Some write off the TV show Game of Thrones (GoT for the fans) because they aren’t into magic and dragons. What they may not realize is that the defining themes of the show are, in fact, political intrigue, leadership, strategy, and public relations.
I. No one is indispensable
Characters get killed all the time in GoT, whether they are a nameless extra or a main character. It is harsh and makes many viewers uncomfortable (granted, the frequent bloodiness doesn’t help), but it is a valuable lesson that translates to business: no one is indispensable. No matter how good you are at your job, the company can probably – and should! – be able to survive without you.
This sounds cold, but in fact is critical to understand and embrace. If any one person was that important, they could never get promoted or evolve into another role. And they day they leave – whether it’s for another job, because their spouse is being relocated to a different country, or goodness forbids because of poor health – you would hope the company could go on.
In the case of founders and CEOs, the challenge lies in knowing when and how to step down, and ensure that your legacy lives on even if you do so (maybe not in the first six months to a few years, but at some point the question should cross your mind).
II. Leadership matters
Linked to #1, leadership matters. In GoT, some govern out of fear (mostly the Lannisters), others command respect (Daenerys and the Starks). Knowing your style can allow you to better understand its strengths and weaknesses, to adjust as needed and ideally surround yourself with a team that complements you.
The kind of leader you are will also depend on your goals and ambitions. Queen Cersei’s immutable desire to see the Lannisters win and be at the head of a thousand-year legacy means she will stop at nothing to get her way, even if it means killing innocents and burning down the enemy. Jon Snow, on the other hand, is focused on building alliances because he is not governed by ego but by a desire to live in peace and see people around him prosper.
Leadership is reflected in culture that then becomes the norm, so be aware that prioritizing efficiency over all else – for example – may lead to less camaraderie between colleagues and more of a cutthroat environment than a more people-centric approach.
III. Winter is coming
This is the motto of House Stark. It does not only refer to the long winter season that will kill anyone who does not have enough grain and food stored to last them a few years (yes, these are not your run-of-the-mill winters that last just a few months).
It also speaks to something darker; a threat that requires all human kingdoms to unite against if they wish to survive: the white walkers and their army of the dead, coming from beyond the wall in the North and threatening to take over the world.
Rest assured, I am not about to say you need to prepare for a zombie apocalypse.
As a business, you do however need to prepare for both predictable, seasonal challenges as well as bigger, global threats. What about your environmental impact? Are you contributing to climate change, whether knowingly or because your priorities lie elsewhere?
Every single company has a carbon footprint, and the opportunity to make things better or worse globally. Thinking that it is not your responsibility to fight climate change is the same as thinking that if an army of the dead takes over you will escape unscathed by ignoring them. No matter what field you are in, you can – and have a responsibility – to do your part for the environment.
IV. Always pay your debts
As the unofficial motto of the Lannisters, this is repeated again and again. Money cannot buy you happiness, but mismanaging it can saddle you with a host of issues including burnt bridges with partners and providers. Finances are usually the less exciting aspect of starting a company or working in a startup, but they are key to a sustainable business.
Taking this a step further, it is important to be a wo/man of your word. If you say you will do something, do it. Do not avoid difficult conversations or stick your head in the sand. Be the best version of the smart, honest, trustworthy version of yourself as possible. This will strengthen your relationships, your network, and your business.
V. Women are a force to contend with
Daenerys is the Mother of Dragons and the Breaker of Chains. Cersei stepped into the role of Queen of the Seven Kingdoms without a second thought. Arya refused to play dress-up and instead became a talented swordswoman and a force to be reckoned with. Sansa survived, evolved, and learned from the most and least honorable characters of the show, and is now back in the North to rule alongside Jon Snow. The list goes on.
Gone are the days when this – meaning both the GoT universe as well as our own – was a man’s world. That does not mean we have gender equality yet, but it does mean that women are no longer on the sidelines. Embrace it. Understand that women have always had the ability to multitask and juggle responsibilities, and that their nurturing instincts can be a powerful asset in business.
There is much more than can be gleaned from GoT, but to do so maybe you should start watching the show or read the books yourself – because no matter how busy you are, it can never hurt to take a break [LINK TO 3 TIPS EFFICIENCY STARTUPGRIND ARTICLE] and get inspired.