On its surface, Game of Thrones is a bloody look at a continent engulfed in war. But just as the Sun Tzu classic The Art of War inspired a number of lessons for business leaders, so too can the politics behind the hit medieval fantasy series currently in its fifth season on HBO.
Here are four lessons B2B business leaders can take from Westeros’ would-be rulers and those working the strings behind the scenes.
[Spoiler alert! Obviously]
Don’t act impulsively, and listen to everyone on your team
Daenerys Targaryen found herself in a leadership position after her husband, Khal Drogo, died. Daenerys decides to set up shop in Meereen, a city not completely friendly to her, and she struggles with her desire for vengeance. Going against the words of her advisers, she brutally kills people rather than seeking justice another way, and her decisions do not come without consequence.
Takeaway: As CEO, you are ultimately left to make the big decisions. Sometimes you will have a more insight into solutions, but remember that many colleagues may have more strategic ideas than you do. Sometimes they’ll be wrong, but sometimes they might give you an insight you’ve never considered before. Weight all your options before you make a decision or face plunging confidence from your partners or investors.
Find the big problem among the smaller ones
After a devastating loss at the Battle of Blackwater, Stannis Baratheon finds himself least likely to sit on the Iron Throne. But eventually, with the help of Davos Seaworth, he comes to realize that his war for the throne isn’t the biggest problem plaguing Westeros — it’s what lies beyond the Wall. He is the only would-be king to actually devote soldiers to defending the Wall, which would doom the entire continent if breeched.
Takeaway: A business is never without its problems. Maybe your employees’ morale is low. Or your business clients are agonizingly slow to pay you on time. Maybe your social media engagement is down. These are real problems, but there might be something bigger causing them. Perhaps your workplace policies need some fine-tuning. Your invoicing system could be reaching out to clients too late. Perhaps your website has faulty code and is making the user experience unfriendly. Moving up beyond the minor annoyances may help patch huge holes in your business.
See the actionable data
When Robb Stark was campaigning as King in the North, the young leader lacked fighting experience but more than made up for it as a masterful tactician. He had an intricate plan to capture the bloodthirsty Gregor Clegane (nicknamed the Mountain), with men positioned in multiple areas to draw Clegane west and encircle him. However, Edmure Tully acted without orders and retook a useless position, drawing Clegane away and preventing Robb from completing a brilliant military move.
Takeaway: In order to sell more product or deliver more services, you need to know your customers better. To do that, you rely on data, which can give you both broad and specific outlooks on the targeted demographic. Sift through the data to hone in on what exactly you can do to tweak your sales process. Is your sign-up experience too cumbersome? Maybe your data is telling you people tend to quit halfway through. Is your website intuitive? Your data might say no, if time spent on site is miniscule. Business clients are especially impatient, so you have to confirm every aspect of working with your company isn’t frustrating for your clients.
Do what’s right, not what’s comfortable
As the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow has a lot more responsibility, and he could have chosen to take the business-as-usual approach of the 997 Lord Commanders before him. Instead, he recognizes the growing threat of the White Walkers and decides on a radical change — he wants to let the wildlings, traditionally the enemies, to live south of the wall. Though his men are against it, he goes through with the decision for the greater good.
Takeaway: Let’s say you are about to acquire another B2B company, in order to better boost your product visibility and/or achieve profitability. Such a decision could make you unpopular in the office, especially if firing staff is an outcome from this acquisition. But you won’t be lauded for every move you make; instead, keep your integrity as a business leader if you truly think such an acquisition will be a wise move for the firm overall.
Finally, here’s a bonus quote from spymaster and council member Varys, a motto that could apply to how your firm can impact the B2B space, no matter your staffing numbers or years of experience:
“A very small man can cast a very wide shadow.”