Leadership Lessons from Game of Thrones

Tara Newman: Hey, everybody. I’m really excited to be here today with my friend, Cory Huff, and we are talking about leadership lessons from the last few episodes of Game of Thrones. Right, Cory? That’s what we’re doing here today?

Cory Huff: Leadership from fictional characters in fantasy worlds.

Tara Newman: Yeah. And the reason, so, just to give everybody some backstory, because not everybody here follows me on my personal Facebook page.

Cory Huff: What? Completely unacceptable.

Tara Newman: I was kind of thinking like, “Gosh, thankfully.” Some things about myself can still remain private. So, anyway, I kind of got really excited around the second to last episode of Game of Thrones. I thought that it was an episode that really got me thinking about the leadership of these characters, and I started posting on my Facebook page some leadership and performance type of thoughts that I was having regarding these characters, and it got a lot of attention.

It got Cory’s attention, and Cory chimed in, and he’s like, “You know, we should do a podcast on this.” And then lots of people were like, “Yeah, you should do a podcast on it.” So then I asked Cory to come and be my guest host on this podcast, and so he’s here, and what I’m really excited about having Cory on for is because one, he’s a really, super smart dude, and he is also a fiction writer, and he’s an artist, and he coaches artists, and he really kind of gets into characters and character development, and he just asks really wise questions.

So, I’m really excited to have him here with me today, and I’m excited to have this conversation. Now, I’m going to admit, Cory, I am not a Game of Thrones fanatic.

Cory Huff: Well, then, we better shut it down. I have been reading Game of Thrones, I’m going to be one of those elitist nerds, and be like, “I started reading Game of Thrones back when it came out, and I can’t believe that not everybody knows everything about every thousand page book that was published by George R. R. Martin.”

Tara Newman: Okay, so this is where … This is why you’re here, and why I appreciate you, is because it took me three times to even get into the TV show, because I’m like, “I’m just not smart enough for this show. I don’t understand what’s happening, the characters.” It took me a really long time for my brain synopsis to come together in Game of Thrones land.

Cory Huff: Okay, so, quick, quick sidetrack. When I was in college, I studied Shakespeare. I have a degree in acting. And this really well known Shakespeare scholar came and spoke in one of my acting classes, and over the course of two three hour classes, he broke down the entire history of the War of the Roses, which is the basis for all Shakespeare’s history plays, so Henry VIII, or Henry V, and Richard III, and all those plays.

He broke down everything that happened in the War of the Roses, all the battles, and who died, and who succeeded, and all that kind of stuff. And that is way more complicated than Game of Thrones, so we’re good to go.

Tara Newman: Cory’s got it handled. So Cory’s got this from a character perspective, and from being a Shakespeare nerd perspective, and I can call you a Shakespeare nerd, right?

Cory Huff: Yes, absolutely.


Tara Newman: Okay. And I’ve got this handled from a leadership perspective. And Cory has teed me up some really great questions that we’re going to be going through today based on some of my analysis that I had put out on my Facebook page. So, where do you want to start, Cory?

Cory Huff: Okay, so you put out these great questions. Not questions, but thoughts, around Jon Snow’s utter lack of leadership, and that touched off this great series of posts that you had. It’s like when people give you positive reinforcement for something, you do more of it.

Tara Newman: Attention seeker.

Cory Huff: Yes, totally. I am 100% on board. So you said, “Jon Snow lacks leadership skills, and requires development.” And I was like, “Yes. That is 100% true.” So-

Tara Newman: I caught flack for that. People really like Jon Snow’s leadership.

Cory Huff: Yeah, well, if you like bland leadership, which we can get more into later, yeah. That makes sense. So my question is, how do you find and surface more leaders in your organization, right? Even if you don’t like their type of leadership, how do you surface leaders within your organization? Because you said that he requires extensive coaching if he wants to become king, so even if you’re not going to make that person the CEO, you still need leaders in different areas of your organizations. How do you surface those people?

Tara Newman: Yeah. So, in fairness, so someone said, “Well, he’s been a great leader. He’s demonstrated leadership skills throughout the rest of the seasons.” And I will say yes, he has been an inconsistent leader. At times, he has demonstrated tremendous leadership capabilities, and I want everybody to remember that one, “Oh shit,” cancels out tons of “Atta boys.” Right?

