Game of Thrones Leadership Series: what we can learn from Jon Snow

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​If you’re among the millions of viewers tuning in to season 8 of Game of Thrones, chances are you’ve got an opinion on who should rule the iron throne. According to Statista, the character that viewers of the hit HBO series would vote for to rule is none other than Jon Snow.

Jon Snow Credit: HBO

So, what is it about Jon Snow that makes him a natural born leader but others who strive to rule fall flat on their faces? To celebrate the final season of the hit HBO series, we are exploring leadership styles of the (surviving) contenders to the throne, and the lessons they can teach us about leadership in the real world.

Jon Snow – The Authentic Leader

Far from ambitious, Jon Snow has ascended from a lowly member of the Nights Watch, up to Lord Commander culminating in taking the ancient title of King of the North without so much as expressing an interest to lead. So how did he win the hearts and minds of his team mates and followers without this visible ambition?

Lesson 1: Authentic leaders are mission-driven, not ego-driven

What is Cersei Lannister’s vision as Queen? What was Robert Baratheon’s vision as King? What was Joffrey’s? All three characters have sat on the Iron Throne, but somehow it’s hard for us to remember what their vision was without thinking really hard about it. And yet, Jon’s vision echoes loud and clear in our minds: “I want to fight for the side that fights for the living”. Jon’s vision is clear and powerful; The people of Westeros need to set aside their differences and stop the invasion of the White Walkers. What makes Jon such a galvanising leader is his strong commitment towards achieving this ultimate goal. Jon’s compelling vision and his conviction towards it played a key factor in rallying (most) of the Seven Kingdoms to support his cause.

That said, you don’t need to be up against an undead army led by a steel-eyed zombie king in order to create a resonating vision of your own.

Powerful visions that make a significant impact on customer and employee satisfaction – the bottom line of any business – possess certain characteristics: conciseness, clarity, abstractness, challenge, future orientation, stability, and desirability or the ability to inspire.

- Katabutra and Avery (2010)

Lesson 2: Authentic leaders lead with heart.

Jon Snow is a prime example that you don’t need to be given a title like “Manager” or “Team Leader” (or in this case, “Lord Commander”) to be an inspiring people leader. Actions speak louder than words when it comes to leadership, and Jon has clearly demonstrated strong leadership behaviours, despite not being explicitly placed ‘in charge’ of anything. In Season 1 Episode 4, Jon chose to stand up for Samwell Tarley when he is bullied by other members of the Night’s Watch for his lack of fighting prowess, and even volunteered to coach his team member on how to defend himself with a sword.

When it came time for The Watch to elect their Lord Commander, it was his new ally Sam who nominated Jon and delivered a rousing speech which played a significant role in him winning the popular vote.

According to Harvard Business School Professor, and former Medtronic CEO Bill George in his 2003 book “Authentic leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value”

Authentic leaders use their natural abilities, but they also recognize their shortcomings, and work hard to overcome them. They lead with purpose, meaning, and values. They build enduring relationships with people. Others follow them because they know where they stand. They are consistent and self-disciplined. When their principles are tested, they refuse to compromise
- Bill Gore, 2003

Lesson 3: Authentic Leaders consistently uphold their values and do not compromise.

Despite not being Ned Stark’s biological son, most of us can agree that Jon Snow is the most “Ned-like” out of all the Stark children. Ned was the bastion of honour and integrity, a man you could trust and take at his word. Ned’s famous words? “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword”, which is essentially about taking full accountability for your own actions. Jon echoed Ned’s integrity in his own actions as a leader throughout the show.

Integrity has been described as adhering to what one believes to be right, especially when a price is paid in foregoing immediate gain. So, by ‘leading with integrity’ we are talking about behaviours in the leader that seek to yield the most moral outcomes, even when there is a cost (however short-term) to the leader as a result.

- Shacklock, Arthur, Lewis & Melea (2007)

In the finale of Season 7, reigning queen Cersei Lannister agrees to form an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen to fight the White Walkers, on one condition, that Jon promises to not take sides during the war. She even adds “I know Ned Stark’s son will be true to his word”. However, having ‘bent the knee’ to Daenerys, Jon tells Cersei that he will not be able to keep that promise and breaks the potential alliance. When asked by the exasperated Tyrion why he couldn’t learn how to lie “just a bit” to make the deal, Jon responds by saying that he was not going to make an oath he couldn’t keep, and that “Words have to mean something, or there are no more answers, only better lies”

Jon was willing to sacrifice short-term gain instead of compromising on his values of accountability and transparency.

Research suggests that employees are likely to go above and beyond the call of duty for ethical leaders that they trust. Having followers who are willing to go ‘above and beyond’ will be crucial for Jon in his fight against the Night’s King and his undead army.

Have you ever worked with a leader who has demonstrated these authentic qualities? Chances are they are not big on self-promotion, so give them a shout out in the comments section below!

If you liked this article, you’ll love Lessons in Leadership from King Joffrey

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