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Leadership Lessons from Our Favourite Jon Snow

Business Communication 29th September 2016 Mitali Bose

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Spoiler Alert: This article is not meant for anyone who’s not read the books or watched every single episode in the series.

Game of Thrones, one of the most popular fantasy television series in history, offers many lessons to its viewers. Each character has a trait that we can take lessons from – be it learning the advantages of networking well from Lord Varys or learning diplomacy from Petyr Baelish. Among the hundreds of characters that make up the storyline is the fan favourite – Jon Snow. Jon’s story has been followed closely right from Season 1 and he is one character who has evolved over the 6 seasons from “You know nothing, Jon Snow” to a seasoned leader, who knows a lot more than most people down south in King’s Landing. Naturally, he has plenty of leadership lessons to give.

Here are 5 lessons in leadership to learn from Jon Snow, whether you are a first-timer or a seasoned leader –

Walk the talk

Jon Snow walks the talks. As Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, it would have been easy for him stay safe on the boat at Hardhome, keeping a distance between himself and the raging war between the living and the White Walkers. Instead, he leads his fellow men from the front and fights with them against the enemy. Despite being wounded, he does not leave the battlefield until he sees there is no hope for him and his army. He not only kills one of the White Walker generals but also tries to gather as many Wildings as Black brothers to safety as he can.
It is absolutely essential for leaders to practice what they preach. If you want results from your team, you have to lead by example. Support your expectations from your team through your actions. It is the best way to inspire the trust of the people you are leading.

Be courageous

There is no doubt that Jon is courageous. He doesn’t shy away from going to the battlefield or even to face the unknown. Time and again Jon proves his being courageous, whether it is when he walks into the Wilding camp to negotiate with Mance Rayder and the Wildings to convince them to fight with the Watch against the Others, or at Hardhome, when he faces the army of the Night’s King. He is determined to fight till the end to save his people. His courage is what eventually makes people trust in him and follow him.

Unless you display courage as a leader, you cannot inspire faith and trust in your subordinates. It is one of the essentials of being a leader. Display mettle in the face of adversity and have the courage to face challenges head-on.

Be a visionary and seek strategic alliances

While practically everyone south of the Wall is against the idea of letting the Wildings cross the Wall, Jon Snow sees the bigger picture and knows that Winter has come. He knows that the Night’s King is advancing and that they do not have the means to stall their advance yet. The best solution, in this instance, is to stop the White Walkers from increasing their numbers by getting people from beyond the wall out of their reach. It is not to say that he also manages to put to rest the age-old fight between the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch, to an extent. He knows that the Watch doesn’t have enough men to stave off Wildings as well as Others.

To be effective, a leader needs to be visionary and foresee what is good for the team and the organization, at large. It is also important for them to recognize the fact that they can’t do it all on their own. They need to reach out for partnerships, as and when needed.

Be open to learning

One of the best traits of Jon Snow is that he is always grounded like all leaders should be. That is in fact one of the most important leadership lessons we see him give. Being selected as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch doesn’t stop him from seeking counsel from Maester Aemon. Jon knows he’s the youngest person to earn the title and has no delusion about the fact that there are a lot of things that he doesn’t know. He is open to learning from anyone who has good advice and useful knowledge for him. Be it Maester Aemon, Samwell Tarly, Ygritte, or Davos Seaworth, Jon always keeps his mind open towards his quest for knowledge.

Whether you are a first-time leader or an experienced one, Always be wary of the ‘I-know-it-all’ syndrome. It will hamper your development as a person and a professional, making you and your learning stagnant.

Find the right balance between compassion and control

Throughout the first four and a half seasons, Jon is known more for his compassion than control and we often think is he does have leadership. While everyone else bullies Sam, Jon stands up for him which is a true sign of a leader. In the fight at Castle Black between the Watch and the Wildlings, he lets Ygritte go when he comes face-to-face with her. It is Olly who ends up putting an arrow through her. When Mance Rayder is put to death by fire, Jon puts an arrow to his heart to save him from prolonged agony. At the same time, Jon displays control when he beheads Janos Slynt for disobeying him. He also displays control as a leader when he hangs the four men who stabbed him to death.

Both compassion and control are essential traits for a leader to possess. They have to find the right balance between the two and display the right trait at the right time to be effective in their leadership skills.

Be yourself

While Jon displays all the traits of being a good leader, he doesn’t forget who he is. He internalizes the diktat Be Yourself. In Season 1, Tyrion Lannister tells Jon Snow, “Never forget who you are; wear it like an honour, and then it can never be used against you”. Whether intentionally or not, Jon follows this advice. He is as authentic as it gets. There is no pretense about him. He recognizes and accepts who he is, his faults, et al. He knows how to play to his strengths, as well as knows his shortcomings and does his best to overcome them and grow as an individual.

Good leadership entails that you be yourself and don’t get swayed by what others want you to be. Genuine leaders don’t try to be someone else and you may not necessarily find them giving leadership lessons. They, instead, work towards making themselves better. Sometimes you have to keep an eye open to learn.


This article was first published in Times Ascent. It can be found here.

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