Leadership Lessons Learned from Game of Thrones


Through the battles, manipulation, and darkness that is the twisted plot of the screen adaptation and original books by George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones unfolds a tale that also has many lessons to offer. We considered some of the best leadership lessons we’ve learned from the series and incorporated a few of the most poignant quotes.


“Syrio says every hurt is a lesson, and every lesson makes you better.”  –Arya Stark

Arya is a brave young woman with the heart of a warrior. Her resilience is a lesson in itself. Learn from mistakes and be better for them. This includes approaching trust with caution and weariness at times. It also means that if you learn that standing your ground is necessary, you need to follow through and do it. Whether you are protecting your project, your ideas, or your team, grow stronger from past stumbles and bruises to be a better leader.


“Perhaps that is the secret. It is not what we do, so much as why we do it.”  –Tyrion Lannister.

That’s what he does. Tyrion Lannister drinks and he knows things. Let’s take some inspiration from his knowledge. Let the work motivate your energy and focus, not the outcome. After all, the outcome is never certain in any project or battle, so being led by your mission is important as to not be discouraged by pitfalls or setbacks. The final outcome may not be what you expected, but if you are always mindful of how the work benefits from it, your course will remain steady.


“Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.” –Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger

Much can be learned from the ever calculating Petyr Baelish. He sees chaos as an an opportunity, rather than a misfortune. Adapt to your surroundings. Things change quickly in a dynamic environment such as the office or Westeros, so observing, listening, and adapting are paramount to survival. When gripped by chaos, the best approach is to make sense of it and lead yourself and others out of it to order and positive change. This is one of the key elements of change management, but also handy when you’re on the wall facing an expanse of darkness.


“I will answer injustice with justice.” –Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys is Mother of Dragons for a reason, she does not let herself get treated like a doormat and upholds honor in her actions. Setting boundaries for respect and behavior is essential for successful leadership. This quote lends itself to a very true sentiment that respecting one another is best for positive collaboration and taking the high road brings its own reward – integrity, sincerity, and respect.


“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” –Eddard Stark

The beloved Ned Stark was a great leader. He taught us to lead by doing. If you are full of empty promises and no action, your team will see it and lose faith in your abilities. If you make a difficult decision or choose to take on a challenging project or task, take it on fully. Earn the trust and respect of others by swinging the sword yourself, not just delegating all the heavy lifting. Collaborate effectively to build collective strength. Building alliances (or collaboration as we call it in the real world) is essential whether you are leading one project or an entire team. Most importantly, be sure that others are aware of your usefulness.


“Maybe you were as good as people said… once. Or maybe people just love to overpraise a famous name.” –Brienne of Tarth

Known for her strength of character and prowess in battle, Brienne of Tarth has an unparalleled strength of character for one who has seen so much. Her ability to discern truth from perception is one of her less obvious attributes, but a credit to her nonetheless. Brienne expresses here the concept of truly knowing another over listening to the rumors or reputation branded by others. There is a lot to be said for trusting your own instincts when meeting someone and judging by their work, not just their famous name.


“Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.” –Varys, aka The Spider

The Master of Whispers knows a great deal about power and interpretation of power. It can be argued that with his spying, he gains knowledge. Knowledge is power…and power comes from within. Sometimes knowing what you’re talking about, being aware of the situation, and using the right words really can get you out of a sticky situation, so equip yourself with knowledge and understanding. Being aware of each side of a situation, as well as the various views revolved around it, whether on your team or beyond your borders, can offer great insight as well.


“There’s no shame in fear, my father told me, what matters is how we face it.” –Jon Snow

Jon Snow may have been told he knows nothing, but that was far from the case. His strength came from his conviction of who he was and he embraced it early and completely to find great strength. Whether standing watch on The Wall, addressing a demotivated team, or facing a disgruntled board of directors, but embracing fear and facing it with knowledge, awareness, and integrity is what counts at the end.


“Calling yourself a king doesn’t make you one…” –Margaery Tyrell

The elegant, effervescent, and plotting Margaery acknowledges that the title, whether manager or queen, is one that is earned by performance, not just wearing a crown. If you’re going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk and be brave enough to truly lead. It isn’t enough to take the title and flaunt the status. To lead a team, or a kingdom, draws upon the wisdom and patience to listen to those around you and sort out what is noise and what is worth acting on. A complacent king merely resting on his laurels may not last long.


In the office or in a remote kingdom, these lessons in leadership are timeless. From those who have seen much, learned a great deal, and often lived to tell the tale, heeding their wisdom in our own workplace situations puts a pragmatic spin on what is otherwise entertainment. Sometimes lessons come in the most unexpected packages!


What quote or lesson would you add to this compilation?


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