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Inspiration for HR in strengthening its position at the leadership table can come from many directions – but none more timely than the leadership lessons that can be learnt from Game of Thrones.
According to Bruce Craven, director of Columbia Business School’s Advanced Management Program: “The leadership decisions made by the characters in Game of Thrones sometimes result in devastating consequences, but the characters who survive learn how to improve their decisions and navigate risks more effectively.”
Although decisions made by senior HR professionals are – fortunately – not life-or-death decisions, managing risk is an important component of decision-making.
Craven, who runs an MBA “leadership through fiction” course at Columbia Business School, explains the narrative in Game of Thrones is a combination of mythology (dragons, sorcery, and the living dead are all elements of the story) and is drawn, in part, from actual history.
“It draws on and amplifies many past chronicles of leadership dilemmas and reversals. What looks like a reasonable decision at first can result in trusting the wrong person and being publicly executed. In our own world, we may not face literal execution, but we often must make decisions with similarly wrenching tensions and unpredictable results,” he says.
Ned Stark, Jon Snow and dragon tamer Daenerys Targaryen, as any viewer of the popular series is aware, are just three of the enormous cast of Game of Thrones characters who battle with the demands of leadership.
“The leaders in Game of Thrones are compelling examples because they are imperfect, under enormous stress, and dedicated to delivering results beyond their own individual betterment,” Craven explains.
In many ways, it’s a similar leadership conundrum faced by senior HR practitioners. No one is perfect and making important decisions based on complex information in a timely manner that can have a crucial impact on the company’s employees and bottom line is no easy task.
According to Craven: “Those of us who aspire to be better leaders tend to reach a moment when we understand our presence more completely. We have felt regret and remorse.”
But any fan of Game of Thrones may well recall the moment when Tyrion Lannister laments that the awful murders he has committed should disqualify him as a compassionate leader. He is somewhat redeemed when Lord Varys sums it up by saying: “I never said you were perfect.”
Similarly, HR professionals cannot expect to always get it right with their decision-making.
“We can’t expect perfection, but we can expect adventure … in a form that meets and matches our commitment,” Craven concludes.
Note: Parts of this are extracts from the article published on the strategy+business website. The full version can be found here.
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