Leadership lessons from the Seven Kingdoms

Pointed lessons: There's lots to be learned about leadership from the kings and queens of "Game of Thrones."
By KEN CERINI, CPA, and ETHAN DeABREU //

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen Season 6 of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” you may want to stop here.

Eventually, Eddard Stark was bound to be correct. Winter is here. Everything is on the line. You have stared into the abyss, and you see that war and annihilation await. Who will lead you to an untimely demise? Who can lead you to salvation?

You can ask the same questions regarding your business or place of employment. What type of leader is in charge? Is the leadership style effective?

“Game of Thrones” shows that many different leadership styles exist and not all leaders are effective. But plenty can be learned from the leadership styles of those currently in charge (with a little help from the Myers Briggs Type Indicator).

 

Jon Snow (INFJ), the King of the North

“Winter is coming” is the motto of the Stark family, though this might not necessarily apply to Jon anymore. The Song of Fire and Ice dwells within him. Will he lead us into battle against true desolation, the White Walkers, or will he be the herald of our demise?

Solidarity: As Jon has demonstrated repeatedly, he is not afraid to fight with his men on the front line. For a leader to initiate the charge speaks volumes about his character; he would not ask his men to do something he would not do himself.

Inspiration: A leader inspires righteous actions from his followers. In Season 5, Jon gave a speech to the “free folk” and convinced them to look past their differences and see their unity in suffering. Unity in suffering is a humbling thought, and it motivated them, and they joined the supreme commander in battle.

Passion: A raw flame, when controlled, can illuminate a path unseen, but when feral, can burn down all structure. During the battle of Winterfell, Jon’s, brother/cousin Rickon was struck down by Ramsey (in notoriously sadistic fashion). Watching Rickon die ignited a rage in Jon. Consumed by revenge, he abandoned his strategic positioning and ran straight into what was obviously a trap, at the expense of his men’s lives.

Ken Cerini: Look Westeros.

Leadership Traits: A leader’s greatest strength is often his or her greatest weakness. Jon clearly leads by example; he will rage into battle to inspire his men. But he can also get caught up in the moment, taking unnecessary risks with unplanned consequences.

Lesson: Leading by example to motivate others can be effective, but you still need to ensure that you weigh the risks and make appropriate decisions to move your business forward. Push too hard, and it could cost you key employees.

Daenerys Targaryen (ENFJ), Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons

Daenerys continues to be a strong female role model. She is entrenched in her moral values and does whatever she believes necessary to move her moral agenda forward.

Well-equipped: Personally, we’d rather be on the side that doesn’t have to fight 2-ton, flying, fire-breathing dragons, an army of unsullied and a vast navy. Daenerys has repeatedly been able to acquire the resources she needs to build a formidable company, whether through trade, force or reason.

Charismatic and reliable: Daenerys is perceptive and can identify the strengths and weaknesses of her force. Through inspiring rhetoric, she fans the flame that burns inside them. She is also a leader who prides herself on keeping her word; when she makes a promise, she sees it through. Throughout the series she has consistently fulfilled her promises with relative swiftness – but how would she fare in the face of defeat?

Idealistic: Deanerys’ altruistic nature derives from her idealistic mentality. She sees the world for what it could be, rather than what it is. Idealism is admirable until it gets out of hand. Daenerys is the type to see to the end something she deems “just,” even if it’s a losing battle. Will her ideals lead to salvation or destruction?

Leadership Traits: Daenerys understands the power of people and resources. She’s able to motivate people around a common cause, based upon equal rights, etc.

Lesson: Daenerys’ somewhat socialistic attitude would make for a great union leader, elevating all people to equal status and motivating them toward a common goal. In Daenerys’ world, the ends often justify the means.

Petyr Baelish (INTJ): Lord Protector of the Vale

Petyr was not born into royalty. He worked his way up as a businessman, partaking in the oldest profession: prostitution.

Adroit strategist: Petyr is an opportunist in every sense of the word. He quietly bides his time as he executes his plans (and enemies) with dexterity and precision. For example, he despised Ned Stark for years for marrying the woman he loved; it’s entirely likely he fantasized about the exact moment of Ned’s demise thousands of times. When Joffrey was king, the opportunity to eliminate his foe arose, so he did just that. Petyr successfully “played politics” for decades, all the while holding that grudge, and was patient enough to wait for the opportune moment to strike – while bearing the weight of his anguish at seeing the woman he loved with another man.

