions a little too quickly based on his confidence in his intelligence,” Craven says. Unfortunately, he’s frequently proven wrong, losing Dany’s confidence and the ability to “lead up” and persuade her . . . with disastrous results.
The Lesson Even the galaxy-brained among us need to be willing to engage in robust discussions with peers in which ideas and judgments are challenged, says Craven.
Real-world example: Richard Branson. “Both use their intelligence to see past the normal approach to things,” says Craven.
SANSA STARK – QUEEN OF THE NORTH
Of all the characters in Thrones the one who experiences the most personal growth is the eldest Stark daughter, who goes from callow, naive princess to savvy political leader.
“Early on she made herself very vulnerable by believing the fairy tale and not pushing herself to dig under the surface and understand what’s really going on with people,” says Craven.
“That’s a very dangerous way to approach the world.” The victim of multiple atrocities, her epiphany comes when talking to Little Finger. “He says, ‘In King’s Landing, there are two sorts of people. The players and the pieces...’” says Craven. “And she says, ‘Oh I’ve been a piece’.”
The lesson: Blindly buying into seductive corporate narratives makes you vulnerable to manipulation. That promotion or pay rise you covet? Work for it. And while you don’t want to fall into debilitating suspicion, be aware that self-interest will drive even seemingly guileless colleagues in your competitive environment, Craven says. Like Thrones, work is a game. Play it to win.
Real-world example: Steve Smith. Naively expected his players to be guided by honour and integrity without acknowledging the cutthroat nature of elite sport.