Game of Thrones is one of the most highly anticipated and entertaining series this year, and arguably the most popular show of all time. But what can it teach you about how to advance your career? It turns out a lot!
Business can be competitive, even cutthroat. As we head into the final season, the characters, settings, and plot twists throughout the series offer a rich education on how you can climb the career ladder.
Whether you’re negotiating a deal at the deadline or simply battling to keep your small business afloat, here are 7 lessons you can take away from Game of Thrones.
Caution: If you aren’t caught up to season 8 there are spoilers in this post.
1 – Utilize Your Strengths and Ignore What Other People Think of You
Tyrion Lannister has become one of the most loved characters in the series. What he lacks in stature, he makes up for in wit. However, early on, he was often looked down upon and dismissed by many. Yet, he managed to not only survive but thrive and become the Hand of the Queen because he learned to utilize his intellect and didn’t dwell on what others thought of him. He knows he’ll never be a warrior on the battlefield, so he uses his mind to study his opponents, form strategies, build alliances and execute his plans. Tyrion doesn’t try to be someone that he’s not – he knows who he is and does not apologize for it. He was able to take a poor situation where his entire family hates him (except his brother, Jamie), and become a respected advisor to the queen.
You must be unapologetic about who you are and use that to your advantage in your career. Identify your strengths, then build on and highlight them to climb the ladder. Don’t shy away or try to be someone you’re not, because others can see right through it. Quit seeking approval from others – it doesn’t matter what they think. If they have a problem with you or resent your success, that’s their problem to deal with, not yours.
2 – Surround Yourself with People Smarter Than You
There have been major character transformations throughout the series, possibly none bigger than Daenerys Targaryen. In the first season, Daenerys was a confused, young girl being sold off to a Dothraki warlord. Now, she’s a queen and a formidable leader with a burgeoning army and one of the best positioned to sit on the Iron Throne, as we head into the final season. Along the way, she surrounded herself with counsel from wise, more experienced people, such as Jorah Mormont, Ser Barristan Selmy, Missandei, Greyworm, and Tywin Lannister. This diverse group brought fresh, new perspectives to every situation. They pushed her to be better and offered her sage advice, but at the end of the day, she was able to take counsel and make her own decisions.
Surround yourself with people more successful than you. This may be one of the biggest secrets to success in life IMHO. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so make sure you’re spending time with badasses. Study after study proves that someone who spends more time around skinnier people will lose weight; someone who spends time with smarter people will increase his IQ; if someone spends more time with wealthier people will increase his net worth. Decide where you want to go in your career, then surround yourself with people that will help you get there.
3 – Be Versatile and Develop the Growth Mindset
Arya Stark was forced into exile to evade her captures after her father was beheaded, at the end of the first season. She survived by disguising herself as a boy, learning how to fight, escaping captivity from The Hound, training to become a faceless man, all before finally returning to Winterfell to be reunited with her surviving family. She is now, without a doubt, one of the most badass characters in the show. Without being able to adapt and learn new skills, she could have easily been one of the countless deaths of characters that came and went over the seasons.
You never know what hand you’ll be dealt in life, but you must do what you can to make the most of it by adapting to the situation at hand. Did you just get laid off? Don’t dwell on it, but rather use that motivation to find an even better position. Didn’t get the promotion you wanted? Use that as a learning opportunity to find your blindspot and build your skills. By maintaining a growth mindset, you will overcome any obstacle. Success in work (and almost every area of human endeavor) can be dramatically influenced by how we think about building our skills, talents and abilities.
4 – Always Lead Others with Integrity and by Example
For Jon Snow, sitting on the Throne was never an option. In fact, leading was never his goal. Yet through the strength of this character, he rose to a position of authority by showing mercy, always stays true to his word and leading by example. He always knew what he had to do, even when it was not the popular choice. Yet, he fearlessly accepted the challenge, which led others to ultimately put their faith in him.
Joffrey Baratheon is the best example of how not to lead – by fear, greed and pride. In the end, he got what he deserved (much to the pleasure of the viewers).
One of my favorite leadership quotes in business speaks to this well: “Your title makes you a manager, your people make you a leader.” When you treat people with compassion, stay loyal to them, and lead by example, you will go far in your career and your life. Being a leader doesn’t mean you have all of the right answers, but it does mean always leading with integrity. It means you are committed to other’s success more than your own. It means always doing the right thing, especially when it’s difficult, you’re alone, or when it may be hard for you to swallow at that moment. Today, if you want to be a leader, you must be partners with your people, and you’ll succeed together.
5 – Always Keep Your Promises
One of the most powerful illustrations of this lesson came in one of the most gruesome scenes in the series – the Red Wedding. To secure passage through the Green Fork at the vital crossing of the Twins, Robb, the eldest legitimate son of Lord Eddard Stark, and heir to Winterfell, agreed to the marriage to one of Walder Frey’s daughters or granddaughters. However, he broke his promise, and the Stark family paid dearly for it in the massacre. Tywin Lannister understood Walder Frey’s goal of being respected by the other great lords of Westeros, so when Rob went back on his word, Tywin seized the opportunity and schemed with Walder to get his revenge.
You are only as good as your word, and you must back your words with actions. You must be someone that others can count on, and in return, you will be able to count on them when the time comes. The business world is small, and you never know who is going to tell what to a prospect, colleague or future employers. How you do anything is how you do everything, so once you break one promise, there’s no telling what else you’ll be willing to break.
6 – Never Stop Learning – Knowledge is Power
Samwell Tarly is one of the most likable and valued characters in the series, but not because he has great swordsmanship or is the most charismatic Brothers of the Night’s Watch. In fact, he’s quite the opposite. The knowledge that he gains from reading all of the books in his father’s library and studying to become a master has been invaluable – from his knowledge that dragon glass kills White Walkers, to how to cure Jorah Mormont of Greyscale, to learning Jon Snow’s true identity. Like Tyrion, Sam’s value is in the power of his mind.
I don’t know one highly successful person who isn’t hungry for more knowledge. With the democratization of information and ubiquity of technology, it’s never been easier to improve yourself, gain new skills, and get ahead in life. Knowledge is power, and it’s yours for the taking. Want to learn Salesforce or Marketo? There are communities for that. Want to learn data analytics or product management. There are courses and classes for that. Want to learn leadership? There are books written on the topic.
7 – Network, Network, Network
Lord Varys was born a slave and suffered unspeakable things in his youth. He learned to survive by first stealing food, then later by trading secrets. Over the years, he built a network of “little birds” (i.e., spies and informants) that gave him information about the wealthy and powerful. His reputation preceded him, and eventually landed a position on the Small Council as Master of Whisperers. Though it was often unclear where his intentions lay, there is no one more informed with all of the current events (both public and private) than Lord Varys.
Having a strong network can open many new doors and opportunities. From landing your next job, to finding mentors, to getting valuable insights into what’s going on in the industry, having a network will help you get ahead. It’s an ongoing process that requires persistence, care, planning, and compassion. The key to networking is to focus on being a giver, not a taker – show them the value you bring to the table, and they’ll offer value in return. And don’t let the biggest myth about networking get in your way – you don’t have to be an extravert to be good and leverage the power of networking!
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