Leadership Lessons from A Game of Thrones

Leadership Lessons from A Game of Thrones

I spent a recent holiday weekend with my family, enjoying the sunshine, barbecuing and being introduced to a series called A Game of Thrones. It’s a huge saga about a set of warring, political families set in a fictional world, fighting for power and position. Hard-hitting, adult themes mean it’s certainly not for everyone, but crikey, it’s good!

There’s probably a year’s worth of articles around the theme of leadership just in the first two seasons (we’re on season 3), but I want to talk to you today about one character who really caught my eye – and not for the best reasons.

Theon Greyjoy is a character who turns his back on the family who raised him and betrays them in a terrible way. Eager to please his father and repair his own damaged pride, he takes on a leadership role that he’s unprepared for and begins to act in ways that are contrary to his nature and experience. He’s out of his depth, makes poor decisions based on a lack of confidence and insecurity, and is fuelled by ego and fear.

This leads him to commit some dreadful acts – as he’s pretending to be someone he’s not, yet.

He’s completely the opposite of an authentic leader. I can see this in him, because I’ve been there myself – and you may have been too. No, I’ve never been a murderous traitor – but I have stood in front of a group of people I’ve been leading, feeling unsure of myself, hesitant, nervous and distinctly un-leaderly.

The thing is, when you show up like this, you may as well have a flashing sign above your head telling the world how you feel, because it shows up in how you stand, how you talk (language and tone of voice), and how convincing you are. The root cause of this is because you don’t believe you are a leader – and when you don’t believe you are, others won’t believe it either.

In Theon Greyjoy’s case, this leads him to carry out some atrocious acts. In a leader’s case, this could mean several things.

You might:

  • stop listening to others and assume you are the font of all knowledge
  • make knee-jerk decisions
  • make terrible decisions
  • make no decisions at all
  • become a people-pleaser
  • develop blind-spots about your behaviour and abilities
  • alienate others
  • throw your weight around
  • take on tasks that you’re unsuited for and have no skill in
  • ride roughshod over other people’s opinions, wishes and feelings
  • stop growing and developing – because you ‘know it all’

The list could go on. You may even recognise leaders that you’ve worked with in the past, or who you work with now.

So where do I begin to offer some insights here?

Firstly by saying that it’s so important to understand yourself, both in terms of your current skills and experience, but also knowing your values, your leadership identity and your strengths and weaknesses. This forms a baseline from which you can work to build your leadership capabilities. Understand your true nature and celebrate it – being comfortable with yourself is the first step to self-assurance as a leader. From here, you’ll surprise yourself at what you’re capable of.

Secondly, by saying that you will have unplumbed depths and skills and talents that are yet to be unearthed – so this doesn’t mean you’ll be the same person you are now, in ten years’ time. It also means that you may well show different sides of yourself to different people in different situations – and that’s ok.

This is true whether you’re a CEO, a business owner leading a team of staff for the first time, or an emerging leader. You don’t need to rush it, but you do need to know your current capabilities and understand how to make the most of them. Know your current limits too, and work on shifting those boundaries outwards.

I’ve recently started a mindfulness qualification. One of the key teachings when it comes to daily practice is ‘There is never a point at which this is complete.’

I love this – it matches my philosophy of leadership, which is that it’s the journey of a lifetime.

Lastly – self-belief matters. Developing this will stop you from embracing your own version of Theon Greyjoy – and in the wrong circumstances I think we all have a Theon inside us, which makes us capable of reacting from pride, fear, ego and insecurity. The results often aren’t pretty. As a leader, that’s not good news.
If you’re keen to improve your own leadership capabilities, then why not join me on a Leadership Day Retreat?

one_to_one_coachingI’m Susan Ritchie, and I  help the business leaders and senior execs to get out of their way so their full capabilities shine through. The result? A self-assured, confident professional, ready to lead with  clarity, focus and energy.