Game of Thrones is exhilarating, suspenseful, and engaging. HBO’s cultural juggernaut is popular for its portrayal of powerful characters and mind games, as well as scenes of violence and nudity. More than just a television show, it offers a trove of leadership lessons for managing tasks and people and implementing change. What sets it apart is the emergence of strong female characters over the eight seasons, women who are not afraid to break barriers and challenge the status quo. From Arya Stark to Lady Olenna, the much-loved fantasy drama has brought us some of the most powerful and inspiring female characters on screen, who touch us with their rawness, charisma, courage, and their ability to fight back. Each of these characters has left their mark as the show wrapped up with the finale.
Let’s take a look back at the lessons that each lady of Game of Thrones has taught us about leadership through their journeys.
Arya Stark is a headstrong feisty girl who combats gender stereotypes and does her own thing from the start as an independent young girl, swapping fancy dresses and sewing for swords and sparring. She has been consumed by revenge since the first season, but the way she has guided her energy towards her goal is a reminder that if you desire something deeply, you will work towards achieving it. Arya reminds us of the values of the choices we must make in life. From overcoming fear to responding to threat, she has a presence of mind, ability to take quick decisions, and wields the sword when needed. Her vulnerability, yet innate strength, makes her an indispensable character of the series. She is a fierce warrior who hasn’t detached herself from emotional connections.
“Swift as a deer, quiet as a shadow. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Strong as a bear. Fierce as a wolverine. Fear cuts deeper than swords. The man who fears losing has already lost. Fear cuts deeper than swords.”
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Daenerys Targaryen’s evolution from a sheltered girl to someone who seeks to reclaim the Iron Throne has not been without its trials and tribulations. However, through those hardships, she has emerged stronger and taught us that leadership requires courage. Being a leader is not for the faint-hearted as it requires pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and being unafraid to face obstacles. While all the characters have been waiting for the ‘Prince That Was Promised’, the Mother of Dragons knows better than to sit around waiting to be saved. Daenerys is opposed to slavery, and her portrayal of a just and fearless leader with a kind heart, has made her the queen that people follow because they trust her. She has had an impact on many people as a leader during the Liberation of Slaver’s Bay military campaign, through which she succeeds in officially abolishing the system of slavery. Ultimately, leadership is about being able to have an impact on people, organisations, and society at large.
“None of you are fit to lead the Dothraki. But I am, so I will.”
From being a naive young girl, who always dreamt of being married to a prince and having a wonderful life ever after, Sansa Stark has battled against all odds and has evolved and surprised everyone. Sansa has emerged as a resilient woman who has found her way back home. Sansa is a reminder to us that despite the hatred, the abuse, and the fear that we live in, we know we need to control our inner strength and fight back when the time is right. Sansa inherently showcases leadership when she asks others to collaborate with her. It is because of her asking the Knights of the Vale for help that the tide of the Battle of the Bastards turns and Jon Snow could defeat Ramsay Bolton. Similarly, she is not shy to approach other houses in the North and ask for their support to fight against an eventual attack by the White Walkers. Leaders know that they cannot accomplish their goals in isolation. Throughout your career, it will be necessary to work with others and seek help in order to progress.
“I am Sansa Stark of Winterfell. This is my home. And you can’t frighten me.”
Cersei Lannister is power hungry and ruthless. She is a good negotiator, and even in the face of failure and setbacks, she bounces back with a vengeance. She is a shrewd political opponent, one who is not scared to play a tough card. But she is also a mother, and her heart bleeds for her children. Cersei’s character seeks power with undivided focus, and that is something we can all learn from her. Women are shut out from boardrooms, from decision-making arenas, and from places where people seek power, but Cersei is a reminder that women should pull out their own chairs and lead with confidence. Cersei has proven that she’s more than a pretty face and potential wife; she’s a great, albeit devious, political and military mind.
“Power’ is power.”
Brienne of Tarth
Brienne of Tarth turns heads everywhere she goes, not just because of her iron-clad personality but because of her exceptional fighting skills. She is powerful and fiercely loyal, preferring to be a knight rather than a lady who waits to be rescued. With her sword, the Oathkeeper, she protects the weak and shows her battle talents to the men who deride her with sexist comments. She is a lone wolf, fearless, loyal and brave, that makes her unique. In the battle against the Army of the Dead impending, Jamie knights Brienne, making her the presumed first female knight in all the seven kingdoms. As she heads out to fight the Army of the Dead, it is clear that with every swing of her sword, Brienne of Tarth destroys limiting gender stereotypes.
“All my life men like you have sneered at me. And all my life I’ve been knocking men like you into the dust.”
Lyanna Mormont is just 10 years old but has the wisdom, grace, and aura of someone much older. She is competent, a decision maker, and puts forth her views without fear. For her age, she truly queens through the way she conducts herself. She systematically called out the leaders of other houses, all of them men, all of them decades older than her, for failing to support House Stark, to which they had pledged their allegiance. Both loyal and brave, she leads by example. Lyanna astutely surrounds herself with advisors and consults with them as necessary. Being a strong leader entails having self-awareness with respect to your strengths and weaknesses. Understanding where you excel and where you do not can help you successfully lead professionally, and even personally.
“I don’t plan on knitting by the fire while men fight for me. I might be small and I might be a girl, but I am every bit as much a Northerner as you. And I don’t need your permission to defend the North.”
Yara Greyjoy defies the traditional gender roles as she commands her own ships. A fierce warrior and a staunch leader, she seeks discipline and loyalty from her men. Though her journey has not been an easy one, she has always stood by her brother Theon. And when she faces defeat, she is never the one to give up. She draws upon her communication skills to announce that she plans to succeed her father on the Salt Throne as she has experience leading her people on the seas. As a leader, having effective communication skills is imperative in order to share your vision with others.
“We’d like you to help us murder an uncle or two, who don’t think a woman’s fit to rule.”
Ellaria Sand’s character is full of shockers. She witnesses the gruesome death of her lover Obyren at the hands of Lannisters, and watched her daughter being poisoned by Cersei. As a mother, she is protective of her children and fights for them, but she also seeks revenge. She is smart to understand and acknowledge that revenge is not about the fight and can take many forms. When her king refuses to lead the rebellion, she takes on the charge and runs the revolution herself to seek justice. She teaches us that leadership, at times, is about taking the appropriate decision by conscience and being prepared to justify the actions.
“We don’t need an army to start a war”
Melisandre is a priest, who combines beauty and magical powers. She wields power and authority because of her magical powers and knowledge. Melisandre has made a name for herself, and while she always projects serenity and makes the magic she does look very simple, she has a hidden side and a cruel streak too. While Melisandre may not always be a favourite with the audience, she reminds us that it is important to have faith in our abilities and to not underestimate our skills and power.
“The brightest flame casts the darkest shadows”
The ‘tart-tongued’ Queen of Thorns, Lady Olenna is never shy about voicing her opinions. The matriarchal head of her house, she is quietly always two steps ahead of everyone, planning to keep her family safe. She is confident, even when other characters underestimate her for being older, and a woman. She leads with style, sharp wit, and sassiness till her final moments. She portrays that leadership requires forethought and caution.
“I’ve known a great number of clever men. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored all of them.”
There are multiple facets and qualities that encompass leadership and the ladies of Game of Thrones demonstrate most of them. Thanks to these women for teaching us about leadership through their pivotal and resonating roles in the series.