Cory Huff: Interesting. Okay, say more about that.

Tara Newman: Yeah. So, he’s had all these, “Atta boy” moments, Jon. Somebody said he gathered the wildlings, and he formed the army, and they defeated the dead, and he’s a good warrior, and those things. And it’s like, yeah, he had a lot of, “Atta boys,” and then he let somebody scorch an entire city.

Cory Huff: It’s the Peter principle.

Tara Newman: Yeah, it could definitely be the Peter principle, but what I think really happened there was what happens for a lot of senior leaders, executives, mid-level managers, and they don’t realize that part of their job is to lead up as well as it is to lead down. So, they lead the people below them, but then they abdicate their leadership when they come to somebody who maybe has a higher position, like Dany in this situation.

Because that was his whole thing. He’s like, “She’s my queen. She’s my queen. She’s my queen.” And that’s really myopic. She’s your queen, and she’s about to commit genocide.

Cory Huff: So you’re saying that if somebody at your company is about to commit genocide, you should definitely stop them.

Tara Newman: Now is the time to check in. And so I think great leaders know when to follow. Great leaders know when to allow themselves to be led. And so if you’re creating a team, you have to trust that your team has expertise. You should be building a team that’s smarter than you, anyway, right, and that you defer to them, and that you trust their expertise.

So by him saying, “Well, she’s the queen,” it’s him completely not taking responsibility for the control that he has in this situation, and he’s most likely feeling intimidated by Daenerys. He’s most likely having a blip in his own confidence. But he needed to have a conversation, and he needed to have better communication skills in this space.

So he needed to say, “Hey, Dany, I see what you’re about to do. I see the strategic move you’re going to make here. Can we have a conversation about this before we go and implement or execute?” Right? And this was his opportunity to have a conversation and bring up his concerns.

She doesn’t have to listen to them. She could’ve still went and scorched the Earth. He doesn’t have control over that. But he does have control over sharing his perspective, gaining clarity on what exactly the plan is and what she’s planning to do. He does have control over whether or not he abides by the values of the organization.

Cory Huff: Right. And so even though he maybe couldn’t have stopped her, he could’ve at least tried.

Tara Newman: Right. He could’ve had a conversation.

Cory Huff: Right. Okay. So, then, after Jon, you started talking about, your next post was all about Tyrion and how, what’d you say, you said … What performance recommendations, if any, would you make for Tyrion, was a question that somebody had. And you said, “Tyrion requires compassion, empathy, and can be coached up and back into his role of the most cleverest human.” Which is [crosstalk 00:09:22].

Tara Newman: Yep.

Cory Huff: So, you said low to moderate performers who strongly embody the values of the culture are definitely worth some coaching. So one of the questions, one of the things that I’ve seen happen is, people who maybe aren’t performing at their peak often get labeled as subpar performers and targeted to get rid of.

But some of those people, if you change their role, or change the way that they report up, or maybe even change their job, can turn around. So how do you identify those people in your organization who are worth investing in to turn them around, versus just moving them out?

Tara Newman: Yeah, this is really one of my strongest objections to, in general, corporate culture, and how this winds up getting handled. Because we wind up overlooking really great talent and really great people if we’re not willing to play chess. So, and it’s just lazy leadership. Playing checkers is lazy leadership. Right? And that’s what they’re doing when they said, “Oh, well, they’re not performing, so bye.”

And it’s lazy leadership. It’s lazy in the sense that it’s the organization not holding the manager accountable for coaching and developing their people, and it usually winds up being pretty systemic in an organization. So, if you’re working in a more progressive organization, an organization that values leadership, an organization that really values values, where they operationalize their values.

I remember, I’ve been helping companies operationalize their values to build high-performing culture for two decades, and I really loved in Brené Brown’s book, Dare to Lead, she gives a statistic, and she says less than 10% of the organizations out there are operationalizing their values, meaning actually applying them, coming up with ways to bring them into and use them to promote the company culture.

And the power of having values is being able to assess people and say, “Okay, do they, regardless of their performance, do they embody the values in our organization?” Because that is actually really a key challenge, right? Because if they’re embodying the organizational values, we can really put some time and effort into finding out what their strengths are, maybe changing their role, maybe giving them some coaching, having more conversations with them. Somebody just needed to have a conversation with poor Tyrion, and say, “Dude.”

