Last Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones featured many moments of quiet reflection. Characters looked back at their success and failures on and off the battlefield.
The world of Game of Thrones is a brutal one — there are political pitfalls around every corner, and a single mistake can easily cost you your life. To survive, the characters must inspire others with their leadership, and foster leadership in others.
As we move into next week’s episode — one that is rumored to feature the longest battle sequence ever committed to film — let’s take a look at how each character approaches leadership and coaching.
First, Let’s Set Some Guidelines
We are going to look at these leaders’ coaching skills using the AIIR Coaching Mindset Index® framework, which breaks down the essential components of coaching into three foundational pillars: (1) Sharing Feedback, (2) Setting Goals, and (3) Finding Solutions.
Leaders can approach any of these categories with either a Push or Pull coaching strategy:
- Push strategies are used to challenge coachees by having candid conversations, offering expertise, and focusing on results.
- Pull strategies facilitate learning by eliciting insights, showing understanding, and promoting long-term growth.
The most versatile coaches are able to leverage a combination of both strategies, moving between push and pull in response to the coachee’s needs. Here are the coaching strategies leaders use:
- Push Strategy: Candor. Using honesty and directness when providing feedback, especially difficult or potentially painful feedback.
- Pull Strategy: Compassion. Using sensitivity and diplomacy when sharing feedback to protect the esteem and emotional well-being of coachees.
- Push Strategy: Performance. Motivating coachees to identify and achieve ambitious and measurable results in their work.
- Pull Strategy: Development. Encouraging coachees to identify and pursue experiences and responsibilities that support their aspirations.
- Push Strategy: Advocacy. Offering solutions to coachees by sharing ideas, past experiences, and expertise.
- Pull Strategy: Inquiry. Helping coachees find their own solutions by demonstrating curiosity, asking open-ended questions, and listening deeply.
Here’s How That Breaks Down
As seen in the model above, every leader gravitates toward a natural style of coaching, defined by their unique blend of preferred strategies. We’ve identified four coaching styles: Independent (low push/low pull), Supportive (high push/low pull), Directive (low pull/high push), and Engaged (high push/high pull).
So What Are the Coaching Styles of Our Favorite Leaders?
Daenerys Targaryen – Engaged Coach
Coaching Strategies: Compassion, Performance, Advocacy, and Inquiry
While she sometimes takes extreme action, Daenerys is a firm but fair ruler to her people. From the hoard of Dothraki to the Unsullied and other slaves she freed in Slaver’s Bay, she has inspired many to join her cause. We see other characters remark that she has a good heart and it is clear that she takes a compassionate approach (just as long as you don’t cross her or stand in her way). She also isn’t shy about sharing her experiences or pushing for performance. This makes Daenerys the type of high push/high pull Engaged coach that gets results.
Cersei Lannister – Directive Coach
Coaching Strategies: Candor, Performance, and Advocacy
Cersei isn’t one to mince words and she’s never demonstrated much patience for pull strategies. She’s going to tell you what she believes and push for performance no matter what. Like her father, Tywin, Cersei doesn’t shy away from direct feedback — even if it might be painful for her coachees, namely Jaime and Sansa, to hear. We do occasionally see her use a more supportive style with her children, but everyone else gets Cersei’s high push/low pull Directive style.
Sansa Stark – Directive Coach
Coaching Strategies: Candor, Compassion, Performance, Advocacy
Cersei clearly had a strong influence on Sansa during her formative years. While Sansa does lead with more compassion, she’s not afraid to be perfectly candid. We see her frequently peer-coaching Jon using a direct approach. She has learned from her experiences and is not going to let those lessons go to waste. She also exercises great ambition, seeking to regain Winterfell and determined to maintain control of the North. Like her own coach, Cersei, Sansa is high push/low pull.
Lord Varys – Supportive Coach
Coaching Strategies: Compassion, Development, Inquiry
Lord Varys plays a long game in his coaching engagements. As he has stated many times, Varys seeks to serve the Realm, protecting the common people. Varys leads with curiosity, listening to the many songs of his little birds. He takes a diplomatic approach, serving first King Robert and then King Joffrey, all while developing his true coachee, Queen Daenerys. While his influence on her has been indirect, they share compassion for the common people. Varys is a low push/high pull leader that develops talent over time.
Samwell Tarley – Supportive Coach
Coaching Strategies: Compassion, Development, Inquiry, and Advocacy
Sam has been coaching Jon since the two met in Season 1. He’s a compassionate person that values knowledge and strongly encourages development. Remember that it was Sam who nominated Jon for Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch — a rare example of pushing him to perform when Jon didn’t feel ready or worthy. Sam knows potential when he sees it and he wants others to see it too. This makes him a gentle, low push/high pull coach.
Tyrion Lannister – Engaged Coach
Coaching Strategies: Candor, Compassion, Performance, and Advocacy
Tyrion is a committed coach and has been since he first arrived at King’s Landing to serve as Hand to King Joffrey. During that time, he encouraged the king to fight alongside his people and think about their experiences. While that coaching engagement ended badly, his most recent coachee, Daenerys, has certainly soared to new heights. By encouraging her to check her impulses and encouraging her compassion for the common people, Tyrion demonstrates his high push/high pull coaching style.
Jon Snow – Independent Coach
Coaching Strategies: Compassion, Development, Inquiry
Jon Snow is a rare leader that has taken up the mantle of responsibility because it was thrust upon him. Like Daenerys, Jon has inspired many to follow him. Unlike Daenerys, he doesn’t seek to rule them or control them. He simply seeks to rally and protect them. Jon’s had a few unsuccessful coaching engagements (that one with Olly didn’t end well…), but by allowing for autonomy he has brought almost everyone to fight for the ultimate cause. Jon is the only Independent leader on our list, favoring a low push/low pull approach.
Coaching Styles of Characters Who Didn’t Make it to the Final Season
These leaders aren’t around anymore, but it’s still fun to think about their styles. Even if those styles eventually got them killed.
Ned Stark – Independent Coach
Ned led by example, holding himself to a code of honor while encouraging others to do the same. Now his head is independent too.
Margaery Tyrell – Supportive Coach
No one was better at indirectly guiding a coachee than Queen Margaery. If only she’d pulled out of the Great Sept a little sooner.
Tywin Lannister – Directive Coach
Tywin wasn’t concerned with the opinions of the sheep and didn’t think you should be either. That crossbow was also quite directive.
Tommen Baratheon – Supportive Coach
Tommen had a gentle heart that matched his gentle coaching but after he stepped out of that window, his style just didn’t land.
The High Sparrow – Independent Coach
The humble High Sparrow lived in service of the gods and brought many to his cause. It’s a real shame that didn’t work out better for him.
Robb Stark – Engaged Coach
Rob openly coached his men, sharing experiences and exercising flexibility in the name of the cause. Unfortunately, it was a broken engagement that eventually caught up with him.
Shireen Baratheon – Supportive Coach
Shireen coached Ser Davos and Gilly, encouraging them both to learn to read. Perhaps she was a bit too supportive when it came to her own father…
Joffrey Baratheon – Directive Coach
Sometimes brute force isn’t the best way to inspire loyalty. It might just get you choked up!