[Spoiler Warning] Organizational Leadership Lessons from the Night King
Author: Punit Jajodia
There is one thing that is common among all GoT fans – they all love Tyrion Lannister. Most adore John Snow, dragon lovers stand behind the dragon queen Danaerys Targaryan and there are even some twisted souls who think Cersei Lannister is best fit to rule the seven kingdoms.
There is one character who gets left out when it comes to getting love from GoT fans. This less lovable character is The Night King, a fighter who has in my opinion continuously demonstrated the practices of an exemplary leader.
In John Snow’s own words about the Night King,
The true enemy won’t wait out the storm. He brings the storm.
The Night King indeed brings the storm, a change from the status quo of warring states bickering over who should sit on the iron throne.
If Kouzes and Posner, the writers of the timeless book “The Leadership Challenge” were to watch GoT, I think they’d agree.
In their own words:
“ When leaders are doing their best, they model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act and encourage the heart”.
The Night King has done all of that and here’s how:
Model the Way
The Night King has a regal face with a pointy head that looks like a crown. But its not his title that earns the respect of his fellow White Walkers.
He is the one who has the vision for the destruction of the living and the coming of the long winter.
By converting the dragon Viserion into a wight, the Night King paved the way for the army of the dead to march south. He then destroyed the wall, the biggest hurdle that came in the way of the White Walkers.
I take this as a literal representation of what a leader in an organization does. The White Walkers follow him because he leads by doing, not just saying.
Inspire a shared vision
The White Walker army and the wights that follow them share the same vision – to usher in the long night and to take revenge for the Battle for the Dawn, where the first men and the children of the forest teamed up to defeat the White Walkers.
The Night King can convert a human baby into a White Walker and corpses into wights that suddenly start following his every direction.
Of course there’s magic involved, but I like to think of his magic as similar to the magic of a leader like Gandhi or Hitler, who were experts in inspiring people to join them for a greater cause.
Challenge the process
John Snow took a huge risk when he sailed to DragonStone. He had to convince the Khaleesi to help him fight the White Walkers. Khaleesi ignored the advice of her hand Tyrion when she decided to go beyond the wall to rescue John.
These were huge risks no doubt, but imagine the risk the Night King is taking by marching the White Walkers and the wights south of the wall.
The Night King is a pioneer, willing to step out into the unknown world beyond the wall. He clearly doesn’t age, so he could chill all day with his White Walkers in the Land of Always Winter, but he is willing to take risks and lead the army of the dead’s fight against the living.
Enable others to act
The Night King knows that he needs an army to complete his mission.
He has groomed leaders who help him lead the army of the dead. He is often seen in the series at a vantage point where he can see his entire army.
It is no coincidence that the wights seem to know exactly what to do without instruction. While the leaders of Westeros fight over who should rule the seven kingdoms, there is a greater focus in the White Walkers.
Encourage the heart
Identifying a follower of the Night King is easy – look for bright blue shining eyes.
I get a chill every time an episode has a scene where a human or an animal’s eyes turn blue. While scary, the event is a great metaphor for a leader’s ability to energize his followers.
You’d have noticed that some White Walkers have horses and stand by the Night King as his lieutenants, so I like to imagine that he does reward those who fight for him and help him win wars.
Night King isn’t the only leader in the story, but he is very often overlooked so I took it as a challenge to look at things from a different perspective.
Who is your favourite leader in Game of Thrones and how do you think they practice the 5 rules of exemplary leadership?