5 lessons about leadership from Game of Thrones Tywin Lannister

An important and influential figure in the TV series Game of Thrones (I’m assuming some basic knowledge of the series, and spoilers by the way), Tywin Lannister was portrayed as being feared and respected, with a ruthless streak (see how he engineers The Red Wedding). He was a noble, with a sense of honour (particularly about where his family was concerned) and stubborn family loyalty. On the other hand, he was also willing to use torture, murder and war to further his aims, and was not beyond turning against his former king (the “mad king”) when it bacame clear the rebellion of Robert Baratheon was going to succeed. 

Characters like Tywin Lannister intrigue me greatly, because they are still able to portray considerable strengths as leaders, while being undeniably brutal at the same time. It’s sometimes called the dark side of leadership, and is an important consideration in understanding how even ‘evil’ people gather followers. It’s important to recognise how the ‘dark side’ can affect us in our working life, and how we need to mitigate these effects by focusing on positive, durable leadership qualities.

Here’s 5 reasons I think Tywin made an impressive leader, in spite of his ruthless side.

1. He gives clear direction. One thing about Tywin is that he is clear about his instructions. When faced with particular crisis, setback or problem, he moves quickly to respond and resolve them. In the first season, after facing the disaster of the Starks defeating his son’s army, Tywin quickly reorganises his forces to respond. He sends his son Tyrion to King’s Landing to serve as the Hand, he directs his army to move away from the Starks, while at the same time instructing some forces to cause as much damage in the lands they are vacating. 

His clear direction relies on being able to separate the various challenges he faces. He is willing to delegate to achieve his aims – Tyrion gets effective carte blanche to rule as the Hand. In fact, he gives clear direction to Tyrion about what he should be during – “Rule” – how he should do it  “heads, spikes, walls” (so ruthlessly I guess) – and asserts a humane authority for Tyrion (a son he has always looked down on, both figuratively and literally) as to why he’s been chosen – “because you’re my son”. 

2. He gives second chances. Yes, believe it or not, Tywin Lannister actually gives people another chance. There’s an episode where he berates one of his subordinates for delivering crucial orders to a family that support the Starks (thereby giving them vital intelligence on the Lannister army and its movements). Tywin criticises the soldiers inability to read (it is inferred that was why the mistake was made), and warns him that if he endangers the Lannister forces again he’ll pay with his life. But that’s it. The soldier is humiliated, disciplined, but otherwise left entact in his position. 

Consider some other ‘bad guys’ in films and TV and how they have traditionally been portrayed. Darth Vader’s a good example in Empire Strikes Back – he routinely kills subordinates that fail him. Many other anatagonists have been similarly portrayed. This kind of approach can work if instilling a sense of obedience through fear is your sole purpose. In practice, for most people that don’t have magical powers of strangling you from a distance, this approach rarely reaps rewards.

Looking at Tywin’s approach above, he is clear in his anger and the reasons for it (Tywin actually goes a little length to explain the mistake by getting a book), despite the level of his anger it is controlled (he doesn’t hit his subordinate or yell right in his face), and he sets out future parameters if the same mistake is made in the future. This sends an important lesson to his other subordinates – you need to think more carefully about what you’re doing, I will apply consequences, but I will give you a second chance to learn from your mistakes.

3. He provides vision. While being described by other characters as a fearsome and ruthless adversary, he is also able to set out a clear vision of what he is trying to achieve. This is neatly summarised in the first season when he speaks to his son Jaime about the importance of family. He highlights the futility of power for ones self, since death is ultimately going to rob you of those accomplishments. He even points out that time will erase memory of those accomplishments. What Tywin does do is talk about family and the family name, and how this is the thing that keeps him motivated because it is the only thing that endure. 

For himself and Jaime (and presumably the other children), this is primary motivation – the strategic plan. Of course, while many of his soldiers would feel duty bound to follow Tywin on account of nobility alone, that is not sufficient to encourage them. It would be more likely he would talk to them about the power of the house, being a house of higher nobility and influence etc. etc. and how they can benefit from this. It’s the same vision, but Tywin can adapt his message as it suits, and he remains consistent to it.

