Game of Thrones Lesson #2: We're All a Little Bit Sansa

Hear me out...

As we grow up we are all told about "how life works." Sansa was told in many different ways that:

  • Knights are strong, honorable, and handsome. They protect people.
  • Lords are wise and honorable. They protect people.
  • Ladies are kind, beautiful and have perfect manners. They marry Knights and Lords and are protected.

This is told to her directly by her parents and her teachers. Her mother and Septa teach her the rules and skills of being a proper lady so that she can some day fulfill this life of the Noble Lady. These lessons are also taught indirectly through countless stories and songs of handsome Knights who save beautiful Ladies who are in trouble. Growing up in the distant North, nothing in her life gives her reason to question that life is this way.

When Sansa leaves the North and goes to the capital she finds handsome Knights, Lords and beautiful Ladies. The Ladies are, on first blush, kind and refined as she has been taught. However, she quickly learns that they use their beauty, kindness, and manners as tools to gain power and position. After her father is betrayed, Sansa becomes the beautiful Lady who is in trouble. Unfortunately she finds out that there are no handsome Knights willing to protect her. Instead, the Knights and Lords are dangerous, motivated by power and position, and willing to let her suffer if it means their gain.

Following the rules of the system of Nobility unquestioningly ends up being the cause of her downfall when she tells her father's secrets to the people she was taught to trust. Further, in trusting that an Honorable Knight would save her if she was ever in trouble, she never learns the skills to save herself. Like Sansa, the limits of the worldview we are taught could be our downfall unless we learn a few lessons from Sansa:

Workplace Lesson: Question Reality

Workplace Worldview 1: Consistent service to your employer means you are guaranteed a good job with adequate compensation and benefits going forward. All you have to do is reliably show up and do your job.

Unfortunately most of us know at least one person who had been with a company for many years and was good at their job who was in the initial waves of layoffs in 2007/2008. Budgets needed to be cut dramatically and personnel was the biggest line-item. The employees working there the longest made more money than newer employees, so laying them off had the biggest budget impact. If their skill sets happened to be falling behind the technology change curve, it became an easy choice.

The rule of loyalty based on years of employee Butt In Seat Time is gone. We have to stay up-to-date with the changing landscape of our field if we want to keep our jobs, especially with changing technology. We also know to keep our resume` up to date just in case it's time to move on (See Lesson #1: Never Be Sean Bean).

Workplace Worldview 2: Number of hours spent at work = Productivity. Speaking of Butt In Seat Time, this old school way of thinking about employee productivity is also a thing of the past. It made sense for the Industrial Age where you had to be at the factory in order to make the widgets. That day has gone (overseas) and we are now in the Idea Age. Our primary economic product is the generation, collection, management and dispersal of information/data.

Anyone who generates ideas and information for a living know that the brilliant ideas rarely come on command and not reliably between 8am and 5pm. In addition, much of the work to manage and disperse information is done through the internet, which means it can be done from anywhere and at any time. 

We need to question the assumption that we all need to be in the same place and the same time to be productive. Productivity needs to be measured by actual results, not hours spent at a desk. Otherwise, you may just be measuring time on Facebook or just staring blankly at a computer as those ideas refuse to come when called.

Being flexible about work hours and location would force us to be intelligent and intentional about how we measure actual productivity. In my mind, its worth the effort. You might find that "those darn Millennials" are productivity superheroes when arbitrary restrictions on when and where work is done are history, just like the Industrial Revolution. 

And who wouldn't mind skipping rush hour...

Workplace Lesson: Save Yourself

Workplace Worldview 3: Good things come to those who wait.

Don't sit around waiting to get that well deserved promotion, choice project, or timely raise. Like Sansa waiting for a handsome, honorable Knight to save her, you are likely to be waiting a long time... 

If you want to advance your career or upgrade your lifestyle, you are going to have to put in some serious effort. Maybe that means building your skills in your field by taking a class. It could mean brushing up on those networking and leadership skills through mentorship or coaching to show your managerial merit. It will absolutely require the assertiveness to stand up for ourselves and ask for what we want.


These are just a few of the Workplace Worldviews that don't work anymore. We need to keep going in asking ourselves which of the old ways still work, which are holding us back, and which might betray us. Questioning what we have been taught to assume about life in the workplace isn't necessarily easy, but it's become clear that trusting the old rules of doing business is a luxury we can't afford. Sansa has finally started to learn this lesson in Game of Thrones. We should too.

