Leadership styles may predict who will win the Game of Thrones

Published on May 3, 2016

by Dr. Duck

Last year I blogged about the different leadership styles portrayed on Game of Thrones. Here’s an update for Season 6 now several leaders have been eliminated. Warning, spoilers ahead.

Who’s ultimately going to win the Game of Thrones? Using Goleman and colleagues’ leadership styles, this infographic displays the leadership characteristics of the Game of Thrones characters. It also shows their liklihood of winning the iron throne.

These leadership styles are adopted by most of us from time to time. We can also use more than one style depending on the circumstances. Here’s a summary of the different styles:


The Coach

Coaches build teams and make use of their strengths. They work on developing others, such as when Ned Stark arranges for his daughter, Arya Stark, to have swordplay lessons. Adopters of the coaching style are: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Jon Snow



Democratic leaders seek and represent the views and opinions of others. For example, Jon Snow demonstrates this style when he protects the views of a perceived enemy–the Wildlings. Adopters of the demographic style: Jon Snow, Doran Martell, Lord Varys (possible misdirection).


The Pace-setter

The pace-setter takes the bull by the horns and leads the way. They show his or her followers how to achieve their goals. The pace-setter is represents a hands style of leadership. For example, when Ned Stark insists on personally delivering executions with his trusty sword. Adopters of the pace-setter style are: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Jon Snow, Robert Baratheon (in his prime), Stannis Baratheon, Arya Stark



Affiliative leaders influence by building relationships. They are motivated to unite people to achieve their goals, such as when Robert Baratheon reunites with Ned Stark to merge their families. Adopters of the affiliative style are: Jamie Lannister, Robert Baratheon, Sansa Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, Daenarys Targaryen, Tommen Baratheon



In Westeros, all leaders need to adopt some level of command to control the chaos. Commanding leaders set directives and demand compliance. When it’s not present, such as with Tommen Baratheon, other characters manipulate and take advantage. When it’s too excessive, such as with Joffrey Baratheon, other characters plot their downfall. Adopters of the commanding style are: Tywin Lannister, Tyrion Lannister (as Hand of the King), Cercei Lannister, Joffrey Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Daenarys Targaryen, Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Jon Snow, Roose Bolton, Ramsay Bolton, Theon Greyjoy



Visionary leaders align people by setting an inspiring goal for the future. Daenerys Targaryen aligns the people with the prospect of freedom from slavery. Brandon Stark drives support with his prophetic visions of the ‘black crow’.Top adopters of the commanding style:

Daenarys Targaryen, Brandon Stark, Lord Varys (has a vision but is unclear), Littlefinger (perhaps), Tywin Lannister (the Lannister legacy drives him)


Failed leadership styles

Failed leaders largely adopted more commanding styles of leadership. Many of them, such as Ned and Rob Stark not only commanded but led from the front as coaches. Nevertheless, these styles appear to have short lived success in the world of Westeros where the politics demand a focus on relationships.

It is likely that top adopters of the commanding style, such as Cercei Lannister, and Ramsay Bolton will not persevere based on the trajectory of their characters on the show. Their one dimensional approach makes them powerful but unpopular.


Successful leaders in Game of Thrones

Top contenders of the iron throne are affiliative and visionary. For example,Tyrion Lannister tempers a commanding and forthright style with a warm and kind heart. Daenerys drives leadership through vision, compassion and a firm hand. Jon Snow balances his command with his relationships and willingness to get involved, like his brother and father.


Outside Chances

However, Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin, likes to surprise us. Some outside chances for success come in the form of true visionaries like Varys, Littlefinger and Brandon Stark. These characters are not traditional leaders. They work in the shadows and behind the scenes. But they operate as meta-players, seeing the game for what it is and adopting a longer term strategy.

Brandon is now viewing Westeros through the eyes of the trees. Littlefinger is manipulating entire families to feud so that he can use the chaos to his advantage. Varys appears to be preparing Westeros for a new leader from abroad.


‘Winner’ of the Iron Throne?

Jon Snow is the most rounded of the characters. He is democratic, affiliative, commanding, pace-setting, and coaching. My prediction is that now he is reborn, he will become more of a visionary, and lead the charge forward to secure the iron throne or remove it entirely.

by Dr. Duck

My name is Nicholas Duck. I am a Doctor of Psychology with an interest in psychology in the workplace, film and television, the media, and the fields of emotion, unconscious, and motivation psychology. You can contact me at nick@opposite.com.au.

I am founder and principal consultant at Opposite, a consultancy that takes these applied psychological findings and helps workplaces improve.

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