4. He is evidence based. Tywin demonstrates an ability to respond to problems once he is certain they are one. In the first season, he moves quickly to respond to information that the Stark army is heading in his direction. Prior to this it is inferred he has been waiting to see what the Stark army might do. He’s not foolhardy or arrogant enough to simply go full pelt into battle (although, as I will describe below, there is a slight vein of arrogance that undermines him in this scenario).

When his grandson, that lovely young chap Joffrey, is asking about dragons, Tywin reveals his scepticism based on previous dragon skulls, and how they steadily decreased in size over the years. It is clear he is dismissing the concerns at that point. While we know he is wrong, Tywin is simply acting on the evidence presented. Remember, Joffrey’s concerns are based on vague reports, not details. I am sure that if Tywin was to discover the reality of the three dragons he would re-evaluate the information, but faced with the evidence at hand he is prepared to respond to fears by presenting logical evidence in counter it.

This is where there is a slight criticism of Tywin, one that arguably gets him killed. While he uses evidence appropriately, he demonstrates a lack of an enquiring mind, and this often leads to him making misjudgements. In the scenario of the Stark army, Tywin doesn’t question his spies reports or the Stark’s motivations. He simply responds to the evidence on face value. This leads to him falling into the Stark’s trap, and seeing his other army getting routed. Had Tywin followed up on the information, he might have realised the deception.

Similarly with the dragons, Tywin is quick to dismiss the concerns on the basis of the evidence presented, but he doesn’t appear to have an interest in making a greater determination about the threat. For example, he doesn’t ask for greater reports about the size of the dragons or their capabilities. Were he to do so, he might receive more useful, detailed information that helps him re-evaluate his assumptions and beliefs.

We see this arrogance when he is faced with Tyrion holding a crossbow. Tywin routinely dismisses Tyrion’s former lover out of hand, even thought Tyrion warns him not to and is holding a loaded weapon. When Tywin continues, Tyrion opens fire killing him. Had Tywin given greater consideration to the situation he was in, and listened to Tyrion, he might have survived the encounter.

The point I’m making here is about critical analysis, reassessing information and evidence presented. Tywin appropriately responds to fear responses by focusing on the evidence, but he should have made greater inquiries about the detail. 

5. He leads from the front. Tywin is shown leading his forces in battle on more than one occasion. He displays considerable confidence in his own abilities. In many respects this could be interpreted as taking responsibility. Tywin’s reputation is therefore not just built on calculation, but also direct action. He’s prepared to take the same risks his followers do. Seeing Tywin lead from the front most be morale raising and inspiring for his troops.

So there’s Tywin, a powerful, ruthless and calculating leader who ends his days being murdered on the toilet by his own son. Not all influential leaders have great endings if their negative, dark side, influences overcome their more positive qualities.

Student Bee: Returning to university while in full time employment 

I’m back to school. After a year’s hiatus I rejoin the academia. Last time I did the course I undertook the work full time; that was hard. This time I’m going part-time. Looking at my calendar this semester I wonder how I ever managed it. 

My modules this semester are Leadership and Policy Analysis. I don’t have many anxieties about the modules; I did really well in my first year. My target is high distinction. After averaging 77% last year I think this is quite achievable.

I always feel I get a lot out of uni work, partly the reason I did the new degree. My mind works faster, probably because I’m reading more, and my thinking becomes much more focused.

I’m looking forward to this year, where I hope to cement a decent set of grades, and start to consider options for Ph.D. Only a disaster will lead to me getting less than distinction (well, that or cocky overconfidence), and I reckon I can set that bar higher.

Nihilistic, rudderless and banal: 5 reasons why Jeremy Corbyn has to go if Labour, and the UK, is to be saved

Labour’s narrow victory at Stoke and disastrous loss at Copeland is the first definitive sign of just how much Labour is struggling under Jeremy Corbyn. In the aftermath, it might be easy for some to dismiss the loss at Copeland as emblematic of current polling, as though that somehow justifies the loss. Of course, that raises the question of why Labour is so far behind in the polls to begin with. Here are 5 lessons to be drawn from the recent by-elections.

