What Game of Thrones Taught Me About How to Coach Employees

by Saba Software | Posted | Performance Management

What Game of Thrones Taught Me About How to Coach Employees

If you’re like me and so many others, you’ve been caught up in the storyline and characters of the HBO series Game of Thrones (GOT), based on the beautiful series of books entitled ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ by George R.R. Martin.

The storyline and characters certainly resonate with fans, with discussions about the show still dominating Twitter and Facebook even after the end of season three weeks ago.

The power struggles depicted in Game of Thrones across the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos don’t reflect (I hope!) your typical day at the office.

But people managers can certainly learn a lot about how to successfully coach employees, including some of the different types exemplified by key characters in the show. Here’s what I mean.

** Caution — spoilers ahead **



The “head down, plow forward” employee — Theon Greyjoy

At the onset of war, in an effort to prove himself to his father, Theon takes control of Winterfell, a key stronghold. His father had only wanted him to raid some fishing villages along the coasts, yet Theon took the initiative and decided to capture Winterfell.

While successful in his capture, Theon failed to recognize the demands of defending this stronghold. Though his crew was along for the ride, none of them had the skills needed. They all end up paying the price, with deadly consequences.

How to coach this employee:

What Theon lacked was the ability to see how his objectives connected to the overall strategic plan of his father. Had his father provided him with that clarity, perhaps Theon would have thought twice about this idea to take control of Winterfell, as he would have understood the impact.

Like much of the modern day workforce (up to 83% of us according to Hewitt Associates and the Human Capital Institute) Theon was misaligned and was not contributing optimally to the bottom line. Not knowing the bigger picture had dire consequences for him and others.

Your “head down, plow forward” employees need to understand how their work connects to the larger vision or strategy. So make goal management systemic in your organization by giving all of your employees a line of sight view of progress on linked goals.

Regularly check-in on goal progress and make adjustments as needed to keep employees focused on activities that contribute to the success of the organization as a whole.

The “entitled” employee — Joffrey Baratheon

Joffrey has an uncontrollable temper and sadistic streak no one can seem to stop. He is enthralled with his own power and what he can do because of it. In the series, he ignores the advice of his council with disastrous results.

He promises mercy, and then breaks the promise with a beheading that starts a war. Joffrey expects to give little and yet receive respect, gold and more, simply because of the position he holds. He is the kind of person who feels and thinks he deserves to win just because of who he is.

How to coach this employee:

Coaching is critical for an employee like this. Had Joffrey had strong, consistent guidance from his council, complete with an analysis of potential consequences, he might have heeded their advice and avoided disaster.

With “entitled” employees you need to clarify direction, goals and accountability even when they resist you. Be firm and consistent in communicating your expectations, and show them that every action has consequences. Providing them with feedback from their peers and colleagues can help reinforce your message and help them put greater stock in the feedback you give them.

“A leader in the making” employee — Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys was a timid child, bullied and controlled by a conceited domineering brother. Upon her marriage to Khal Drogo she began to gain independence from her abusive brother and became a strong, confident woman.

Her brother was obsessed with winning the Iron Throne and died (brutally) because of the way he treated those who were working with him to achieve that goal. With the death of her brother and her husband, Daenerys decides to do what her brother could not — take the Iron Throne for herself.

How to coach this employee:

With strength, confidence and independence, Daenaerys is someone who thrives on stretch goals. She is very good at inspiring those around her to work in the same direction. She is a person with great leadership potential. Stretch goals, whether achieved or not, will help her learn how to reach beyond expectations.

You need to ensure your “leader in the making” employees have a workable plan in place for meeting their stretch goals. Be approachable and listen. Touch base with them on a regular basis to ensure they’re not becoming discouraged, but remain excited and confident about striving for their target. Nurturing your organizations top talent is crucial for your mutual success.

The underdog employee — Tyrion Lannister

Ostracized because of his dwarfism, Tyrion receives no love or respect from his family and those around them, even with all his intelligence and wit. Having always been the underdog, Tyrion is highly skilled at turning obstacles thrown at him into opportunities — as shown when he is attacked by bandits, and manages to convince this band of killers to become his own private army.

How to coach this employee:

Tyrion is great at “thinking on his feet”. But sometimes, having a more thoroughly thought out plan would have saved him time, effort and energy. He needs to believe in himself and leverage his natural ability to look at an obstacle from all sides and see a different way to approach the problem in a more structured way.

Work with your “underdog” employees to help them flesh out their plan for how to approach a project or problem, making sure there’s enough flexibility to showcase their natural quick thinking. Tap their hidden or unacknowledged skills to keep them engaged and to support their ongoing career development.

Adapt your coaching style to support success

The next time you need to coach employees who exhibit one (or more) of the above behaviors or characteristics, strategize on the best way to give them the feedback, guidance and direction they need. It’s important to adapt your approach to best meet their needs, not just adopt a “one size fits all” attitude when it comes to coaching.

By seeing each employee as an individual, and tailoring your coaching style and technique to suit their “character” you’ll support their success in the “Game of Thrones” called the workplace.

As a GOT fan it was a lot of fun putting this article together. GOT characters aside, what advice can you add to help managers coach employees more effectively?

For better ways to manage your employee’s performance, visit our centre of excellence.


* Image Sources

Game of Thrones character images sourced via tvfanatics.com

Game of Thrones logo sourced via HBO.com

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