5 Leadership Styles Spotted on Game of Thrones: Which One Are You?


Times like these, when it’s the dead against the living, is when true organizational leadership stands out. But what leadership?

In the past decade (and seven seasons) Game of Thrones has exposed us to several types of leadership and followed the outcomes of perusing each one. Some characters showed a persistent type of leadership, consistently sticking to what they know, while others evolved with time, adapting to the players around them.

So as we’re about to conclude one of the finest eras of television, it’s time to explore the leaders of Games of Thrones, and think: which one are we, and how our type of leadership best fits our environment.

The Autocratic, Self-Serving Leader: Cerci Lannister

Cerci never became a leader by winning the popular vote. She has consistently manipulated her way to the top, convinced she knows what’s best, with the sole aspiration to rule and be on top. While surrounding herself with advisors, she always made sure their pieces of advice best serves her and her way of thinking. Disagree with her way of thinking? You’re out. Simple as that.

She is feared untrusted, and people follow her because they have to, or because they believe it’s their best chance of survival.

Cerci Lannister might seem like a bit too much, but she’s not so far away from some contemporary, real-life leaders. According to a study conducted by APA in 2014, only half of the employees believe their managers are open with them. The same study shows that 32% of employees believe their employers are now always honest and truthful with them.

The autocratic leaders are characterized by individual control, and they tend to make choices based on their ideas and judgment, rather than accept advice from people who might have better expertise in certain fields.

But not all is bad, I mean, Cerci is one of the few who made it to the end. Autocratic leaders can make decisions quickly and work well under stress. In times where strong, decisive leadership is needed – they step up and shine, and they have a clear vision and oversight of their chain of command.

The Laissez-Faire Leader: Sansa Stark

When Sansa takes over for Jon Snow, ruling Winterfell until her brother’s return, she doesn’t exactly take over. Instead, she lets things run their course and trusts that people know what they're doing. True, there have been some exceptions (we’ll all miss you, Littlefinger,) but overall, Sansa Stark is the Laissez-faire leader, or the “negative” leader.

This type of leader is “hands off” most of the time, allowing team members to make and execute their own decisions with minimal or no interference. This type of leadership tends to lead to the lowest productivity, which might explain why it took Sansa such a long time to actually rule, after years of being abused and tossed from hand to hand across Westeros.

This type of leadership best works with groups who have all the needed skills and motivation. Their teams can also thrive if they’re creative and independent and if the leader provides them with needed instructions before a project begins.

Otherwise, the laissez-faire leader can show poor performance and outcomes. Such leaders may also appear as uninvolved and suffer from lack of support. Moreover, team members may feel a bit confused as to their roles in the team, without being given structured responsibilities.

The Charismatic Leader: Jamie Lannister

Think of all of the times Jamie Lannister could have been killed, and yet – survived. This was, always, thanks to his charming smile and overwhelming charisma. Somehow, in spite of the many-many bad things he had done, he managed to get people to like him.

Just like a good charismatic leader, Jamie managed to transform others’ values and beliefs to fit his needs. He actually managed to get different people from different houses and different goals to follow his lead. True, he has gone through a significant process of change, and it appears as if he is truly evolving and willing to change his ways, but during most of the show’s run, he was good ol’ Jamie with his killer persuasion skill.

Charismatic leaders are highly confident in their way and pose a strong desire to influence others. They are also usually visionaries, and even though it appeared as if Jamie was mostly following his sister’s wishes, it became clearer with time that he has a strategy of his own, and a path of his own to follow. Still, he managed to step outside her claws and gain allies with minimum objection and resentment.

On the other hand, they are also self-focused and don’t care much for developing their team members’ skills. Under the charismatic leader, people tend to give up their visions and creativity, because the leader’s plans appear as “better.” This type of leaders may not best fit rigid regulations of processes that must be followed within the organizational process.

The Coaching Leader: Tyrion Lannister

Tyrion is the ultimate coach of Game of Thrones. He chooses his followers carefully and then starts to teach, constantly pointing where improvement is encouraged. He has successfully done so throughout the show, with a clear distinction in results between those who listened (Daenerys, Varys, Missandei, and Grey Worm) and those who haven’t (his father, nephew, and sister, for instance.)

Coaching leadership works best when individuals need to build long-term capabilities, which means the processes take a bit longer. But the results are worth the wait, as team members become motivated and more productive in the long run. This leadership is also characterized by frequent, well-done reviews, leading to improvement.

Not anyone can be a coach, though. There’s a thin line between coaching and micromanaging and it’s important to always make sure this line is not being crossed.

The Transactional Leader: Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons. This title alone screams “transactional leader,” and like a good transactional leader, Daenerys sets clear goals and then works with her team to accomplish them. If you’re doing a good job, you will be rewarded. Fail to do your part and you’ll be punished (or killed in various, creative ways.)

Just like the name suggests, transactional leadership means a transaction-like relationship between the leader and the follower. Those who wish to follow the goal must obey the leader and follow their path. This means there’s a clear set of defined roles in the team, and everyone knows exactly what they need to do, under the supervision of the leader.

In this type of leadership, there’s not a lot of room for creativity, which is best shown in how Daenerys doesn’t necessarily tend to follow her advisors’ advice. She listens, considers, and in many times still chooses her own path, insisting everyone would follow it. The transactional leader also provides constant feedback- clarifying what is expected of followers’ performance; explaining how to meet such expectations; and allocating rewards that are contingent on meeting objectives.

The Transformational Leader: Jon Snow

Jon Snow is perhaps the most involved leader on this list. This makes him a transformational leader, which means he’s focused on initiating change not only within the organization but also in his team, other teams and even in himself.

Because of their devotion and the way they empower their teams, transformational leaders tend to have more committed followers, which can explain how Jon Snow, a shy, quiet type, became a leader almost forcibly, without ever intending.

Transformational leaders tend to be passionate, emotionally intelligent and energetic, which makes them perhaps the most effective leaders. They are not only committed to helping the organization achieve its goals, but also to helping individuals amongst the group to fulfill their potential.

Just like Jon Snow, transformational leaders tend to be fair and a model of integrity. They set high expectations, but are single-handedly committed to helping the team reach those goals.

On the other hand, if transformational leaders make bad decisions, there’s a good chance that their followers won’t even notice, as they will be focused on following and pursuing the common goal. This can lead to some negative implications. Moreover, having a set of high expectations and a clear goal to reach, transformational leaders may demand long working hours, and team members, who feel committed, will follow through. This can lead to churn and burn-out (or mutiny, if you live in Westeros.)

Originally posted on April 14, 2019

Nicole Green
Written by Nicole Green

Editor and lead writer of It's All About the People blog and a Learning and Development adviser to LetzNav

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