Lessons on Leadership Transition from Game of Thrones Episode 5

*** Article includes spoilers

Episode 5 of the Game of Thrones (GOT) was a case study on transitioning into a new leadership role. The lessons presented are absolutely NOT practices that should be followed and are couched in a cliché conundrum. “Do I want my people to love me or fear me?”

A little background, GOT documents a battle for ultimate power and control of the Iron Throne. There are seven kingdoms and a bunch of people who believe that they have a claim to the throne. Now that we have arrived at the final season, it is more of a smattering of contenders.

Last night, we witnessed Daenerys Targaryen’s approach to leading the kingdom. In deciding how she would transition into what she believes is her rightful place on the throne, she presented the false option of being loved or feared. Her real decision was whether she wanted to seize power despite the cost to the citizens of her kingdom or earn the loyalty and respect of her people.

Believing that the latter would take too much time or was unachievable, she chose to snatch power and establish a culture of fear through callous actions which in essence define who she will be as a ruler.

In the GOT realm, this type of brutality is pervasive and in some cases necessary to achieve an end goal.  What lessons however can we apply to real-world workplace situations?

Let’s be clear, stepping into a leadership role with an inherited team and constituency is challenging and necessitates decisions about how to manage and engage your people, however, whisking around the sky like the Wicked Witch of the West; committing war crimes in broad daylight is never the right way to command.

Instead of leveraging a title to wield authority and power, I opt for engagement and establishment of rapport to manage change and the shift of leadership.  In doing so, there are a few questions that guide me.

What are my assets?

As a new leader, an often overlooked asset is your leadership team. After several instances of transitioning new leaders into organizations and serving on several leadership teams, I see many benefits and uses for leadership teams. 

First, people on this team often know the community, staff, and board best. They also understand the key competitors of the organization and other relevant external and internal challenges. Their longevity, experience, and perspective are valuable. 

Unlike Ms. Targaryen, an effective leader listens to their leadership team and keeps them apprised of significant updates. Leaders help their advisors make informed decisions that benefit the organization.

It is not, however, enough to have a leadership team, convene them weekly, and even listen to their opinions. These teams have to be effective with validity defined by the leader and aligned with organizational goals. 

In my experience, there are a few fundamentals of useful leadership teams.

1. Effective leadership teams have a clear purpose and focus on clear objectives.  

2. These teams are diverse and represent essential perspectives of the organization.  While various views are present, organizational goals are the driving force behind these teams. 

3. Their time is well spent with leadership meetings resulting in clear takeaways and deliverables.

How do I build rapport and relationships?

Before we talk about how and even why building rapport is necessary, let’s understand that identifying stakeholders in your success as a leader is crucial.  Reaching out to staff is obvious but who else? Who are your partners? Who are your sponsors? Who from the community can you use as an advisor and mentor?

Dany Targaryen was an unknown commodity to the people of the North and King’s Landing. She knew very little about them or their pain points.  A lack of shared understanding is undoubtedly a challenge to a successful transition.

I am looking for insight into the organization, the community, and the field (past, present, and future). I like to format these discussions like an unofficial SWOT analysis. Inviting a team member for an afternoon coffee to get to know them better and understand what opportunities they see for the organization or their specific program is a typical method I’ve to initiate a conversation.

Whatever your style, it is crucial that you identify the right people to talk to and gather needs and perspectives from people integral to your success.

What is the foundation for working with my team and stakeholders?

The core of any working relationship is a purpose? People don’t follow leaders or support organizations just because they like them. They don’t stage coups simply because they hate the leader.

Individuals invest in contributing to the mission. Establishing and communicating that purpose is the job of leaders.

Choosing between leading by fear or love makes no sense.   Garnering the love of teams or making employees fear you are not sustainable methods for governing. Neither will last.

Engaging your team around a common purpose and defining associated objectives helps to identify what contributions are necessary and what roles teams members can play in the success of the organization.

In a medieval, fictional world, using a dragon as a key part of a leadership transition seems perfectly logical. In workplaces in the real world, it is better to avail ourselves of the power of communications and planning. Ensuring that people understand how they can participate in the shift and contribute to the future of the organization bolsters the likelihood of success.

What tactics have you used during a leadership shift?