Never be Sean Bean, and Other Lessons from Game of Thrones

Depending on your workplace, you might find yourself empathizing with characters from the Game of Thrones. Toxic, fear-based workplaces can make it seem like every word and deed needs to be a well crafted power play. They can make it seem like there is no place for mutually beneficial collaboration; and don't even think about showing vulnerability. Even workplaces that are relatively functional can have a few characters you would swear were crafted by George R. R. Martin himself.

In honor of the start of Season 6 of Game of Thrones, I'm going to point out some lessons that can be taken from Game of Thrones to help us be more savvy in the workplace.

Spoilers: If you aren't up-to-date on the HBO series and plan on watching it, you may not want to read further. If something I write here doesn't line up with the show, it's from the books.

Lesson #1: Never Be Sean Bean

Nothing against the actor, but his characters die... a lot.

His character, Ned Stark, in Game of Thrones is no different. I love Ned Stark. He is my favorite character. He's honorable and just with family, friend, and foe. He takes his responsibilities as Warden of the North and then Hand of the King for all Westeros seriously. He is also a loyal father and husband. So, when he gets caught up in the game of thrones while in the capitol of Westeros, he is in a difficult spot. He needs to fight against powerful, corrupt, deadly political forces for the sake of the realm, but he also has to protect the daughters who go with him to the capitol.

Unfortunately for Ned, the treachery and toxicity of the court is more widespread than he could have imagined. Every seemingly honorable person he tries to enlist to help him has their own agenda. Many are more than happy to sell his secrets to the highest bidder. Even after being warned of the danger he and his daughters are in, he stays and fights the corruption in Westeros until it's too late to escape. They've stayed too long and Ned loses his head, literally, to the power-crazed young new king. Talk about the worst "Bring your Daughter to Work Day" ever. 

Workplace Lesson: Ask yourself if this is really the hill you want to die on.

All of the traits that make me love Ned Stark also make him stay too long. Like Ned, those of us who love our careers or love the mission of our company can be our own worst enemy when the workplace becomes broken, toxic or outright corrupt. We stay and we fight to restore its former glory, or the glory that we perceived from the outside. This is a good thing up until the point that the cost to ourselves outweighs the positive impact we can realistically have on our workplace.

None of us face beheading (hopefully). For us, the negative consequences tend to be more subtle. This makes it difficult for us to determine how much we should endure for the impact we can possibly make. Here are a few consequences to think about:

Damage to Professional Reputation

One possible outcome is that your power-hungry, egotistical new workplace "rock star" or boss finds a way to make their least favorite co-worker take the blame for their failure. If you've been the one speaking out about the flaws in their plans, that could be you. Hopefully, if you are aware of the problems to begin with, you can at least make an informed decision about whether your efforts are having an impact. You can then do pre-emptive damage control if you are seeing evidence of improvement, or find another place to work. 

In more extreme cases, the tarnished reputation of the company can tarnish your reputation by association. If you start seeing reputable negative press in your trade media or local media, it's time think really hard about that cost-to-impact ratio.

Damage to Psychological and/or Physical Health

Long hours and chronic stress have serious impacts on psychological and physical health, such as decreases in cardiovascular health, ineffective emotion management, and even Depression and Anxiety. Ask yourself: is the impact you are having in trying to save your workplace worth trading years off your life or significantly reducing your quality of life? If not, it's time to start looking for a new workplace that will fully utilize your talents and energy.

Collateral Damage

Are there people who rely on you who could be hurt by your mission? By the end of Season 5, the consequences of Ned's death include the death of his wife and at least one of their children (I personally think we haven't seen the end of Jon Snow). His living children are separated from each other and in danger.

Again, it is unlikely that the people we care about are in mortal danger as a result of our workplace drama. The harm they may realistically experience is more subtle. The stress, exhaustion, emotional instability, anxiety and depression we experience in our workplace don't magically go away when we walk in the door at home. It can result in us being irritable, emotionally unavailable and/or too tired to do anything with the people we love. Over time this can damage our relationships with the people who are most important to us. 

From one workplace warrior to another, I commend your bravery and loyalty in trying to fix what's broken before cutting and running. But don't be Sean Bean. It's not worth damaging the rest of your professional life, the quality of your actual life, and the people you care about. Time to update that resume`.


Stay tuned for my next post: We're All Just a Little Bit Sansa