Cautionary Lessons in Change Management from Game of Thrones' Jon Snow

May 27, 2016
6 Min Read
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Cautionary Lessons in Change Management from Game of Thrones' Jon SnowJon Snow, a main character on the wildly popular HBO series Game of Thrones, famously knows nothing. In particular, he knows nothing when it comes to managing a change.

Jon Snow, the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, learned that his long-standing foes, the Wildlings, were fleeing from the risen undead, known as the White Walkers. As the commander, he decided to open his gates to the Wildlings, to shore up his defenses against a greater enemy.

Jon may have done the right thing, but he did it in the wrong way. He was soon killed by several members of the Night's Watch. (He got better.) If you learn these lessons ahead of time, you won't be caught out in the cold, like Jon Snow.

Get your team on board

When Jon Snow let the Wildings beyond the Wall, it was the right choice. It was also an impulsive one, because he failed to accurately gauge the effect it would have on his team. Had he managed their expectations of buy-in more carefully, he might not have later encountered challenges of his role as leader.

As a change leader, it's not merely your job to recognize the need for change: You have to implement it successfully. And the more dramatic or more costly that change will be, the more important it is to get buy-in immediately.

Many good ideas, even great ones, have collapsed because of a failure of leadership to properly assess and manage the consequences of unsecured success. It's not enough to address a problem. You need to make sure your team understands the problem…and the solution as well.

Listen to your people

Jon Snow failed to secure any buy-in from his more reluctant and more stoic comrades, who were overwhelmed with too much change, too quickly. He further failed to listen to their misgivings regarding his plans, which he shared with only a select few. Finally, his men told him what they thought of his plan. With swords.

If you don't listen to your people's concerns, the concerns remain—and you will feel the brunt of lost confidence. Worse, your team may unconsciously sabotage success: They could miss deadlines, express an irrational frustration, or exaggerate minor setbacks or missteps to make progress seem practically nonexistent. While none of this is as life threatening to you as it was to Jon Snow, a prolonged lack of results could have upper management reconsidering the change or reconsidering the capability of the change leader.

Recognize your mistakes and accept them.

Although mistakes in planning, judgment, and anticipating support will happen, it’s the job of the leader to manage them and minimize the damage (before it's too late—as Jon learned the hard way). Regain the support you've lost, work to gain new support, and most importantly, get off the mat.

Make sure that there's room for a period of transition. These periods are awkward, but they give your team the room they need to express doubt or fear and believe you're listening to their valuable input. You may have missed some useful stakeholder suggestions that could save everyone time and trouble.

Don't Quit

The surest way to cause a change process to fail is to give up. Jon Snow chose to abandon his post as leader in response to his own failures. A good leader doesn't let their bruised ego prevent them from finishing the project or critical change. The passion that drives you at the beginning is a powerful flame that you have to care for, to motivate you when things look bleak and failure seems certain. Stay with it, and prove your own ability and resilience.

The character Jon Snow is a fearless and committed leader, but his own failures in ability to listen to his stakeholders, properly gauge their buy-in, and minimize the damage caused by his own errors cost him dearly. As a change leader getting, and in some cases recovering, buy-in is one of the many critical parts of your role.

For some more practical change management lessons, check out our eBook, The Leader's Guide: 3 Key Steps to Effective Change Management.


Image courtesy of Newsweek.

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