Brace Yourselves...Career Advice is Coming
Most people watch HBO's Game of Thrones for the rich characters, swordplay, and to see how the warring factions will end up determining who is the rightful King of Westeros. After all, George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world is a complex and intricate realm of love, deceit, backstabbing, and wonder that captures the imagination of millions.
But if you look closely, there is some legitimate career lessons in the show that can be applied to the real world.
From King Robert’s laziness to the perils of working for a bad boss (I’m looking at you Joffrey), Game of Thrones offers lots of do’s and don’ts that can be directly applied to the working world.
And yes, there are spoilers ahead so read at your own peril.
10. Never Stop Improving Yourself
Remember King Robert Baratheon? He was a once fierce warrior who won The War of the Usurper and claimed the Iron Throne through sheer strength and force.
But King Robert fell victim to something common to many people (even in the working world) – complacency.
After getting a cushy job ruling the kingdom, Robert let himself go. He began eating and drinking like crazy, paying more attention to feasts and women (other than his wife) than his job as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Although he was a decent man with good intentions, he lost focus, took his eyes off the prize, and never tried to improve himself.
As a result, his employees plotted against him, the kingdom devolved into chaos, and his evil son Joffrey (more on him later) began a short but horrible reign of terror. All because he thought he didn't need to keep working on his skills.
9. Don't Bite the Hand That Feeds You
Theon Greyjoy. Poor Theon.
Although he was plucked from his home after the Greyjoy Rebellion and made to serve as a ward to Ned Stark in Winterfell, it really wasn’t that bad. Theon befriended the Stark boys and was basically raised as a highborn lord, where he received an education, fighting skills, and more.
But Theon never could quite figure out where his loyalties belonged.
As a result, he turned on the Starks and captured Winterfell during a sneak attack. Except he quickly regretted it when he had to take action against the same people who helped raise him. His short stint as ruler of Winterfell was ill advised and eventually led to his capture by Ramsay Snow, subsequent torture (including castration), and years of living like an animal.
Long story short, when you have a good thing don’t screw it up by going against the people giving you every advantage. Lest you become Reek.
8. Trust Your Gut
Have you ever received an opportunity that would be a promotion and pays more money, yet you’re hesitant because it just doesn’t feel right? Well, maybe you should trust that gut instinct and carefully consider it.
Ned Stark had a good thing going as the Lord of Winterfell. He was a wise and just ruler of the North, where he truly loved living with his family and friends. He wasn’t super wealthy, but his job provided for his family and he lived better than most.
But then King Robert came to visit with an offer of making Ned “Hand of the King” – putting him second in command of the entire realm. Despite being offered a position most would jump at, Ned was doubtful. He worried about moving himself and his family to King’s Landing, a place of conniving treachery and morals unbefitting of a humble man of the North who lacked political aspirations. His wife also begged him not to go, and there was even a warning sign from the gods (the Dire Wolf being killed by the antler of a stag).
Despite all the warning signs, Ned went. And as a result of not trusting his instincts, he lost his head. Literally. Granted, the consequences won't be as extreme for workers, but the principle is still the same.
7. Become Indispensable
If you’re not high born (or a relative or friend of management in the real world), then you’ll have to work that much harder to set yourself apart and earn success.
Enter Petyr Baelish.
Despite humble beginnings, Petyr managed to maneuver his way into a top spot on the Small Council, as master of coin. No one really knows the financial situation of the realm, but Petyr always manages to juggle the debt and borrow accordingly, making him appear to be a financial wizard the Seven Kingdoms can’t do without.
But the ambitious Lord Baelish always has his sights set on the next big thing, and never stops working behind the scenes to achieve success. He eventually marries a rich woman and becomes Lord of the Vale, and also masterminded a coup to oust King Joffrey and change leadership.
Even though some of his efforts were underhanded to say the least, Petyr always remains relevant and never stops working and scheming behind closed doors to get ahead.
6. Take Advantage of Every Opportunity
Bronn was a largely forgettable sellsword. But then he met Tyrion Lannister and saw an opportunity.
Bronn saw a unique chance to serve as a hired gun for a wealthy lord, and he took it. Sure it was risky, but the potential for reward was too great to pass up (sort of like going to work for a startup). When Tyrion was accused of murder at The Vale, Bronn offered to fight in a duel on his behalf and won. From that point on he earned Lannister riches, became commander of the City Watch, and was knighted following the Battle of the Blackwater.