1. Copeland is a disaster. Make no bones about it. I saw Cat Smith, Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, trying to make some attempt at explaining the historic closeness of results in Copeland. Despite it being Labour, it has generally always had narrow margins of victory. Unfortunately, while this is true, it is distracting from the wider issue that Labour lost it this time. In 2010, Labour’s loss at the election was described as the biggest in its history, only then for 2015 to see further decline. Both times Labour held Copeland. What does it say now if, as is suspected, people in the seat were actively voting against Corbyn? It signifies just how badly Labour is now doing. To put in context as well, Michael Foot was gone after four years, and it was another 14 before a Labour government. At this point, we’ll have had at least 10 years of a Tory led government by 2020, and Labour could be so far down in the polls to be insignificant in terms of parliamentary power. A quarter of century of Tory rule is growing more plausible.

2. Stoke flatters Labour. Yes, UKIP’s efforts were undermined by poor organisation, and a poor candidate (I cannot see how the Hillsborough fiasco could have done anything other than ruined Nuttal’s chances). However, this shouldn’t allow Labour to think all is well in it’s heartlands. For a start, Labour have found how easy it is when your opposition is so weak. Quite the situation the Tories are in at the moment nationally. I do wonder what might have happened with a more organised UKIP campaign, or perhaps a candidate not so Trump like in nature. Labour had a central campaign message – the NHS – while UKIP had nothing. That doesn’t mean that people found Labour’s message enticing, it’s simply that when faced with a consistent political message, and a chaotic inconsistent mess, people will always pick the most consistent. It’s why the Tories tend to dominate so well compared to Labour. Their messaging is much less nuanced than Labours, and they tend to put their policies in terms of what they will do for you, the voter. Labour’s tend to be more abstract and less direct – they look like they’re telling you what they will do for everyone else, but not YOU. Labour need to learn this lesson and not draw a vain belief that the NHS campaign is the right one. As Copeland showed, people are willing to sacrifice the NHS if they are receiving a more direct form of campaigning.

3. Labour is descending into nihilism, particularly from the far left and newer recruits. Corbyn’s lack of humility about the Copeland result, unwilling to accept responsibility, signifies a Prima facie resolve from Labour, to struggle on even when faced with defeat. In reality, it is defeatism that has turned into nihilism. Faced with no prospect of victory, Corbyn and his cult like following have simply given up and opted for masking their dismay behind a “we will soldier on”. It’s a lie. Instead of trying to improve the situation, they will move ever towards more extreme policies, which are designed to put people off, further justifying the self-destructive passage that may end Labour for generations.

We can see something of this in terms of policy. All Labour seems to be these days is an NHS swan song. Don’t get me wrong, I am horrified by what the Tories are doing and can do further to the NHS. People are literally dying as a result. It’s easy to see why Labour has a particular focus. However, it’s not the only policy that matters and people have other interests. Consider the example of a group of friends that meet up regularly. One of them only ever talks about one thing, the state of the NHS. At first the friends tolerate this, because they are friends and they are sympathetic to the situation. However, as time goes on, the other friends realise this all this person talks about. In fact, this friend doesn’t appear interested in the rest of them. At first they make excuses for leaving early, but in the end they simply stop inviting that friend. That is where Labour are now. A party sounding a one track record that’s scratched.

Why won’t Labour talk about other policies effectively? Well, it’s mainly to do a lack of creativity. Corbyn doesn’t know what to do about the various ‘wicked problems’ the UK faces. Instead of accepting his own inadequacy, he merely sticks to the same topic to distract. Again it is nihilistic – there is no hope of victory, therefore the only course is one of defeat.

4. Corbyn is a really, really poor leader. I don’t know how many times I’ve reflected on this in my blog, but Corbyn is displaying fewer and fewer credentials for being a representative of anything. He rather stupidly referred to how the people of Copeland have been let down by the establishment, after Labour have been representing that seat for over 50 years. 