Cory Huff: “Why are you drinking so much?”

Tara Newman: Yeah. Tyrion really needed somebody. He really needed a compassionate, empathetic leader who was going to sit him down and say, “You know what, Tyrion, I want to acknowledge how much good you’ve done for the organization over the years, and I want to take responsibility for not having this conversation with you sooner. Can we talk about how your performance is slipping, and how we can look to improve that going forward?”

Cory Huff: Yeah. That’s really good. Because you said, in your post, you said that Tyrion was in a shame spiral.

Tara Newman: Yeah. That’s what happened.

Cory Huff: How do you pull somebody out? And you said something that I think most managers would shy away from. You said, “Can we talk about your,” I think you said, “Poor performance,” or something like that.

Tara Newman: Yeah.

Cory Huff: Slipping performance, slipping performance is what you said.

Tara Newman: Yeah.

Cory Huff: I think most managers would really shy away from saying something like that to one of their subordinates. So how do you pull somebody out of a shame spiral? Do you change their assignment? Obviously, you need to be frank with them, but what do you do?

Tara Newman: Yeah, so, initially, and first of all, turnover in an organization and not coaching your employees has a tremendous cost to it. Turnover, hiring, training new employees, is a huge cost, and when you think about these companies that are churning and burning their employees out because they’re not willing to have a direct conversation, it’s such a simple fix. You don’t need to go slashing heads and slashing budgets to save money. You just need to have a better conversation.

Right? And so, I’ve seen this so many times, where you’re working for somebody who is more autocratic, who likes to play what I call the got you game, right? They got you, they caught you doing something you shouldn’t have been doing, they caught you making a mistake. And the more you do that to somebody, you’re going to have more mistakes. You’re eroding their confidence. Every mistake they make, every got you game you play, every time you don’t have a frank conversation with them, you’re allowing their confidence to erode, and for them to spiral downward.

Instead of, and it’s not even, at that point, it’s not their fault. It’s your fault, the manager. Because you can fix it with a simple conversation, if you had the courage to do so.

Cory Huff: Yeah.

Tara Newman: And it doesn’t even have to be that difficult. In the post, I said, “You can simply say, ‘Hey, Tyrion, you seem to be off your game. What’s up?'” Because-

Cory Huff: That’s nice, that it becomes an open-ended conversation, right?

Tara Newman: Let them tell you. Let them tell you that their wife asked them for a divorce that morning. Right? So they came in, and their head wasn’t in the right place, but they wanted to show up. Whatever it is that they have going on, or they don’t understand the instructions completely. Or they have 300 emails in their inbox backing up, and they don’t know what to tackle first.

Let them have that conversation with you, because until they do, you’re making assumptions and telling a story about this employee, and what you’re doing, I like to really use child behavior in this example, because … Do you think that your kid, for those of us who have kids, maybe it’s a dog, do you think, let’s use a dog, for example.

Cory Huff: Okay, I’m visualizing my cat. Go ahead.

Tara Newman: Okay. Do you think your dog wants to piss and shit all over the floor and chew your furniture? I don’t think so.

Cory Huff: No. At least, theoretically, it knows that it’s not supposed to do that.

Tara Newman: Right. The dog wants to … Because then, what happens is, is you get mad. You start yelling at the dog. The dog doesn’t want to be yelled at, right? The dog doesn’t want to have repercussions. But when the dog was standing at the back door, and you were hemming and hawing whether or not he’s telling you he has to go out, raising hand, has done this, and then pees on the floor, that’s not his problem. That’s my problem.

Cory Huff: Right. So, I’m curious how this intersects with the hire slow, fire fast mentality.

Tara Newman: Yes. Okay, so, back to our values. If you have an employee that does not align with company values, terminate them. It doesn’t matter if they’re a high performer.

Cory Huff: Right, so you’re really talking about the difference between somebody who is doing a good or bad job, versus somebody who does or doesn’t align with the company values. They’re two different things.

Tara Newman: Correct. So, in HR world, human resources world, there is a matrix, and it’s got your values and your performance in this matrix. And if you are a high performer, and you are highly aligned with company values, these are the people who we’re looking to keep, promote, consider for special committees, development assignments, leadership roles, right?

If you have somebody who is a high performer, but does not meet company values, think about somebody who performs really well and gets the job done, but is completely unethical in the way they go about doing it. Right? Or the person who does a great job, but completely bypasses all company guidelines and policies and procedures to get it done.

