I’m a big fan of movies and TV. Blockbusters, small independent films, comedies, dramas, sci-fi/fantasy, you name it. The only genre I don’t watch is horror, mainly because I find them derivative and have figured out the plot 10 minutes in and lose interest in seeing a bath of blood and gore for the next 80 minutes. One of the reasons I enjoy watching TV and movies isn’t simply to veg out on a weekend on the couch with my husband and our three Doxies; it’s to learn something that I can use in my career.
One of my current favorite series to watch (and I have many of them) is Game of Thrones. You would have to have lived in an underground bunker covered by Mount Everest to have missed the phenomenon that is GOT. There are so many great characters that I love (or love to hate) within the show, but my favorite character is Tyrion Lannister. I’ll get back to why I love his character so much in a bit.
I can already hear you asking what on earth you can learn from Game of Thrones that is relevant in any way to a modern career? Quite a bit actually. Game of Thrones, just like some of my other favorite shows including The Tudors, Outlander and Victoria are far more than just historical costume dramas; they are an in-depth study at power and politics. While there is war and violence in these shows, they are far heavier on political intrigue. Anyone who has ever worked with another human being in any type or size of business knows that there are politics and intrigue within any organization, so watching these shows can be a fascinating study. These shows can help you learn how to successfully navigate political currents within an organization, and ultimately how to get what you want.
As Cersei Lannister famously warned Ned Stark in the first season of the show:
Survival is the name of the game in this show, as legions of fans who have seen beloved favorite characters meet violent ends can testify. Sitting on the Iron Throne and ruling over the Seven Kingdoms is more of a burden than a goal, as several occupants of the chair have discovered.
What I find most useful about shows like this is that they really are a microcosm of human nature. We all know someone who is a Cersei, an Eddard, a Brienne or a Jorah. These characters are exaggerations of human nature to be sure, all good entertainment is an exaggeration. But an exaggeration is a powerful teaching tool if you recognize the kernel of truth that resides at the core of the character. Everyone on the show is motivated by something. For some it is love. For some it is gold. For some it is power. Just like people you work with. We all have different motivating factors in the workplace, and discovering what those factors are is an important key in achieving your workplace goals.
Some of us are better at playing the workplace Game of Thrones than others. We all know people who seem to be constantly trying to curry favor with those who have power, like Varys or to a darker extent like Littlefinger. They may fly high for a time, but their collapses also tend to be rather spectacular. We all know people who are more like the pre-Season 6 Sansa Stark, people who are easily led and don’t seem to have much in the way of a backbone. We all know people like Denarys, people who are so dedicated to a single task or project that they lose sight of what is going on around them, typically to their peril. My hope is that none of us work with a Joffrey Lannister or a Ramsey Bolton!
This brings me back to Tyrion Lannister, my favorite GOT character. I love him for many reasons, not least among them his snark and wit (snark and wit are also the hallmark of another favorite TV character, Sir Edmund Blackadder from BBC’s Blackadder Series). He also has some of the best quotes in the series, including these personal favorites:
But one of the reasons I love his character is because of what you learn from him as you watch him navigate the seasons of the show. He is a survivor, and the reason he is a survivor isn’t because of his physical strength or his eloquence; he is a survivor because of his soft skills. He knows how to read people, how to win friends and influence people. His powers of observation are keen, and he knows how to use those observations to determine the best path to take to get where he is trying to go.
I know some people do not like him because of these abilities. They see him as a manipulator, which is a fair charge. But being able to manipulate a person or a situation isn’t necessarily bad. What makes it good or bad depends on what you are manipulating the person into doing. If you are using these skills to manipulate someone into doing some bad, immoral, illegal or against their will, then clearly it is wrong. But anyone who has ever been in a leadership position knows that being able to manipulate people or situations is vital to business survival in a VUCA world.
There is a name for this in the business world: Change Management. If you think about it, Change Management is essentially the art of getting other people to make a change that you want them to make. I deal with this regularly when I work on Software Conversion Projects, and I’ve blogged about some tips for it in this post on Software Conversions as told by Young Frankenstein. Watching Tyrion navigate the Game of Thrones provides excellent examples of how being skilled at dealing with people can not only lead to career success…it might just save your life.
For a more in-depth look at Tyrion’s genius, check out this video from Charisma On Command’s YouTube Channel: Tyrion’s Genius and be sure to check out the entire channel for great leadership and negotiation advice!