Greed, revenge, betrayal, power… the fantasy world of Westeros and the strategic manoeuvres that occur during the quest for the iron throne isn’t dissimilar to what happens in the world of business. Unlike many of today’s leading businesses though, the leadership in GoT is more diverse with both claimants of the throne being women. In real life, only 24 of the Fortune 500 CEOs were women in 2018.
So who exactly are these diverse characters, how do they enrich the show and what traits and skills do they bring to the table?
The character everyone loves to hate but without whom GoT wouldn’t be half as interesting, Cersei Lannister is a bit of a sociopath but there’s no denying her sheer grit, cunningness and determination. The current monarch ruling Westeros, Cersei has sacrificed a lot to ensure her family remains in power. She’s made a lot of political mistakes though, one of the biggest being completely alienating her younger brother Tyrion. There’s determination and then there’s tunnel vision and it has come to the stage where her desperation has pushed even her twin and lover, Jaime, away. Through Cersei’s mistakes, we can learn the importance of valuing those most loyal to us. The last thing we need is to lose them to our competitors and let them take our secrets with them.
Like Cersei Lannister, this silver-haired dragon queen has one goal in mind, but unlike Cersei, she isn’t so caught up in her own selfishness that she’s willing to kill/disown/betray anyone who tries to divert her attention. Which is why, en-route to Kings Landing, she finds herself in the North fighting Jon’s Snow battle with the White Walkers. What makes Daenerys a compelling character and preferable choice for her throne is the fact that while she has a temper as fiery as her dragons and is as brave as her Unsullied army, she’s also fiercely loyal and just plain fierce. As a leader, one of her biggest strengths is that she surrounds herself with positive influences, like Jorah and Tyrion, who are able to rein back some of her impulsiveness and guide her towards the right path. Likewise, business leaders could do well to adopt the same attitude, by choosing expert advisors who don’t just say yes. And when she doesn’t listen… well. That’s when things go horrifically wrong.
White, male and rich; you’d think Tyrion Lannister is the very definition of White Privilege. Only he’s a dwarf and as a result, has been abused and taunted his entire life, even by his own family. However, what he lacks in height he makes up in intelligence and there’s a lot more to him than just witty one-liners. The mastermind behind the win at the Battle of the Blackwater, Tyrion is a strategist, he knows his politics, he’s learned and despite all his setbacks, he’s not consumed with bitterness; he’s kind. He’s also the perfect example of someone who has not let his disability prevent him from succeeding – in fact, it’s made him graft harder – and as a result of his hard work, has been appointed the King/Queen’s Hand numerous times. He can be a bit too trusting though, and it’s this naiveté that leads him to believe Cersei has turned over a new leaf when she agrees to fight the Night King in the North. Another key strength of Tyrion’s is his patience. Despite being provoked and abused for years, he knows how to bide his time and wait for the opportune moment to seek justice. If there are two things a business leader can take away from Tyrion’s story it’s this; wait your time and never trust your enemy.
Missandei of Naath starts off a slave in chains but she is far from the subservient slave she appears to be at first glance. Loyal, brave, strong and intelligent, once freed by the Mother of Dragons, she becomes a trusted friend and advisor. But it’s her language skills that help her rise to the top. Missandei speaks 19 languages and starts off as Daenerys’ interpreter.
A Prince of Dorn, Oberyn Martell may be considered a disadvantaged minority in our world, being ethnic and of the LBTGQ community, but in Westeros, it’s not his background that disadvantages him, it’s his need for revenge and his overconfidence. Knowledgeable, fierce and a proud family man, he lives a fulfilled life amongst the beautiful landscape of Dorn but despite all this, puts his own life – and the lives of his family – at risk to seek revenge. The result? He gets his head smashed in by the Mountain. In business, the outcome may not be as bloody, but the essence remains the same; there’s a fine line between confidence and over-confidence. The former helps you succeed but the latter can make you lose everything.
Another golden Lannister. Another over-privileged, wealthy white male. Only Jaime Lannister – also known as the Kingslayer – has lost a hand along the way and goes from becoming one of the fiercest fighters in the Seven Kingdoms to a man with a handicap. This doesn’t stop him from continuing as a highly accomplished military leader and relentlessly fighting, without losing his life or courage in the process. You wouldn’t go out of your way to hire someone whose appearance contradicted the job description, but maybe it’s worthwhile to look beyond the obvious at their experience, motivation and strength of character instead.
One of the few people of colour in Game of Thrones, Grey Worm is an ex-slave freed by Daenerys and the chosen leader of the Unsullied army. Fearless, loyal and focused, despite his difficult background and the abuse he has suffered from – including being castrated – he remains steadfast and strong in the face of hardship. Every business could benefit from a diligent and focussed worker like Grey Worm, and it’s a reminder that peoples’ pasts, as painful and challenging as they may have been, aren’t always a hindrance. For some, their past is a driving force behind their determination to succeed. Because of Grey Worm, Daenerys is where she is today: the ruler of Mereen, the liberator of Slavers Bay and well on her way to securing the iron throne.
And as a bonus let’s not forgot …
Perhaps one of the strongest of all characters in The Game of Thrones is Sansa Stark. From a spoilt little madam in season one, who bought into the lies told to her by the future King Joffrey, and who hated her sister Arya with her fondness for weapons, she was transformed. She suffered terribly at the hands of evil manipulators to emerge cynical, hardened and perceptive. “Sometimes when I’m trying to understand a person’s motives, I play a little game,” she said to Lord Baelish, echoing his words to her, but with merciless intent “I assume the worst. Later, and giving away only a minor spoiler to those who have not seen the final season, “I used to think you were the wisest man alive” she said to Tyrion Lannister— the implications were clear, she realised she was wiser.
She saved Jon Snow from defeat, and by the final season seemed to be emerging as the shrewdest of all players of the great game. It seems, however, that Sansa Stark has learned the hard lessons of her youth when her ambition was apparently limited to being the wife of a great man and is emerging as the most suitable candidate for the position: Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. She wouldn’t make half a bad CEO, either.
Game of Thrones is shown on the Sky platform in the UK