Cory Huff: Every salesperson ever. I didn’t say that. We used to have, at one of my old jobs, like ten years ago, we used to have a sales rep that worked under a different manager, and everybody else on the sales floor used to give this guy a hard time, because he was a good salesperson, one of the best, but everybody would turn to him after a sales call would end, and they would be like, “Dude, can you at least keep it in the neighborhood of honesty?”

And then that became a joke on the sales floor about keeping sales calls in the neighborhood of honesty. And I always thought that was … I couldn’t believe we allowed that to continue happening, but he didn’t report to me, so there was not a lot I could do about it.

Tara Newman: Yeah. Managers and leadership really have a hard time when you have a high performer, especially in a sales position, who’s bringing in a significant portion of the company’s revenue. But they aren’t in integrity with the company’s values. Now, if it’s not a values match, they have to go.

So that’s what I say when somebody says, “How do I know?” You hire slow, so you make sure you have a values match. You spend some time getting to know the person. You do your due diligence. And then you shouldn’t have to terminate people, because your hiring and your onboarding has been in such integrity with your company that you find a great match.

But if you don’t have the match, and the person isn’t performing, the other thing is, is you have to start addressing the performance right away. Otherwise, you’re training them to perform poorly. Right? If you don’t ever say anything, how would they ever know? Back to child behavior, and I was just sitting, my kids are both transitioning. So, my daughter’s going into middle school, my son’s going into high school, so I’ve just sat through a lot of conversation around drugs and alcohol and that stuff with this age group.

And the woman was saying, “Kids who do drugs, we label. Kids who do drugs and alcohol are bad, kids who don’t are good. Then you get the kid who, lots of good kids make poor choices, and then we label them now, that all of a sudden, they’re bad.” But what if we don’t label them as good or bad? They’re just kids that make choices. Sometimes better choices than others.

So, what if we don’t have good and bad employees, what if we have employees where some make better choices than others, right? Or, looking at it from that perspective, because I don’t think that anybody or very few people show up to work and go, “How can I mess up my job today? How can I piss off my boss today? How can I be a slacker and a low performer today?” I come from the worldview, and you get to choose your worldview, but I come from the worldview that everybody is showing up, doing the best they can with what they have.

Cory Huff: Gosh, I love that so much. Because, so much of behavior and performance really comes down to sort of primal level rewards and incentives. Right? The technical, whether or not you’re good at the job stuff, is the easy stuff. It’s the figuring out your values and making sure that everybody’s operating in values, given the incentives that are in place. Incentive stuff is super, super interesting, because …

I just finished reading a book about the collapse of Enron, and the entire … Billions and billions of dollars in shareholder value just liquidated in a year because ten years of bad incentives were in place, and it took that long for the company to collapse, but the incentives were all about getting the fastest, immediate value that they could, without thinking about the long term health of the company, and then suddenly, the cancer had eaten away, and there was no saving the company, right? It was just super, super fascinating, so yeah, the idea of incentives is really interesting.

Tara Newman: Yeah, so, going back to Tyrion, I don’t think Tyrion’s showing up with the intention of being a low performer and looking to make mistakes. I think something is happening for him, and I’d be curious to know what it is. And I remember a child development book when my kids were really little, because my son suffered from … Suffer is a bad word, but he has a lot of frustration.

He’s the kid who gets super frustrated, clamps his fists, kicks off. I’ve had a hole in my wall. And I don’t think my son really wants to wake up and be frustrated every day. So, in this book, they were sharing that the one thing you can ask your child is, “What’s up?” And that became a question that I ask as a coach to my clients, or when I was in an organization, to the employees, around, “What’s going on? Hey, Tyrion, you seem to be off your game. What’s up?” Let them talk to you, right? Listen. Listen to them.

Tyrion wants to be heard. Tyrion wants to be seen. How can we be helping Tyrion? Don’t ask Tyrion, if you are in an organization and you have a Tyrion, do not ask Tyrion about his alcohol problem, because that’s problematic for you, because that would be considered a disability, and you’d hand him something, and we’re not supposed to be talking to our employees about their alcohol problems.

Cory Huff: We’re getting leadership and HR lessons here.

Tara Newman: You can ask him what’s up. And if he talks about alcohol, you can call your legal council, and you can refer him to your company’s EAP.

