Business Leadership Lessons from Game of Thrones and the House of Stark

Celestix CEO Tim Ager recently took a look at what business leaders can learn from Game of Thrones, and more specifically from hero Ned Stark's successes and mistakes. Here's what you need to know so you don't lose your head.

Jessica Davis

June 10, 2013

3 Min Read
In spite of his previous success and his high level of integrity Ned Stark was unable to adapt to his new career role
In spite of his previous success and his high level of integrity, Ned Stark was unable to adapt to his new career role.

Rob Stark is dead, the Stark family will never be reunited at Winterfell or anywhere else and the hopes of the heroes have fallen to ruin. That’s basically the summary as season 3 of Game of Thrones comes to a close. What’s that got to do with managed services and business? Celestix CEO Tim Ager recently pointed out in his blog that the first season of this HBO series can provide useful lessons in leadership and management, especially if you don’t want to “lose your head” as hero Ned Stark did. Here’s Ager’s advice about how to take your career to the next level.

Ager notes that Ned Stark begins the series as a successful leader, but is put to the test when he reluctantly accepts the position as the “Hand of the King” – basically the COO who must deal with the day–to-day business of the Kingdom of Westeros.

As Ager points out, Stark has an impressive resume that he brings to the job:

  • Born into a noble family and well educated

  • Trained in leadership and warfare

  • Successful in numerous campaigns over many years

  • Obtained multiple accolades relating to his achievements

  • Ruler of the Northern Territory

  • Trusted friend, right hand man, and supporter of the King

As Ager notes: “So you have done well, specialized in your core competency, earned your spurs, and have progressed your career. One look at your resume shows your exemplary credentials. And then you are asked to step up and become a VP or join the C-level suite.”

Ager argues that the same skills that got you into your new job are not the same ones that will enable you to be successful there.

His new role as Hand puts Stark in a new situation, amid others who hold power but who have different agendas. Stark has no experience in such matters, having spent his career commanding subordinates and never cultivating the skill of dealing with the ambiguities of politics.

And while any argument that criticizes Ned Stark, the hero of the first season who retained his integrity and morality in spite of horrendous circumstances, will likely be met by GOT fans and Stark fans as heresy, Ager is right. Ned didn’t adapt to his new circumstances and all the characters continue to feel the repercussions of that at the end of season 3.  But does that mean you should change who you are to fit your new role?

“Now I am not for one minute suggesting that based on poor old Ned’s experience you change everything and transform yourself into something you are not. After all your strengths are the principal reason why you have been asked to step up and lead on a broader scale,” Ager wrote. “However, we should all heed the allegory of Ned Stark, and realize that if we do not adapt into our new leadership roles we stand a greater chance of failure. Successful leadership is about many things and it means different things in different organizations, but a foundation of successful leadership is to continue being good at what we have done while adapting to be successful enough at the things we haven’t done.”

We look forward to more GOT management and leadership lessons from Ager, as season 3 ends. Any forensics on Rob Stark's mistakes? Danerys' triumphs? Jon Snow's career path?

Meanwhile, have you gleaned any management wisdom from books, movies or television? Tell us in the comments. 

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About the Author(s)

Jessica Davis

Jessica Davis is the former Content Director for MSPmentor. She spent her career covering the intersection of business and technology.  She's also served as Editor in Chief at Channel Insider and held senior editorial roles at InfoWorld and Electronic News.

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