Arrogance: The unfortunate downside to being a genius is you grow comfortable with the idea that no one is smarter than you. Underestimating your opponent is the most foolish thing you can do, even if your foe is actually less intelligent. Even fools can get lucky. It’s entirely likely that Petyr will be the harbinger of his own demise, because he will be outwitted by a “less intelligent” foe – and when his façade of composure and restraint dissipates, we will see the beast within. In addition, Petyr develops alliances out of necessity, rather than camaraderie, and is perfectly willing to turn on his allies and befriend his enemies, if it furthers his position. He’s the type of leader who would throw his employees under the bus (or through the sky hole) to get ahead.

Leadership Traits: While Petyr may come across as an ally, looking to cooperate for mutual advancement, in the end it’s all about his own advancement. Petyr is the type of leader who can’t be trusted.

Lesson: Beware the self-motivated, biding time to usurp power and take over the company. Also: It’s imperative for a leader to be levelheaded. A person who is ruled by emotion is more likely to make mistakes.

Cersei Lannister (ESFJ): Queen Regent of the Seven Kingdoms

Cersei was born into power and money. She sees her leadership as divine and believes she’s above the “peasants” who work for her. She’s the opposite of Daeneyrs in that she believes in a class system, and that people should stay in their own class.

Ethan DeAbreu: Winter soldier.

Effective: She’s entirely Machiavellian in nature, but you have to admit she’s effective in achieving her goals. Cersei is entirely capable of leadership. But her reign is consistently interrupted by the claims of insufferable people itching for the throne, aka Joffrey (demon child) and Tomen (utterly spineless puppet). When her own son wouldn’t save her from imprisonment, her entire identity was humiliatingly stripped from her. The church and the Tyrells thought they’d successfully replaced her authority with their own, but in one fell swoop, Cersei simultaneously eradicated all immediate threats to her control – and seized her revenge.

Antipathy: Cersei no longer has a drop of compassion in her. The only thing she’d ever loved was her children. Now all three have been taken from her, and she is a woman with nothing to lose. Someone with nothing to lose can be true: Unfortunately, Cersei’s true self is a power-hungry fiend who doesn’t care whom she has to kill or manipulate to achieve her objectives. Such leadership inspires a rationale for betrayal.

Leadership Traits: Cersei leads with an iron fist and a “my way or the highway” attitude. She’ll try to crush the competition, but not always in the most strategic or cost-effective way.

Lesson: It’s better to be loved than feared. And it’s funny how the ones closest to us are often the ones who interfere with our goals.

Now imagine that busy season at work is coming. The office busy season is comparable to the coming of winter (if you substitute disgruntled customers for dragons and deadlines for wars).

You can survive busy season by following (or providing) exceptional leadership. A strong leader naturally combines the best traits of those “Game of Thrones” characters.

An effective leader understands solidarity. The boss should never ask something of his employees he isn’t willing to do himself. And if she asks you stay late, she should be prepared to do the same, and buy pizza.

A little charisma goes a long way. The boss shapes the office culture through his or her actions. An upbeat personality and greetings with sincere smiles will improve everyone’s day. A Box of Joe from Dunkin’ Donuts every once in a while can’t hurt, either. Such simple gestures can bring a little bit of joy and inspiration to even the biggest morning grouch.

If at first you don’t succeed, strategize. The boss needs to have a coherent plan of attack for the busy season. It’s important to reflect upon the previous year to see where operations could have ran more smoothly, and then improve upon those systems. If the boss fails to create order in the camp, the soldiers will be grossly unprepared on the battlefield.

Furthermore, a boss must be effective. You can strategize all you want, but if you fail to employ the tactics you envision, then you will be ineffective. To execute a plan swiftly, you must reinforce the key elements of the mission to your employees. By promoting a consistent and coherent dogma of performance expectation, there can be no miscommunication.

Lastly, remember that your employees are human. Utilize empathy to understand their needs. Create an environment where new ideas can emerge. Be patient and attentive.

If you follow these guidelines, you and your team will survive and thrive, even through your busy season. And you’ll dispatch projects, deadlines and the occasional White Walker with ease.

Mr. Cerini is a certified public accountant and managing partner of Bohemia-based accounting firm Cerini & Associates LLP. Mr. DeAbreu is a staff accountant at the firm.