Cory Huff: Okay, so, let’s talk about Arya. So, I think it’s easy to love Arya, right? She’s young, she’s ambitious, she loathes injustice, and you said she’s about to take Dany out in the final episode. You were wrong. But-

Tara Newman: Yeah, I got a question about that.

Cory Huff: Yeah. So somebody said, “I want to hear what you’d tell Arya,” right? And you said you want to work on visualization and walkthroughs and what if scenarios, because she’s a high potential employee, right? She’s aligned, she is just one of these people that you want to identify for promotions and stuff.

Cory Huff: But she’s also terrifying. She’s a trained assassin, she is the kind of person that will murder people who get in her way. So every organization has, not necessarily trained assassins, but every organization has-

Tara Newman: They do.

Cory Huff: Oh, no.

Tara Newman: Some do.

Cory Huff: But they have the managers who are really cutthroat, or the people that are willing to do whatever it takes to move up the ladder, right? So, how do you … These kind of visualization exercises and stuff, this sort of woo-woo stuff, how do you do that with those kind of people who are sort of nakedly ambitious?

Tara Newman: Okay, so two perspectives. When I got the question that said, “I want to hear what you’d tell Arya, I figure she loathes injustice, and is about to take Dany out in the final episode,” I looked at that as Arya was my high performance client who had a big, hairy, audacious goal, and how would I coach her? So we would talk about the strategy to obtain the goal. We would visualize the goal being obtained. We would walk through how she was going to obtain the goal. We were going to run what if scenarios.

So an example of this is when you have an athlete. Let’s take a triathlete. I always use this as an example because I have coached triathletes in the past. And it’s race day. Anything can happen on race day, right? It can rain, you can get sick, you can be hypothermic in the water. So what if scenarios, meaning what if it doesn’t go the way that you want it to go?

So, let’s identify what you can’t control, and what you can control, and what you’re going to do to re-strategize if you’re faced with something you can’t control. And then I said that we would have conversations around putting the process over the outcome, so she can release attachment to the goal.

Because if she is a high performer, and she’s got this big goal on the horizon, there’s a chance that she’s gripping too tightly to it, and so we’re going to focus on the process, meaning the strategy, the visualization, the walkthroughs, the habits that she’s cultivating along the way, to meet this goal. Right?

Now, different than if you had somebody in an organization who, like you’re saying, is terrifying, right, and maybe they’re seen as aggressive, or unapproachable, or intimidating. Or maybe they’re hostile. I have been in a position where we have had to call leaders in and send them to what we used to call charm school.

Cory Huff: That’s awesome.

Tara Newman: Right? Here’s how you behave appropriately within an organization. So it would start with … And there’s always people like this. There’s always people who are intimidating, they lack self awareness, so they’re not really sure how they’re being perceived within the organization. So, again, this comes down to having conversations with the person around …

Maybe they are super ambitious, and maybe they’re very driven. And so they get autocratic, and they get very attached to that goal, and they wind up whipping their team up into a fearful frenzy, right, about what happens if I don’t do X, Y, and Z exactly the way they say it? And it creates this fear spiral for their team, and then that becomes really unproductive.

So it’s about communication, saying, “Hey, so and so, Arya, you know, I really want to acknowledge your ambition, and how driven you are to see this company’s goals to fruition. I want to take responsibility for not having this conversation with you sooner,” because that’s usually always the case. Right?

The reason why it’s in this place is because we haven’t nipped it in the bud when it first came up. We’re not having frequent enough performance conversations with employees, so, “I want to take responsibility for not having this conversation with you sooner. Can we talk about how, when you do A, B, and C, other people perceive you as X, Y, and Z?”

Cory Huff: As somebody who, earlier in the career, really didn’t understand how people perceived what I did, that really strikes home to me. I have resting murder face, right?

Tara Newman: Me too.

Cory Huff: And then, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I just mean, if I’m just neutral, if I’m just sitting and thinking, or sitting and watching TV or something, my resting face looks pretty serious. But I am a goofy and weird person, but people who don’t know me will often think that I am really serious and scary to talk to, so this happens if I’m directing a show, or if I’m consulting at a company, or whatever. People will often think that I am unapproachable.

