- Blog post
Game of Thrones: Compelling characters, but terrible managers
Sunday night I watched as HBO premiered the second season of Game of Thrones, the award-winning TV series based on the fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin. For those unfamiliar, the series is about wealthy families vying for power in a medieval land filled with dragons, wolves the size of horses and undead warriors.
In the premiere, we saw three armed factions at war over who would claim the throne, recently vacated by the death of King Robert. And there’s a common theme among the three leaders that should interest you whether you’re a Thrones watcher or not:
All three would make terrible managers.
Let’s analyze the management shortcomings of each pretender to the throne, and try to derive a how-not-to lesson from each.
1) First there’s Joffrey, the spoiled 13-year-old who (falsely) believes the kingdom is his by birthright and abuses his subjects just for fun. Joffrey’s only goal is to assert his own authority, and he kills or humiliates anyone who dares question him.
Why he’d make a terrible manager: Let’s leave aside the fact that Joffrey is an insufferable brat. Presumably you don’t have any of those among your managers. But you may have some command-and-control types, and that’s what’s wrong with Joffrey’s style. Sure, a command-and-control manager may be great in an emergency, like if the castle…ahem, building… is on fire, but in everyday dealings, employees will eventually come to resent a tyrannical Joffrey type.
2) Next there’s Robb Stark. Robb went to war after Joffrey killed his father, King Robert’s second-in-command. Before long, Robb’s army started referring to him as “King in the North” (referring to Robb’s homeland).
Why he’d make a terrible manager: Robb has been thrust into his new role without any training or guidance. One minute he’s a loyal son, doing as his lord father commands. The next, he’s leading an army of thousands, and stuck trying to manage all the conflicts and disasters that come with the job. Robb is doing the best he can under the circumstances, but it’s not really good enough. Let Robb be a reminder to your organization not to promote employees without training them properly ahead of time.
3) Finally there’s King Robert’s brother, Stannis. Stannis is a capable leader. But he’s icy and detached, and he spends most of his time seeking the counsel of a mysterious priestess, rather than listening to the advice of the people around him.
Why he’d make a terrible manager: Arms-length managers like Stannis don’t do very well in the modern workplace. It’s not that managers should try to be best friends with their employees, but they do need to be available for guidance and encouragement. Stannis could stand to be a little more hands-on. Oh, and another thing: Don’t cultivate a Stannisian air of secrecy. Tell employees as much as you can, and let them know that if you keep some things confidential, there’s a good reason.
Hopefully being a manager in your organization isn’t as perilous as sitting on the Iron Throne of Westeros. But these three would-be kings can still provide useful lessons about management in your organization.
Readers: Can you think of any other management lessons to be learned from Game of Thrones? Share them in the comments (but please be respectful of those who haven’t read the books and refrain from giving away any spoilers).