Career Hack: How to Use Research During a Job Interview

If you are preparing for an interview, be prepared to hear “Make sure you research the company”. I make the recommendation ad nauseam to clients and friends.

On a few occasions, however, my advice has been met with a bewildered look and a few obvious questions. Why should I research the company? What am I looking for? What information is most important for me to know going into an interview? How can I use the research during the interview?

Understanding what a company does is key to successful interviewing. It is such an obvious reason to research a company that I won’t say much more about it.

Spending some time on a company’s website can help you dig deeper and understand what an organization stands for. Are corporate values posted on the website? What is its mission and vision for the future of the organization? Do they have a public diversity statement?

How is this helpful to you when preparing for an interview?

Understanding how the role you are applying for fits into the direction of the company is essential. You can tailor some of your responses to highlight experience that speaks to that direction and the work that will be necessary to accomplish those goals.

This is also time for you to prepare for the inevitable interview question, “Do you have any questions for us?”

Asking about how your role contributes to the strategic goals referenced on the website demonstrates that you are interested in a long-term engagement with the company.

Most importantly, researching the company at this level also serves an opportunity for you to vet the organization. Do the corporate values align with your purpose and the impact you want to make in this world? If you don’t have a clearly defined purpose, I encourage you to spend some time teasing that out.

What else should I look for?

Company reviews

In addition to scouring the company’s website, Google the company and read employee reviews. This is once again, me, encouraging you to recognize your power in this process. Interviews are an opportunity to decide if this is the right place to spend at least eight hours a day.

Reading employee reviews can provide some insight into the culture of an organization? Red flags are subjective because we all thrive in different environments but hearing from employees digitally could prompt you to ask to meet with a few employees before you accept an offer. Yes, you can do that!

Company reviews can be easily found on a host of sites including Glassdoor and LinkedIn.

Meet your interviewers

Why walk into an interview blind? When the meeting is scheduled, ask who you will be interviewing with and get to know them by checking out their profiles on LinkedIn.

It is not creepy, it is practical!

Knowing how long they have been with the company and what work they did prior to becoming decider of your fate will help you better communicate during the interview.

It also never hurts to know what the people look like before you walk into the room. I find it comforting and it helps me relax a bit.

Prepare for questions

When people say, “Everything is on the internet”, they mean it. Many companies have a preferred interview style (behavioral vs performance; panel vs individual). Sometimes this information is on the company’s website along with tips for preparing for an interview.

No really, make sure you review the human resources page for any tips and prep materials the company provides. 

Googling the company or specific interviewer can also show results about interview styles and go to questions that they like to ask. I definitely have a few “favorite” interview questions that I ask candidates.

Has researching a company prior to an interview helped you land a job?

Career Hack: Remove Useless Lists of Job Skills from your Resume

I know it feels super gangsta being the only one in the office who has mastered using the fax, printer, copy machine combo (if you don’t get the nod to Office Space, do better and watch that movie on whatever streaming service has it immediately).

Before you embark on your search for the movie, ask yourself two questions.

  1. Have you only included relevant, 21st-century skills on your resume?
  2. Does your resume convey who you are as a professional and all that you have to offer?

You are wasting space on your resume if you are listing your ability to use  Microsoft Office or be a team player. These are skills that are expected of any professional in the workforce today.

Use the valuable space on your resume to demonstrate your ability to be a leader or provide excellent customer service (inside and outside of your organization) using professional accomplishments that required those skills.

Check your resume for these out of date job skills that may be clogging your resume and adding no value.  Contact me for help to refresh an old resume.

Career Hack: How to Prepare for an Informational Interview

Last week, I was talking with a colleague who is preparing for the GRE. He is excited and very nervous about the test and about what happens after the exam because he is not sure exactly what type of graduate degree he wants to pursue.

We talked a little about his strategy for investigating career options. Currently, he is researching programs and “stalking” people on LinkedIn (his words, not mine).

I asked if he thought about reaching out to people via LinkedIn and actually asking for an informational interview. After recovering from the initial shock of me suggesting he speak to someone in real time, face to face; he agreed that it could be helpful.

Have you ever conducted an informational interview? If not, here are a few tips about “Preparing for an Informational Interview”.

Feel free to contact me if you need help thinking through a strategy for conducting informational interviews.