And so I have to be really conscious, and when somebody tries to engage with me, I have to try to let them know that I’m there, and that I’m open, and all that stuff, and it’s just … I really appreciate that, because it really strikes home for me.

Tara Newman: Yeah. You have to ask yourself, say, Arya, right? This Arya employee, she’s really out there intimidating people, and terrifying people, and you need to ask yourself, “Is that true?” Right? Is it true that she’s out there intentionally, because that’s what they’re saying, terrifying people? And there’s a chance that that’s not true. We don’t know until we talk to Arya. And you can say, “Hey, Arya. When you do X, I find it terrifying, and it makes me feel like you’re intentionally trying to intimidate me. Is that true?”

Cory Huff: Right.

Tara Newman: And she’ll probably go, like you with your resting murder face, because I have the same one, and I’d be like, “Oh my God, no. I’m just really intently listening to you.” Or, “Oh, no. I just feel so much pressure to get this goal achieved, because if we don’t get this goal achieved, what happens to the rest of the organization? And I’m responsible, and I’m putting all this pressure on myself, and so, therefore, I need to put pressure on everybody else.” Right? And it opens the door for greater conversation and self awareness.

Cory Huff: Nice. Yeah. So you also mentioned in that post that because Arya is a high performance employee, and she is getting picked for future opportunities, you said that she should get some sort of special incentive plan, and my automatic thought was, how is that fair to other employees? Do you keep her incentive plan secret, or, how is that fair to people who maybe have the same job, or a similar job?

Tara Newman: I love this. I spent a really long time in compensation. Not worker’s compensation, but actually how you pay your employees and determine their value and worth, which is a very interesting place to be in an organization. And at any time, a company most likely has a discretionary bonus plan, a discretionary incentive plan, where they can give out incentives and bonuses for meeting certain goals, or going above and beyond their roles and responsibilities, at the discretion of management.

And so, we would want to reward her, potentially financially, for going above and beyond, or for displaying a level of performance that others might not be displaying. Not all employees are created equally, not all employees are incentivized equally, not all employees are paid equally. If that was the case, we’d be a communist country.

Cory Huff: I love this, because I think the … We do want to reward good work, and we want to reward people for going above and beyond, and I think, maybe, another time, we should have a conversation about how you incentivize people, and also, how you recognize people who are performing in roles that are maybe not necessarily directly tied to revenue. Right? How do you reward auditors? How do you reward risk managers? People like that. Really important jobs, but they don’t contribute to revenue. They prevent disaster. That’s something else that we should talk about. I’d love that.

So, Sansa is a really great example of one of these employees who is a good, solid leader. They’re not flashy, right? Not somebody who immediately comes to mind any time somebody thinks, “Who’s the coolest character in Game of Thrones?” But she’s actually super competent and displays the ability to learn quickly, the ability to adapt, the ability to understand the shifting tides of what’s happening. I like her a lot. She’s really smart. And she avoided getting killed mostly by sort of staying in her lane, and not overreaching, right? Go ahead, what were you going to say?

Tara Newman: I love Sansa. I think she’s the best leader out of them all.

Cory Huff: Okay, say more about that.

Tara Newman: So, I think your insight is really great about Sansa. And I think that there’s so much here for her. Her character and how she performs as a leader is so … There’s so much depth there for her, and one of the things, you’re right. She stays in her own lane. She has identified what is essential for her organization, the North, right? If her organization was the North, or her department, or her division, or whatever you want to say is the North.

She listens to her people. She understands what is essential for them. It was not essential for them, necessarily, to run off and fight a war that wasn’t theirs. She has really good gut instincts in the sense that there was something about Dany that she wasn’t trusting, and just because everybody else was, just because Jon liked her, loved her, didn’t mean she was going to love her.

Sansa is another person who knows what her values are and sticks to them. You saw that in the last episode where she’s like, “Respectfully, I’m out.” Right? “Just let me go, run the North, I don’t want to be any part of your little reindeer games over here. I’m going to go do my thing, I’m going to take care of my people, and we’re going to prosper, and we’re going to be okay.”

And I think she’s just resourceful, astute, confident. She’s bold. She takes…

Cory Huff: But she’s bold in the right moments, right? She picks and chooses when to offend people.

