Leadership

In the 'Game of Thrones' episode 'Spoils of War,' Daenerys knows when to listen—and when to act

Daenerys from Game of Thrones.
Source: HBO
Daenerys from Game of Thrones.

While it's true that you should hire people who are smarter than you, the best leaders know when it's best to think for themselves. On Sunday's episode of HBO's "Game of Thrones," "The Spoils of War," Daenerys Targaryen seeks the advice of canny strategists, but in the end she decides, mostly, to trust her gut.

Though she's furious about her recent losses, her chief adviser Tyrion Lannister and her respected ally Jon Snow tell her not to do anything rash like burn down the capital, King's Landing. Tyrion tells the would-be queen not to attack since heading into the fray against the forces led by his brother Jamie would risk her life. She questions his loyalty since he is, of course, a Lannister.

Jon points out that if she wants to offer the world something new, prosperity and peace, she shouldn't use her dragons on civilians to bring the same destruction her father once did. She has reason to question his loyalty, too, since he has still refused to bend the knee.

And yet, despite her doubts about both men, she listens. Indeed, in asking for Jon's opinion in the first place, Daenerys demonstrates a willingness to consider outside perspectives, something CEOs of high-performing companies do. As Elon Musk says, "We challenge our leaders to hire people that are better than themselves, therefore making the company better with each hire."

The would-be queen doesn't attack the people of King's Landing, but she goes ahead and joins a mainly Dothraki attack on the armies of the Lannisters and Tarlys, leading the charge from the back of her strongest dragon.

Daenerys' forces destroy the opposition.

Macall B. Polay, HBO

"It's almost like what if someone had an F-16 that they brought to a medieval battle," says executive producer D. B. Weiss during "Inside the Episode." The dragon functions like a Boeing-sized flame-thrower that can fly.

For viewers, the spectacle is shamefully satisfying. This is what fans got a taste of in Season Six and have been waiting for since her dragons were born, to see her ride one into battle in Westeros.

And so is the sight of Daenerys being the best kind of leader: one who succeeds by absorbing information and also acting on good instincts.

How good is her advisers' counsel? Pretty strong. Jon steers her toward an attack on military targets rather than innocent ones.

And Tyrion's concerns prove to be valid: Daenerys does come close to meeting her end during the battle. A commander of the Lannister forces, the sell-sword Bronn, manages to wound her dragon with Qyburn's giant cross-bow and forces Drogon and the would-be queen to land in the middle of the fiery chaos.

When Jamie spots Daenerys, vulnerable and exposed, he charges.

Yet ultimately Tyrion knows the one who's in danger is his brother, the only member of Tyrion's family for whom he retains any affection. From his vantage point watching the action, the queen's Hand mutters, "Flee, you idiot," before the dragon nearly engulfs Jamie in fire.

The scene affirms Daenerys' decision to disregard Tyrion's advice to hold off on attacking. He struggles to watch the soldiers of his house suffering as they are scorched, and it's evident that he isn't indifferent to the fact that the war they are waging is against his own family.

But Daenerys can acknowledge this drawback in her chief adviser and still keep him on as an asset.

As the Targaryen knows, Tyrion might usually advise against violent force, and he might indeed still have some divided loyalties where his house is concerned. But he is more familiar with the politics of the Seven Kingdoms than she is, and he knows his siblings, as well as their weaknesses.

If Jamie survives his immersion in the lake at the end of the episode, and Daenerys takes him captive, having Tyrion there to interrogate him, and perhaps even try to convince him to switch sides, will be crucial.

The Mother of Dragons has collected a diverse set of people to seek out for advice, including Missandei, a former slave from Essos; Lord Varys; Tyrion; Grey Worm and the Unsullied; the leaders of the Dothraki; and now Jon. If she continues to trust her instincts but also consider their agendas when they offer suggestions, she'll have the best shot of fulfilling her own.

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