He failed to take any responsibility for Copeland. When asked by a reporter if he ever looked in the mirror and asked if he was responsible, Corbyn answered “No, thank you for your question.” What he should have said is something like, “Obviously I am disappointed by the result in Copeland. I don’t think it represents the hard work we put in, but it clearly shows that there is a gap between our policies and the people we are pledged to represent. We need to examine closely why that has occurred and how we can work to persuade more people to vote Labour. As leader though, I clearly have to take responsibility for the result, and to learn from this etc.” 

There are those that blame the MP’s. In some measure, the MP’s are responsible. For a start, those imbeciles that nominated Corbyn two years ago. They are directly responsible for Labour’s current collapse. Then there are the rebels. Truth is, last year, they shot too high and missed. They lost, and Corbyn became stronger than ever, as a parasite does by draining its host. Of course, drain too much and the host dies, and the parasite with it. Am I calling Corbyn a parasite? Yes, yes I am.

Ultimately though, Corbyn is responsible for the conduct of the MP’s. To quote Tywin Lannister, “When soldiers lack discipline, the fault lies with their commander.” The MP’s lack discipline, because Corbyn does not, and cannot, lead. Maybe he’s realised this, and hoping John McDonnell, equally inept, can manage to get the rules changed to get a better chance of nomination, and so resign then. Such a thing would be an even bigger disaster. Corbyn is disliked, but McDonnell is dispised nationally.

5. Extra members doesn’t equal extra campaigners. Labour is sitting somewhere around 500,000 members at the moment, quite remarkable. However, this isn’t turning into extra campaigners. In a seat like Copeland, there should have been a small army of Labour campaigners out there, getting the message out. Instead, numbers of volunteers were measured in the hundreds, not thousands. Where are all the Momentum lackies? Too busy fighting each other in an inevitable internal collapse of the far left? It’s easy to highlight Corbyn’s massed supporters, but in practical terms they have delivered nothing. 

So where does this all leave Labour? Even if they did get rid of Corbyn, I wonder if they have the means and the resolve to face up to the scale of the challenge. There needs to be a greater reflection within the party about what they actually want and how they intend to promote it. Challenging the economic wisdom of the time has to be done in such a way that people will feel that they will benefit from it. Nationalising services has to be the means to a particular end, not the end of every means. In other words, using nationalisation as a solution where appropriate, not for every issue. People need persuading of its validity before accepting it wholesale. 

The Labour Party needs something radical to shift perceptions, to show that it revolutionise without appearing to be randomly revolutionary. People are genuinely worried about the ramifications of Brexit, for or against, and the wider implications of a failing trust in the free market system. The scale of the challenge of climate change is immense, and the issue of immigration and globalisation reminds unresolved. What are Labour’s solutions and alternatives to these problems? And how can they be articulated in such a way that will deliver public support. The party may have many people in its ranks capable of meeting this challenge, but Jeremy Corbyn is most definitely not one of them. It’s time for him to go, and it’s time for Labour to start meeting the challenges the UK faces.

Back to the frontline: getting a refresher on core skills

Today I’m doing something a little different. I’m spending a day working on caseworker duties.  

I’ve always been conscious that as I move beyond the frontline role I might become entrenched in a narrow skill set, and forget the key skills that support the workers I am meant to lead. Having empathy for their point of view and their specific roles is vital if I am to do my job, so that’s why I am refreshing some of those skills.

My main area of concern is client interaction in the context of assessment and investigation. My current role has a limited scale of involvement, usually based on safety planning meetings and dealing with telephone calls. It’s been some time since I interviewed a child, visited a home with the intention of assessing that environment, or speaking with parents to guage their capacity. In my role, I am reliant on my team telling me what they think, and so I need to trust their instincts and skills. Spending some time in their shoes will help remind me of their pressures and responsibilities. Given they often ask for my perspective based on my experience, I think it’s good to make sure I don’t get rusty.

I’ve opted to do the casework role with the other team. It’ll take pressure off my team, and widen my scope of learning. Since it’s only a day I’ve opted for the intake week, when there are new referrals being managed.