He didn’t start with much, but Bronn saw an opportunity and took a calculated risk. Because of that – as well as carefully identifying potential allies and aligning himself with the right people -- he went from nobody to knighthood in a flash by always being in the right place at the right time.
5. Highlight Your Strengths
Tyrion is a dwarf. An imp. A monster. He is literally half of a man and because of that, is often looked down upon and/or outright dismissed by many people.
But he managed to get as far as he did because he learned how to minimize his weaknesses and play to his strengths.
Sure it helps that he comes from the wealthiest family in the Seven Kingdoms, but even his own family hates him. Tyrion knows he’ll never conquer his opponents with brute strength, so he uses his superior intellect. He outsmarts people, effectively networks, forms alliances, and charms people who are underestimating him.
4. Find Quality Mentors
Daenerys Targaryen was a confused and lonely girl when her brother married her off to a Dothraki warlord. But through an unlikely series of events, she would come to rule a burgeoning army and morph into a formidable leader.
So how did a scared and timid teenager become Queen Daenerys?
To be honest, emerging from a fire unscathed and mothering three dragons helped quite a bit. But since that’s not exactly feasible for the average worker, the other thing that helped make Dany great is having quality mentors. Jorah Mormont, a knight of Westeros, and Ser Barristan Selmy, fomer head of the Kingsguard, serve as her small council and offer sage advice. While confident in her abilities to lead, Daenerys is also cognizant of her inexperience, and realizes good leaders surround themselves with people just as smart, if not smarter, than themselves.
Because of that, Dany was able to conquer Qarth, Astapor, and Mereen while simultaneously building a loyal following. And just as she used her opportunities across the Narrow Sea to make a case as a formidable challenger for the throne in Westeros, you should surround yourself with trusted and accomplished mentors who can help you be taken seriously.
3. Network, Network, Network
Would it surprise you to learn one of the most powerful figures in the Seven Kingdoms is a lowborn eunuch?
Varys was born a slave, suffering unspeakable torture at the hands of a sorcerer who cast him out in the streets to die. But instead he persevered. And while he survived by stealing goods at first, he soon learned that stolen information is the thing of true value. So he committed himself to building a network of spies and paid informants that spans two continents. Varys has “little birds” that chirp to him on a 24/7 basis, creating a real time information system that was just as effective as Twitter is today.
Eventually his information became so valuable he was placed on the King’s Small Council as the Master of Whispers, keeping the king informed of all the latest gossip and news. Proving once again that a solid network is the key to becoming, and remaining, successful. In any realm or line of work.
2. Be Adaptable
Arya Stark knows what it takes to adapt and survive.
A highborn girl, she had every advantage and led a privileged life. Until one day she saw her father, Ned Stark, beheaded, and was forced into exile to evade capture. Since then she learned how to fight, traveled as a boy to avoid detection, was captured and taken to Harrenhal where she had to serve the very family that murdered her father. Then she escaped captivity only to be captured again by The Hound, one of the fiercest men in the realm.
But through it all, Arya has had to constantly adapt to her rapidly changing environment – even acting like a boy at one point to avoid detection. The Hound is a violent travel companion, yet she grudgingly decides to learn what she can from him until she can get back to her family.
When you’re outmanned and feel like you’re behind enemy lines, you’ve got to do what you can to make the best of it and adapt to survive and succeed.
1. Avoid Bad Leadership
Joffrey. Need I say more?
When this young, sociopathic nightmare took the Iron Throne there wasn’t a shadow of a doubt the realm was in for some dark days. Between torturing Sansa Stark (his bride to be) with the decapitated head of her father, and forcing some of his female constituents to harm each other, it became clear to everyone involved that Joffrey was going to be a horrible leader. He’s a whiny, petty, violent, unstable, annoying little liar, and everyone around him had to constantly walk on eggshells so they could avoid his immature wrath.
Unlike the people under Joffrey, you won’t be beheaded if you decide to jump ship. So take a good long look at the leadership you’ll be working for and decide if it’s a situation worth putting up with. Because if you stay at a job working for a boss you absolutely hate, you’ll eventually start to root for that boss to choke on a metaphorical pigeon pie. And that's no good for anyone.
Learn How to Negotiate
In Westeros you'd be risking decapitation (or worse) if you asked for a raise. And even though it feels that way in the real world sometimes, it's not the case. Especially because Salary.com can help you get paid fairly what you do.
The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.