Tara Newman: Yeah. And you know what? So many times, Oh my God, so many times, I think we can probably all think of a time when we’ve done this, or doing it now, when we want to look in somebody else’s backyard for trouble. You know that thing, that department over there, that department’s causing a lot of mess, because their processes and procedures aren’t well streamlined, or this person’s business is this way because of this, or my husband’s doing that thing over there because of … Right?

And it’s not about them. What’s going on in your own yard? Clean up your own yard. Mow your own yard. Right? And don’t go getting in anybody else’s yards. Byron Katie has this great exercise about judging the neighbor, Judge Thy Neighbor, I think it’s called. Right?

And it’s this whole thing about, when you judge other people, getting into inquiry about what is happening when you’re doing that, because what is that giving you? What insights can you glean about yourself when you’re judging your neighbor? And so, that’s really why I like Sansa. She just knows what’s hers, she’s taking care of it, and she’s focused, and that’s where she’s going to be.

Cory Huff: Nice. Yeah. So you mention in your Facebook post about Sansa, you said, “Sansa has a lot going for her, including being a keen observer, and skilled learner,” which we just talked about. She studied Cersei and Littlefinger, using them as a form of mentor, right? You can learn from the people who are ostensibly ahead of you, or peers. And then we can learn a lot from people who don’t agree with us, or who we differ from.

But you say, “However, taking the throne is about politics, and not leadership, as in most organizations and governments. So what makes someone politically attractive doesn’t mean they are a great leader.” And this is super interesting to me, because the other day, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who … He works at a high level at a very large fortune 50 company, and he and I were over lunch the other day, talking about some of the moves that he was making within his organization, because, at that level, it’s no longer about your technical skill in the job, it’s about how you manage relationships.

And we were talking about politics versus leadership. And one of the people that he had been struggling with had made some political moves that turned out badly, and when the executives above them changed, it turns out that his whole organization was built on his connections with that previous executive, and now he was in a lot of trouble, right? So this shifting political landscape basically ruined what he had been trying to build.

So, one of the things that we were talking about is, how do you promote people who are good leaders versus people who are good at sucking up to other people? Does that make sense?

Tara Newman: So, yeah. Yeah. So, okay. So I think if you were going to work within an organization that’s larger, like a fortune 50, fortune 100, fortune 500, even a company where there’s 100 to 300 people, you have to be both. You have to be politically astute, and you have to be a great leader. And then you have the people like me, who got sick of the politics, and was like, “I’m just going to go do my own thing.”

Right? I can play the political game very, very well, and then I was like, “But I’m just bored with it. I’m tired of it. This is not exciting to me.” But I think that if you’re going to be working in a larger organization, to think that you can get along on your leadership skills alone is detrimental. I think that-

Cory Huff: So you are Sansa. No wonder you like her so much.

Tara Newman: Yeah, I really am Sansa. So, what I think is great about … So, I spent my entire career in organizations as the lieutenant, the chief of staff. So I never held a high level executive position, because I didn’t want it. Because I had more power in the organization with less handcuffs on me, with just as great pay, as a lieutenant.

So, I didn’t have to take the heat sitting at the boardroom table, when the financial investors were coming in, or when the CEO was losing his shit. My executive took that heat, and then she would come back, and she’d be like, “Now, all this needs to go get done. Go get it done.” And I would go, and I would get things done, whether it be through actually putting plans in place and taking action, or going and using my relationships within the organization to move things along.

I was the one who was concerned with optics, how things look, which is something that a lot of leaders don’t understand how important optics are. Right? You can have it all together, but if you haven’t gone and gotten the buy in ahead of time, if you haven’t gone and leveraged your relationships, if you just say what you want to say, but don’t think about how it’s going to be perceived, if you just want to say it, but not worry about the impact of it, you’re not really considering the optics.

And it doesn’t work when you have that many stakeholders involved. There’s a lot of egos that need to be massaged and manipulated. And manipulated doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, I’m just saying, they need to be addressed and handled, and communicated in a certain way so that people don’t get defensive and shut down, and that they’re open to your ideas.

So politics in an organization aren’t necessarily a bad thing. However, if you have someone who is all about dirty tricks, which [crosstalk 00:43:20] politics, right, right? Cersei. Dirty tricks, right? It’s definitely an issue. However, what I’ll say is, from my experience, those people do not last long. They implode. Something happens and they implode.