It’s a good opportunity to learn from colleagues, and show that as frontline workers they have a little to teach us. 

Crisis Management 

Checked my work email this morning to find a number of crises developed overnight, so already I’m the fan of destiny prepped for the bowel discharge of fate.

Time is short on this morning’s bus ride, so this is a short blog entry about prepping for crisis.

1. Keep the routine as much as possible. I exercise in the morning before work. It would be tempting to forego this and head straight to the office, but the short term benefit of an extra hour would be extinguished by the long term break in routine. Better to exercise, be refreshed, and come into work all set.

2. Reprioritise, don’t panic. Crisis does not equal disaster. There may be a number of options available. I had planned on a number of things today, but clearly I’ll need to reorganise. This is different from ignoring what I plannned today – some of it will be quite important. If I need to move things to tomorrow or later it should be controlled and assessed, not simply dumped. That way I maintain control.

3. Communicate with the team. Not everyone will be needed to respond, but everyone should know what the situation is, and depending on the seriousness of the situation be able to reorganise and reprioritise their work. This means holding a quick briefing – I call these Scrums – of about 5 minutes to give everyone the details. This helps the team anticipate need and plan their own workload to help their colleagues.

So there are 3 quick nuggets for managing crisis. Incorporate it into your routine, not the other way round. Have an organised reorganisation of work priorities. Communicate with the team. All this will help develop a cohesive and disciplined response.

Mystery of the crop

It’s a mystery. Like I’m a farmer in a remote location. I harvest my crop, and then some guy comes along at a pre-appointed time and collects my yield. I get my pay, they drive off, and I have no sense what happens after that.

That’s what it felt like today. I completed a job application. As per usual last minute (though not my fault this time – I just got back from holiday and only saw it yesterday, and the due date was today). I’m sure it could be better, but that’s not what’s bugging me the most.

What’s bothering me is that the post I was applying for is a step above mine – senior leadership. I had the job description, policies, notes and brainstorming, but it occurred to me – I don’t really know what my line managers do. I mean, I understand they must do something, because they’re often in meetings. I dearly hope they’re not meeting about having meetings. Occasionally I need them to approve something- my god like powersof decision making only go so far. I read the job description and think ‘yeah, but what does that look like?’

It’s difficult, accepting I have this level of ignorance about senior leader figures, but I genuinely had to think hard about how I would apply my skills to that role. My current role is clear, specific, and comfortable. Theirs is vague, ambiguous, and alien.

I know in my heart that’s not good enough. I should know what they do. In fact I need to – why would I entrust such urgent responsibility in the hands of people whose powers are so enigmatic. I am a trusting person, but not naive.

So, returning to the farmer analogy, and what happens to the crop, I have different choices.

Firstly, I could remain with my crop, ruminate on the possibilities and naturally acquire the knowledge. This would leave me susceptible to assumptions.

Secondly, I could ask the driver. This would open the possibility of interpretation – I would be at the mercy of the driver’s interpretation.

Thirdly, I could walk down the same road as the driver, and hope to find the knowledge myself. This puts more power in my hands, but then the crop would be neglected. 

Fourth, I could ask to go with the driver, to see for myself. This would give me first hand experience, but with a frame of reference to compare (the driver’s). However, it would also risk the crop being neglected.

If the driver refuses to answer (antagonistic or ambivalent), or gives a confusing answer (jargon), I’m a little left on my own. It would be better if the driver were in agreement.

And of course, I am relying on the driver to be knowledgable themselves, trustworthy, and have anything to show me. Wouldn’t that be something, if everyone was part of this system but had no idea of their role?

I’ve noticed that the driver has never offered to show me. Maybe they are ambivalent, or maybe they don’t want to ruin a good crop. I reckon I’m going to have to force the issue, and press the driver, my line managers, to drive me down the road.

You see, I know what strategic thinking is, I know what achieving results means, and building relationships. It’s the context of the the thing I’m missing. I have to explore their world to understand it,and decide if it’s really something I want to do.