Jon Snow the archetype of a good leader?

Jon Snow the archetype of a good leader?

Apparently only 1% of the population has never watched “Game of Thrones”. Until recently I was part of this representative group and I was very surprised to hear that people stay up half the night binge watching several episodes at a time. Not sleeping because of a good book? I can respect that. But a television show? This sounds rather pathetic and can be associated with an overabundance of free time. In can hereby inform you that I will have to take back my words, at least howl to the moon like the Ghost (Jon Snow’s wolf). Because as it turns out, I was consistently lacking sleep for well over a month.

But I digress. I would like to break down the character of Jon Snow, and more specifically, to think about whether Jon Snow is the archetype of a true leader, a good manager for our times.

To respond to this question, I will focus on the most commonly indicated traits of a good leader. I acquired this knowledge from discussions held with HR representatives, during the course of which we discussed the profile of a recruited manager, and also from candidates-managers, who during interviews told me about what they value in their bosses and what type of relationship and cooperation with the boss is preferred by them.

Let’s put Jon Snow in the role of a team leader, department director, or company CEO. Let’s have the seven kingdoms as the company, organization or even corporation.

Team motivation skills

Do you remember how many times Jon Snow convinced people to act together? The Night’s Watch, Free Folk, Lords of the North, and even the Lannisters. The skill to not only be able to mobile your team, but also to convince the members of other departments, and even members that function autonomously, dispersed in the network of companies, associated within the framework of one network, to fight neck in neck, to achieve the goals set by the organization. No promises, a large risk of defeat, and despite this enemies of many years were able to take on the challenge of fighting the “competition”. The leader’s goal became the goal of the entire team, provided the leader was able to communicate it at the right time.

Belief in ideals and proceeding in accordance with one’s own values

Working for the cause. Placing the company’s goals over one’s own personal impulses, stemming from wanting to receive an award, promotion, achieve financial benefits or applause. For many, the main motivator is personal gain. Leaders who are able to make people follow them are not running after a title, or a 15% pay raise, because these will eventually become outcome of their actions. However, they are not a goal in and of themselves. Jon Snow never sought the throne, and despite this he was called the King of the North. He was not afraid to share power, because he quickly recognized its dark side and did not need to use it as a tool. It was the case that mattered, the success of a project, the effect of joint actions. And the most important thing – it was the people that mattered.

Unconditional faith in people

Faith in people and not only those from our closest surroundings. The skill to have a wider perspective, on those who in the course of battle are standing in the front lines, without horses, relying on their own legs, with axes and swords in their hands. Being at the very top of a company, or even managing an indicated area in an organization, a leader has to deal mainly with managers, and they manage teams of ordinary employees. Jon Snow recognized and believed also in those who work on the production lines, are sales representatives operating in the field, or customer service representatives. What is more, he recognized the power of coaching and content related assistance over weaker team members. He applied the policies of equal opportunity, stemming from the knowledge that each team member represents a different level of competence. People differ from each other. Some are stronger in negotiations, others in planning, others in operations.

Strength and honor

A strong character does not result in aggression or in building tension in the team. A strong character is the skill of knowing how to handle difficult situations, which are not lacking neither in the history of the Seven Kingdoms, nor in everyday company life. “Battle of the Bastards” best describes everything good about Jon Snow. He is hard and fearless in the face of things impossible, he does not stop fighting until the very last breath.  Composure, a detailed analysis, using your knowledge and the knowledge of others, finding solutions, making attempts, even if they are not always successful. But also – the skill to own up to your own mistakes, bearing the consequences of incorrectly made decisions. Remember the moment at which Stannis Baratheon proposed the title of King of the North and Lord  Winterfell to Jon in exchange for support in the ongoing fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms? Jon refused with honor, maintaining his loyalty towards the Knight’s Watch.


Unpretentious. Real. I love this trait in people. The lack of the need to make ourselves out to be someone we are not, because we thing that the “other me” would be more accepted by the surroundings. Meanwhile, a manager that pretends less and is more content with themselves will gain all the more reliability in the eyes of their team. The truth hurts, however, in this case in a very positive manner. Adapt, but don’t adjust by brute force. Act according to the rules, but don’t just dance to their tune. Difficult to carry out, especially in a corporation. Also difficult for Jon Snow. An example of this is the time that Snow spent with the Wildlings. The time, which became an opportunity for reformatting the stereotypical approach to an enemy of many  years. Snow met the Wildlings, entered into their world but did not change neither for them, nor did he succumb to them.

Let’s summarize. Jon Snow placed an emphasis on values and behaviors connected with team work, loyalty, and looking after others. Jon’s strength is cooperation. This trait makes a person a good leader, insofar as they possess the skill of detailed observation of others, an assessment of the situation and foresight. In contact with unpredictable people, such as Cersei, Jon has to learn to go outside the sphere of loyalty, honesty and order, which he follows, and decidedly focus on cleverness. His honesty hindered the potential alliance with the Lannister forces. Jon refused to maintain neutrality at Cersei’s request, honestly admitting that he had already pledged allegiance to Daenerys. “I cannot serve two queens” – he said. Tyrion reprimanded Jon by saying:

Have you ever considered learning how to lie every now and then?  Just a bit?

If what we know about leadership is true, an effective leader is one which is able to guide those that are not carrying a sworn in their hand, have no power, are infantry, not hussars. A good leader must know how to admit that they made a mistake and that they are wrong sometimes. That is their greatest strength.

Let this idealistic image of a leader overshadow the manner in which the heroic career of Jon Snow ended. Let’s recall the final episode of Game of Thrones.

Was it really worth it? Are companies and organizations ready for a leader like Jon Snow?

Monika Ciesielska
President at IMSA Search Global Partners. An experienced consultant in the recruitment of the management staff, including board members, and a leader of the recruiting team in the IT/Tech area. Enthusiast of digital transformation of HR processes. Podcaster at "Skrzydlaty HR" and "Top Leaders Club".
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