Leadership

Cersei Lannister is the strongest leader in Westeros, so she may well win the 'Game of Thrones'

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister featured in Game of Thrones season six finale.
Source: Courtesy of HBO

The No. 1 shared characteristic among successful CEOs is intellect, one IBM supercomputer analysis found. And Sunday's episode of HBO's "Game of Thrones," titled, fittingly, "The Queen's Justice," highlights that trait in Cersei Lannister. Her ability to think strategically is part of why she's a strong leader and why she may yet win the contest for the Iron Throne.

In this episode, she's steps ahead of her own brother Tyrion, seemingly the show's smartest character and Hand (chief adviser) to her most threatening enemy, Daenerys Targaryen. With ease, Cersei's army takes Highgarden, home to the Tyrells, the wealthiest family in Westeros, after she made the decision to cede the less valuable Casterly Rock.

The implications of the move are massive. The Lannisters now control the Reach, the most fertile expanse in Westeros. Cersei will be able to pay off those famous Lannister debts. And, as is implied by her negotiation with Iron Bank emissary Tycho Nestoris, when Daenerys and her dragons come attempt to seize the throne, the most powerful bank in the land will back her.

She has momentum. She has resources. And she concentrates on forging connections because the best leaders know they can't succeed alone. "No one does," says Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "When you look at most big things that get done in the world, they're not done by one person." They're done by well-constructed teams.

Cersei has chosen her friends carefully.

Nestoris is arguably the most important ally to have in all of Westeros, but she has also united with Euron Greyjoy, king of the Iron Islands. Euron is repulsive, as Cersei clearly recognizes, but his fleet is unmatched, and he's already proven his loyalty to her by bringing her the woman who murdered her daughter.

The Queen still has some challenges. Her competitors are committed and have a strong narrative (and dragons). Also, she lacks compassion and, according to a report from TalentSmart, most leaders need that to thrive.

Forcing Ellaria Sand to watch her daughter slowly waste away right in front of her in the dungeons beneath King's Landing is dramatic, maybe even psychopathic. There are more humane ways to bring the murderer of her daughter to justice, just as there were more humane ways to get rid of the High Sparrow, who punished her for her sins by having her walk naked through the streets of the capital and whom she, in turn, destroyed.

When it comes to dealing with her enemies, in short, Cersei is ruthless. But, contrary to recent suggestions, she's not mad. She is bold.

She uses wildfire, but not recklessly, like the late Mad King Aerys did. She deploys it to target the Sept of Baelor and wipes out the entire class of Sparrows. At the Battle of Blackwater, she uses it, again in a reasonably controlled way, to sink her opponent Stannis Baratheon's ships.

Other characters are too afraid of losing control of wildfire to use it at all. She uses it without losing control, and she wins.

Proactive risk-taking is another quality often associated with great leaders. After Elon Musk sold PayPal, for example, he used almost the entirety of the revenue to invest in SpaceX without any formal experience in the aerospace industry. SpaceX is now one of the most valuable privately held companies in the world.

Dean-Charles Chapman as Tommen Baratheon and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in "Game of Thrones."
McCall B. Polay | HBO
Dean-Charles Chapman as Tommen Baratheon and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in "Game of Thrones."

The downside is that risk often brings failures. "Failure and invention are inseparable twins," says Jeff Bezos.

Cersei knows this better than anyone. Her complacency allowed for her son Joffrey's chaotic, impulsive rule, and her handling of the Sparrows led to the suicide of her son Tommen. Even her daughter's murder could be traced back to Cersei's actions.

Despite her love for her children, she is ultimately responsible for their deaths.

Based on the events of this season so far, though, these losses have only seemed to motivate her in her quest for power. Combine that motivation with the leadership qualities she's already demonstrated, and it's clear that she has a good chance of coming out on top. Especially since author George R. R. Martin has demonstrated a talent for disappointing, even devastating, his readers.

Besides, her brother Jamie, who has both a deep knowledge of history and lots of first-hand experience in Westeros politics, expects her to win. In the Seven Kingdoms, the strongest, savviest leader usually does.

At the end of "The Queen's Justice," Jamie puts it aptly to Olenna Tyrell, another once strong but now defeated foe. He concedes that, to their enemies, Cersei may be a monster. That's largely what she has needed to be to succeed.

"But after we've won," he says, "and there's no one left to oppose us, when people are living peacefully in the world she built, do you really think they'll wring their hands over the way she built it?"

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