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What Game of Thrones can teach us about leadership

Senior vice-president, sales, Business Solutions East, Telus Corp.

My obsession with Game of Thrones began shortly after my son started watching the series, with my wife joining in soon after. Slowly, you'd catch me casually peeking my head into the family room and, before long, I was hooked.

While a world of dragons and White Walkers may seem like fantasy, the more I watched the show, the more I gleaned valuable leadership lessons that could be as relevant in the workplace as they are in Westeros.

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Over the seasons, Jon Snow evolved into a leader who represents hope and perseverance, while promoting confidence within his people. How does he do this? He's clear on his vision and inspires individuals through his actions. In this way, he demonstrates a lot of what great looks like when it comes to leadership today.

When you look at business leadership, successful leaders also have a strong focus on their objectives, even in challenging times. They concentrate on what they can control and they motivate their teams to push forward.

As leaders, we all face challenges (maybe not quite as deadly as Jon Snow's). Our teams look to us for guidance most of all in times of crisis or uncertainty. When the going gets tough, it's more important than ever to align your team behind a vision and inspire them to reach their full potential.

Whether you're battling with Boltons or budgets, here's what Jon Snow has taught me about how to lead in challenging times:

Focus on what you can control

I'll never forget a performance review I had as a young sales rep. I was having a difficult period early on in my career and my VP gave me some great coaching. He recommended I focus on the causes I can control when it came to my performance, instead of stressing about external factors. It was great advice that I carry with me to this day.

In the business world, great leaders prove over and over again that focusing on what you can control has far more leverage than worrying about what you can't. Storms will always present themselves in business, be it strong competitors or strenuous economic environments. But at the end of the day, a captain has no control over the storm, only how he or she navigates it.

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Inspire confidence within your team

As our Game of Thrones warrior has proven, anything is possible when you believe. When you think of the word "belief," it may make you think of words such as confidence, optimism, determination, conviction and, ultimately, hope. Leaders must inspire all of these things, especially in tough times.

We see parallels in real-world examples. During the depths of the Second World War, facing very bleak circumstances, Churchill was unyielding in his message and vision: "We shall never surrender." Those words created a path forward for all who heard and believed in them, instilling confidence and hope. There's no shortage of great leaders throughout history who remained resolute with unwavering determination, despite challenging surroundings – and they ultimately achieved great things.

Lead the charge

I'm constantly inspired by individuals who lead by example. When times are at their darkest, Jon Snow's followers know exactly where to find him – at the front line of the battle.

Great leaders don't just inspire others to believe in their pursuits; they have an impact far beyond what most would ever think is possible. Let's look at Terry Fox, for example. With incredibly difficult circumstances, he showed us that the impossible was possible. With every step, Terry persevered and inspired a nation to believe in his dream.

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If I relate this back to the information technology industry, in which I work, change is constant and the macro environment is unpredictable with advances and disruptors. Technology is constantly rewriting the rules and the needs of our customers are ever-changing. At times, the twists and turns presented seem insurmountable. These changes have a huge effect on businesses and teams. As Jon Snow has taught us, control, calming confidence and strong vision are traits that every leader should possess, especially in turbulent times.

We can't always control our environment or the situation we're handed, but we can control our response to them.

Winter is coming, how will you respond as a leader?

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the continuing Leadership Lab series.

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