So my bit is, is that, it takes both. Which is like, if somebody was like, “Would you want to see Sansa take the throne?” Actually, if we were living in Tara’s utopia, and I know that some women are probably going to be offended by how I say this and what I say, I would put Jon on the throne and let Sansa run the kingdom.

Let Jon go take the beatings, and get the crap kicked out of him, and deal with all the headaches, right, and be derailed at every point, because he’s exhausted from just dealing with the amount of crap that he would have to deal with as a king, and Sansa would be sitting next to him as lieutenant, as chief of staff. In my opinion, the most powerful position in an organization. And she would run the show unencumbered.

So he would effectively act as her gatekeeper, and I know that there’s a lot of women out there that are like, “Put the woman on the throne.” But I’m like, “You know, honestly, I think she’s more effective not sitting on the throne.” I can make the argument for that, is what I’m saying. I get that we all want to see her, a female, on the throne, but I can make the argument that she would be far more successful in another capacity.

Cory Huff: Nice. Nice. I love it. So, the way you write a story is by making the most dramatic choice that still makes sense with the character. Right? That’s a terrible way to lead. So, it’s interesting to analyze these people, because they are making the most dramatic choice they can make within, arguably, within the confines of who they are as people. We could talk about the quality of the writing somewhere else. So, I would be curious to know if people want to hear more of this kind of stuff. Are we going to do something like this again in the future?

Tara Newman: Yeah, I’m curious, too. I think that this episode will be a good test. We can see if people … I know that some people have recommended other shows that they would love for us to look at, like The Sopranos, and Billions, which I think would be interesting.

Cory Huff: I want to do some comedies. I want to talk about the leadership qualities of Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock.

Tara Newman: Oh my God, I’m going to have to go watch 30 Rock, then. Is that the character played by Alec Baldwin?

Cory Huff: It is, yeah.

Tara Newman: Okay, yeah. Yeah, and I was telling you the other day that you had such a great question on your Facebook page about a year ago, around talking about characters. Say it, because I’m going to mess it up. What was your question?

Cory Huff: Oh, right, right, yeah, yeah. The question was, who are the sitcom characters that everybody loves, who are actually terrible people? Right? So like Joey Tribbiani on Friends is a great example of this. He’s a player, he is constantly doing terrible things to women. If you knew the guy, you would not like him, but because everybody else who is on screen with him likes him, and he had good qualities, he’s a good friend, and he’s really supportive of everybody.

But he’s kind of an idiot, and he’s not super competent at what he does until later in his career, and then he’s not very honest with women. But we like him because he’s funny, and other people on screen tell us that he’s supposed to be a likable person, because they like him. Right?

Tara Newman: Yeah, and not necessarily in the comedy, the sitcom genre, but I can think of people like Tony Soprano, right, that we’re rooting for, or Bobby Axelrod from Billions, or Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy.

Cory Huff: Oh my gosh, yeah, Jax is such a great example. He is an awful human.

Tara Newman: Right, but I can actually make the case for why he’s a really good leader.

Cory Huff: Totally. You can be a terrible person and still be a good leader, an effective leader.

Tara Newman: So that’s interesting to me. So I think there’s some things that we can play with going forward, if we get some good feedback.

Cory Huff: Yeah. Cool, well, we’ll see where things go.

Tara Newman: Yeah. For sure. Thank you so much for joining me, Cory.

Cory Huff: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me. It’s a privilege.

I often share lessons learned on this podcast. It’s one of my favorite things to be able to do. And I’m able to do this because of a strong commitment I have to radical self-reflection. This commitment means that, every week, I’m looking at what’s happening in my business and in my life: the good, the bad, and, yes, occasionally the ugly.

Doing this work allows me to look at my months and even my years with real data, even for the less tangible parts of my business and life. I call these weekly meetings CEO Debriefs, and I do them twice per month inside The BRAVE Society. We do them together. I have pulled together some of the highlights from CEO Debriefs that I’ve done inside of BRAVE, and I’m sharing the best of the best with you.

You might have heard a couple of these on the podcast, but I want you to take it a step further and feel what it’s like to do these with us inside of The BRAVE Society. So head on over to my show notes and sign up now to receive 10 CEO Debrief questions you will want to ask yourself, plus listen in on some of the most popular shares that I’ve made. Listening to someone else’s debrief is a great way to find the language for what you’re experiencing, get a concrete example of radical self-reflection, and learn how to grow your business because it’s oftentimes not what we think.

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