Do you know how to ride a dragon? #GameofThrones leadership lessons from Jon Snow

Do you know how to ride a dragon? #GameofThrones leadership lessons from Jon Snow


Spoiler alert: if you haven’t watched Game of Thrones season 8 episode 1, bookmark this page.

In the most recent episode of Game of Thrones , we discovered that Jon Snow can in fact ride a dragon. Despite the fact he didn’t think he could ride a dragon, once he tried, he soared.

New things can be difficult. Ok, sure. You won’t be attempting to ride a dragon anytime soon. But this episode does bring up a good leadership lesson. Especially for new leaders. We frequently look at things we haven’t done with trepidation and uncertainty. Even a bit of anxiety. However, once we take those first steps into the unknown, we often find we can soar just as Jon did.

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Being a leader is like riding a dragon. Few really know “how” to do it until they try. Many just step into the role – hang on – start to lead and see what works. As was the case with Jon Snow when he took (until recently) the title of King in the North.

So how can you learn to soar as a leader?

Take risks: Taking risks is part of the job. Especially risks that can have a positive impact on the business and people you lead. I don’t just mean business risk. When people see leaders step outside of their comfort zone, show vulnerability and be transparent, it inspires trust in those they lead. Leaders need to take risks, hopefully thought out calculated risks, but risks nonetheless. You need to climb up on the back of that dragon if you’re going to fly. Jon Snow has taken many risks over the years. Some didn’t work out quite as he had hoped; however, he hasn’t let that stand in his way. And his willingness and determination have inspired loyalty and trust in those he leads.  

Build trust: Trust is a fundamental behavior for any successful relationship, both personal and professional. Trust and confidence in leadership is the single most reliable predictor of team performance and satisfaction in an organization. Trust must be earned. Jon Snow didn’t just stroll up the dragon and hop on its back. He spent time in the trenches (literally) with the dragons. He fought side by side with them. He spent time trying to understand them and communicate with them. This all helped establish trust. If a new leader is to soar, they must spend the time earning the trust of those they lead.

Show compassion: The basis of good leadership is honorable character and selfless service to the organization; compassion for people and both their professional and personal situations. Jon Snow has shown many examples of compassion over the years. He’s not shy with showing empathy. When a person is deciding if they respect a leader and wish to support them, they don’t think about attributes, rather they see what leaders do. Observations can often tell people if a leader is an honorable and trusted person or a self-serving person. One who abuses authority for personal gain (like Cersei Lannister.) When leaders show compassion and understanding for their followers and their situations, it becomes easier for them to notice that their leaders are interested and concerned, and this only further increases their support in both the leader and their cause.

Communicate with transparency: Great leaders are honest, open, and transparent. They share their passions and make no excuses for supporting the causes they believe in. Jon Snow is so transparent, and his words and actions congruent, that his transparency in communication inspired engagement and followership. He was able to unify the North and build alliances to support his cause. Whether leading in battle or in business, successful leaders are transparent in why they believe in a cause or made a decision;they’re open about their thought process and share how their actions may directly impact others.

Take accountability: Good leaders just own it – the good or bad! And Jon Snow owns it. As those who watch Game of Thrones are well aware, breaking your word can cost you pretty much everything. If you’re embroiled with the Lannister’s, maybe it will cost you your life. But in general, breaking your word can cost you your relationships with employees, stakeholders, and customers. Acknowledge that things don’t always go exactly as planned. Don’t whine and make excuses. Be a grown up, be honest, transparent, accountable, and authentic. Make an effort to relate to what those you lead are going through and share next steps you plan to take to reevaluate and improve. Take accountability for your decisions. Honor your commitments. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Don’t over promise and under deliver.

So, if you want to soar as a leader, here are a few things to remember. Don’t be afraid to ride the dragon. Build trust and trust carefully. Don’t discard empathy and compassion. Communicate with honesty and authenticity. Keep your commitments and remain accountable. And don’t be afraid to course correct as needed!

Photo credit: HBO Game of Thrones


About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Senior Advisor, Communications and Change, at Tolero Solutions. He helps clients in achieving success through people, creating organizations where people enjoy working and customers enjoy doing business.

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