Leadership Lessons From the Leading Ladies of Game of Thrones

By: Neenu Kainth

As all the critics and fans of Game of Thrones (GoT) prepared for the excitement, alliances, betrayals, violence and sex for season 5 on April 12th, the timing is perfect to review the leadership lessons from the leading ladies of GoT for the first four seasons. While it can be difficult to embrace the workings of characters set in fictional continents in a fantasy world, there are still timeless leadership lessons these ladies teach us.

Catelyn Stark: Be Driven by a Purpose

Catelyn has a strong sense of purpose as she continuously speaks out against war and vengeance in the show. Even though her opinions and thoughts are challenged and ignored in the show by others because she is a woman and mother, she shares her advice. Over the course of the show, she loses almost everything but still continues to believe that war and vengeance are misguided.

Leaders in non-profit could define purpose more clearly while leaders in for-profit struggle to define purpose given the strong focus on margins, revenue and other key company metrics. No matter what sector of the economy we work in, there has to be a larger purpose that one believes in. It is incumbent upon leaders to figure out what their purpose is and how they will seek to make a difference.

Arya Stark: Bold is Brilliant

There is a definition of "high-born" women in Arya's world and then there is Arya's definition of herself. Those two definitions have nothing in common. Arya's boldness in challenging gender stereotypes is very refreshing and she is able to get the support of the father and brothers. Her journey after the execution of her father, Ed Stark, takes her through many new experiences. She faces her new challenges with brilliance and adapts as needed to hold on to life and her freedom.

In today's world, Arya represents women who take on traditionally male dominated roles e.g. technology, investment banking and strategy consulting to name a few. Women in these fields constantly challenge the stereotypes and also have to define what works for them as individuals to be successful in their careers.

Sensa Stark: Embrace your Inner Girl

Sensa embodies a "high-born" woman of the GoT times. Her goals are simple -- be the perfect princess, find the perfect prince and live happily ever after. With these simple goals comes all the pretty dresses, lemon cakes, tears, politeness, curtsies and what not. At first glance, Sensa is very dependent and expects the men in her life to make her world perfect and simple. Over the course of the show and as the power play around her unravels, she figures out how to survive. She does not just survive, but she also makes direct impact by helping Ser Dontas when Joffrey is about to kill him.

In a world where more leaders are still male, it is easy to associate male traits with success and for aspiring women to want to reflect these traits. Women should be comfortable showcasing their "pinkalicious" self's if that is what defines them. Girls rock and there is power in pink if that's what you like.

Margaery Tyrell: Cleverness and Compassion Do Mix Well

Nothing sums up Margaery's goal more than her response "I want to be the queen" to Littlefinger's question on if she wants to be "a queen". With her goals set, Margaery is ready to do what it takes to be the queen of Kings Landing. During her journey to be queen, she uncovers the sadistic nature of Joffrey and cleverly plays along with him while maintaining her compassion towards the "commoners" of their kingdom. She not only maintains a cordial relationship with Sensa Stark, her main rival for the Joffrey's attention, but also hatches a plan to save her from Joffrey.

Many have at some point worked with or for someone whose success is built on intimidation and business ruthlessness. For those of us that will not intimidate others, leadership in such organizations seems unattainable. When one sees this happen, don't start to evaluate oneself, evaluate the organization and make your decision on distancing oneself from such a place.

Daenerys Targaryen: Leadership is Learned

Daenerys transforms from girl who wants to "just go home" to a mother of dragons. Along the way, we see her define and evolve her leadership. She listens to counseling from Jorah Mormant but at the same time holds steadfast on her anti-slavery message. She constantly showcases herself as an avid learner of leadership by holding court with her subjects and going through the painstaking process of ruling a people.

Good leadership is a learnt trait that is evolved over time. There is no doubt that there are some natural leaders but they are more the exception than the rule.

Cersei Lannister: Dirty Politics Does Exist

Apart from her undying love for her children, Cersei has very few admirable traits. She politicks unscrupulously, she is cunning, and she lies a lot. Cersei is Cersei. You need a character like Cersei to make a good show and GoT does that well. We all hope Cersei crossovers to real life do not exist but every so often , we do run into our own flavor of a Cersei. When you recognize your Cersei, don't run, you should overcome her or at least contain her.

As Season 5 unfolds, it will be interesting to see how these characters evolve. More interestingly, we continue to evolve in our leadership style as we seek to overcome our imperfections. When evolving and fixing those imperfections, keep in mind this quote from Tyrion Lannister "Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you."

Neenu Kainth is an executive with demonstrated success in developing and driving multiple, complex project initiatives in Fortune-50 companies to strengthen product portfolios, operations, and customer experience. Neenu holds a BS/MS degree in Computer Science from Arizona State and MBA from the Wharton School of Business. Neenu can be reached via LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/neenukainth