Or "What We Can Learn About Influencing From The Masters Of The Game"

By Carolyn Crawford

Three prefacing comments before we get started today.

Firstly, if you’re not into Game of Thrones this may still be worth reading as the archetypes are universal.

Secondly, my apologies to the book-readers.  While I would chalk up ‘fantasy’ as my personal favourite genre, I’ve not gotten around to reading these, so my comments below are based on the tv series, superficial as that may be.

Finally, please be aware that I actually wrote this way back at the end of season three but forgot to post it so clearly things have changed for some of the characters since!

So I wanted to briefly, simply and light-heartedly draw on four key characters from the show, consider their influencing style, and focus on one in particular that I find interesting.

AN HONEST MAN: EDDARD STARK – affectionately known as Ned, the patriarch of the Stark family inspires great loyalty among family, friends and distant admirers alike.  A straight shooter, Ned influences others through his integrity, courage, level-headedness and quiet calm.  It was however his brutal honesty and perhaps political naivety with a poorly chosen target in the form of Cersei Lannister, that led to his ultimate and untimely demise.  If you, like me, were cringing during that ill-fated conversation, thinking “you fool – what are you doing?” your political instincts are alive and well and will hold you in good stead.

LESSON FOR US – aligning your actions with solid, strongly-held values is crucial to inspire commitment rather than compliance in your team, but don’t underestimate the political landscape and be thoughtful and planned in managing your key stakeholders, up, down and sideways.

THE AUTOCRAT: TYWIN LANNISTER – nothing like good old-fashioned positional power combined with crazy wealth and the most commanding on-screen presence, to influence and indeed control, the course of other people’s lives.  The only character capable of intimidating his grandson, King Joffrey, Tywin cuts a stunningly powerful authoritarian figure, dictating with an iron fist and holding the family and its future in his tight grip.

LESSON FOR US – nobody likes Tywin, not even his children!  If you’re planning to become a dictator of your own small, nuclear-empowered, authoritarian state, feel free to employ these tactics.  Commanding the troops can sometimes be necessary to achieve short-term deadlines, but it won’t inspire long term engagement, commitment, loyalty and sustainable results.

A SHREWD OPERATOR : OLENNA TYRELL – the divine, quick-witted grandmother of Margaery, elderly matriarch of House Tyrell, mother-in-law to the King and played by the inimitable Diana Rigg.  Lady Olenna influences with her sharp mind, sharper tongue, years of experience and political savvy.  The only character to match wits with Tywin, Olenna is an astute, behind-the-scenes manipulator, master of court politics and intrigue par excellence.  Not a woman to be messed with, she’s well connected and knows how to play the game.

LESSON FOR US – Be smart, do your research, know your audience, keep your friends close but your enemies closer, build your networks, seek knowledge, keep your eyes peeled, be observant, watch people’s body language, explore their motives, know their hot-buttons – the benefits and consequences that are meaningful for them – stay level-headed, focus on solutions not problems and never rest on your laurels.

THE GODDESS: DAENERYS TARGARYEN – The last confirmed member of the ancient Targaryen Dynasty, the exquisite young Daenerys seems destined for greatness, but not without some serious trials and tribulations along the way.  

Daenerys was appallingly mistreated by her brother and others in her childhood and her experiences have left her with a deep compassion as she moves into roles of power and leadership.

What I find interesting in Daenerys is her growth as a character from timid, victimised child to strong, confident young woman, with a powerful belief in herself, her birthright and her own strong moral compass. She is clear thinking, true to her values and follows through with serious consequences for those who cross her, yet remains open to input from her advisers who are by no means ‘yes-men’ and has a natural instinct for democracy, granting freedom to slaves who repay her with their undying commitment and loyalty.  It’s these qualities that I consider make Daenerys a natural leader and the reason her followers regard her with such respect and love.

As an orator her messages are simple, strong and clear. "Unsullied! Slay the masters, slay the soldiers, slay every man who holds a whip, but harm no child. Strike the chains off every slave you see!"  Her style is measured and commanding yet based in truth and humanity, and you can actively see her seeking feedback from her audience, monitoring their response and flexing course, or perhaps language choice, accordingly.  

Finally of course there is an air of vulnerability about this child-queen.  Enemies and potential enemies abound. She is surrounded by warriors who could betray and crush her in an instant and respect has been precarious and hard-fought every step of the way.

In short, Daenerys Stormborn is the kind of leader many of us would both like to work with and aspire to be. Granted it’s useful to have a team of script-writers behind you and dragons on your side, Daenerys still provides us with a useful role model of a fair-minded, even-tempered, visionary with a clear direction and caring but firm demeanour.

LESSONS FOR US – We don’t have to be born into royalty to learn lessons from Daenerys.  We are all capable of developing self-awareness, emotional control, open-mindedness, flexibility, interest in others’ well-being, and clear, calm direction.  We can influence with our example as confident, centred leaders, we can be transparent with some of our own uncertainties and vulnerabilities, be collaborative and seek feedback, but also make the tough decisions when necessary.   And as a young woman in an often brutal, male-centric world, she also provides us with no excuses for sub-optimal leadership and influencing behaviour!

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