The Skills You Need to Win Game of Thrones (And How to Learn Them)
July 17, 2017
Game of Thrones is like no other scripted show in the history of television.
First off, it’s one of the most expensive shows in history, costing $100 million for just 10 episodes for Season 6. And it’s also one of the most popular, drawing 23 million people per episode and becoming a culture phenomenon, despite being on HBO behind a paywall.
But it’s also the most like business. Like business, it’s nearly impossible to predict, with main characters dying off in seemingly every episode. And, like business, it’s not about legacy or being a great “warrior”, but instead about having the right skills at the right time.
Additionally, those skills needed to ultimately sit on the Iron Throne as king or queen of Westeros aren’t that much different than the skills needed to win in business. They are:
1. Managing difficult conversations.
Some people in Game of Thrones are excellent at handling difficult conversations and can turn potential enemies into allies. Others… not so good.
For example, Ned Stark famously makes allies with his bastard “son”, Jon Snow. While Ned died in the first season, Jon avenges his father’s death, reclaims the North and remains forever loyal to him.
Conversely, Roose Bolton also has a bastard son, Ramsay Bolton. While their relationship is strong at first, Roose doesn’t handle a difficult conversation well with Ramsay when he announces he’s having another, non-bastard child. In response, Ramsay kills Roose, only to later fall to Jon.
Same with business. There are key conversations you’ll have with people throughout your career that could go either way – either they’ll become a friend for life, or you’ll lose them forever. You want to keep allies, not create enemies, so managing those conversations is crucial.
A LinkedIn Learning course that teaches that skill: Having Difficult Conversations
2. Managing politics.
Obviously, politics are front-and-center in Game of Thrones. The people who are great at managing them – Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, Varys – manage to stay alive, whereas those who ignore them – King Robert Baratheon – tend to die.
Business it’s the same way. Sure, we’d all like to live in a world where politics don’t exist, but that’s just not reality. You don’t need to be sleazy, but by managing interoffice politics, you ensure they don’t manage you.
A LinkedIn Learning course that teaches that skill: Managing Office Politics
3. Motivating the masses.
While she's from a family that had ruled for centuries, Daenerys Targaryen starts with nothing in Game of Thrones. No army, no resources; almost nothing needed to win the Iron Throne and become queen of Westeros.
So what did she do? She motivated the masses, getting thousands of people to join her based on her strength of personality alone. While she fell on hard times occasionally, her ability to motivate and inspire entire cities has given her the resources she needs to reclaim Westeros for the Targaryens.
It’s not that much different in business. You can overcome virtually any shortcoming in work today if you have a clear vision and are able inspire others to join it with you.
A LinkedIn Learning course that teaches that skill: Developing Executive Presence
4. Being resourceful.
Perhaps the most likeable character in the whole show is Tyrion Lannister, an imp described in the books as the ugliest man in Westeros. The youngest and least physically imposing of the three Lannister siblings, Tyrion seemingly has no place having any impact on the Iron Throne.
On top of that, he has consistently found himself in situations where his life is on the line, from being imprisoned in the Vale to being under attack by the great warlord Stannis Baratheon when serving as the Hand to the King. And yet time and time again, despite impossible odds, he has managed to rip victory from the claws of defeat.
Because he’s smart but also because he’s incredibly resourceful. Whereas others would see something as a limitation, Tyrion finds ways to turn it into an advantage. That includes his own height, as it causes his opponents to underestimate him, which he takes advantage of.
In business, it’s the same way. Nothing is neither good nor bad, it’s simply how you use it. For example, being a startup competing against a giant company has both disadvantages (less resources, not as well known) and advantages (more agile, an opportunity to disrupt the industry). Resourceful people like Tyrion focus on the advantages.
A LinkedIn Learning course that teaches that skill: Developing Resourcefulness
5. Knowing how to say no.
Here’s an underrated quality that has lead to the death of many in Game of Thrones. There’s no better example than Ned Stark.
In the first season of the show, Ned is asked leave his job as King in the North to serve as Hand of the King to his friend, Robert Baratheon. This isn’t a good role for him: Ned is not comfortable down south in King’s Landing, where the king lives. And yet, despite protests from his wife, he agrees to do it out of loyalty to Robert.
The decision proves costly. Ultimately, both Ned and Robert are killed in the first season by the Lannisters and the Starks’ would later lose the North because of it. Ned should have said no, but he let his friendship cloud his better judgment.
This is the same for business. Too often, professionals say yes to things that aren’t the right fit. Almost always, this proves costly. Just like in the Game of Thrones, to win in business, you need to be very careful about what you say yes to.
A LinkedIn Learning course that teaches that skill: Learning to Say No
Jon Snow… he’s one the favorites to become the King of Westeros. That’s pretty remarkable, considering what he’s been through.
First off, he was raised a bastard and then sent to the Wall to serve as a member of the Night’s Watch. That’s basically the worst job ever: you have to stand in freezing cold for the rest of your life protecting the world from giants and the undead, and you aren’t even allowed to have a girlfriend.
While serving on the Wall, he breaks the rules and gets a girlfriend, only to see her die in front of him during an epic battle with the wildlings. He somehow manages to survive all of that to become leader of the Night’s Watch, only for his men to rebel against him and stab him to death.
Somehow, he comes back to life, only to leave the Night’s Watch for good – something allegedly punishable by death – to lead an army to reclaim the North. Here, he almost dies again, except he gets bailed out by soldiers from the Vale sent from Sansa Stark at the last minute.
The point? Jon Snow has so many qualities that should have lead to his end a long time ago: low confidence, little ability to lead the masses, he’s not a great strategist, he lets his emotions get the best of him at times, etc. So how is he possibly still going, furthermore a favorite to win the Iron Throne?
Failure has never stopped Jon Snow. Heck, even his own death didn’t stop him, he just keeps on pushing forward in the very jagged route he’s taking toward the Iron Throne.
In business, we all make mistakes. Some of us will make almost as many mistakes as Jon Snow. And yet, the people who ultimately win, who ultimately triumph over the masses never let those mistakes define them – they just keep on keeping on.
A LinkedIn Learning course that teaches that skill: Building Resilience