Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons, might be a fictitious character from a long-ago world resembling medieval Europe. But her leadership skills are timeless. Born today, she’d be an exceptional entrepreneur and CEO—with a startup that takes the world by storm. Daenerys has a lot to teach the modern business world. Follow along to learn 10 business lessons at the feet of the Mother of Dragons.
1. Branding is everything.
Her friends might call her Dany, but to everyone else she is Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen; the First of Her Name; the Unburnt; Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men; Queen of Meereen; Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea; Protector of the Realm; Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms; Breaker of Chains; and Mother of Dragons. Daenerys understands the power of a strong brand—and she never goes off-message. She knows that her brand is the foundation that makes everything else possible.
2. Lead from the front.
Time and again, Ser Jorah and, later, Tyrion Lannister would warn Daenerys to be careful, to protect herself, to not go into battle. But Daenerys knows that good leaders lead from the front. How could she ask her followers to sacrifice, to go into battle, if she herself is not doing these things? She instinctively knows that leaders need to roll up their sleeves, get dirty, and set an example for the rest of their team. This essential CEO trait is why Dany saddles up Drogon and flies north of the wall to save Jon Snow and his companions—losing Viserion in the process.
3. Set clear goals.
Daenerys’ goal is crystal-clear from the start: to regain the Iron Throne and become the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms—and everyone who knows her or works for her understands this. Having a clear goal makes it easier to stay on mission and make difficult decisions, such as the choice to leave behind her lover, Daario Naharis, in season six.
4. Word of mouth is powerful.
In a world with no phones, newspapers, television, or social media, everyone in the Seven Kingdoms and beyond has heard of the Mother of Dragons. In today’s technological world, word-of-mouth still remains a powerful brand-building tool (perhaps the most powerful!). This is why companies pursue brand ambassadors and referrals, and pay for tactics like affiliate, influencer, and partnership marketing. What are people saying about you? And how can you make an impression? These things matter.
5. Without your reputation, you’re nothing.
A powerful brand is only sustainable if it retains its impeccable reputation. Warren Buffett knows it. Queen Elizabeth knows it. And you better believe the Mother of Dragons knows it. It’s why she executes Randyll and Dickon Tarly near the end of season seven. She gave them a choice: bend the knee and accept her mercy and love, or die. They refused, and now the Tarly line has been practically extinguished. Although it seems ruthless, Dany knew that pardoning them would hurt her reputation, allowing her to be perceived as weak or going back on her word.
6. Stay true to your values.
As you expand, it’s easy to lose sight of your values, your mission, and your company culture—all of the things that made you successful. But Daenerys won’t make that mistake. As the Mother of Dragons grows more and more powerful, she never forgets her mission of gaining the Iron Throne, her value system of treating people honorably, and her loyalty to the true friends who were with her from the start. And while she might sometimes feel frustration at not being able to rage into King’s Landing burning everything in her sight, she also knows that behavior is not just mean—it’s off-brand.
7. Hire great people.
Even the best leaders cannot do it alone. Jorah Mormont, Barristan Selmy, Missandei, Grey Worm, Daario Naharis, Tyrion Lannister; the Mother of Dragons has made a habit of surrounding herself with smart, loyal people. Even more importantly—they’re not afraid to tell her when she’s wrong, as Tyrion does when Dany expresses frustration at waiting in Dragonstone in season seven. “Conquering Westeros would be easy for you,” he says. “But you’re not here to be queen of the ashes.”
8. Failure is not an option.
Her brother sells her as a sex slave, she’s forced to eat a raw stallion heart while pregnant, her only child is born dead and monstrous, and she has to smother her comatose beloved husband with a pillow—and that was just season one! Daenerys encountered many, many roadblocks over the seven seasons of Game of Thrones. But she never gave up. She cultivated a mindset of “failure is not an option,” and she instilled the same in all of her followers.
9. Fake it till you make it.
Remember in season two when Dany straggled up to the gates of Qarth, barely alive, with Jorah Mormont, some baby dragons, and a measly handful of weakened Dothraki? Being bold and staying on-brand gets her through the gates of Qarth—and by the end of the season The Thirteen (Qarth’s greedy merchant rulers) are dead, and the Mother of Dragons has seized their resources. Moral of the story? Act like a true leader, and soon you will be.
10. Truly great leaders are loved, not feared.
Season seven appears to be setting the stage for the ultimate CEO showdown: Cersei Lannister vs. Daenerys Targaryen. The two leaders are both powerful, beautiful, ambitious, and female—despite that, their personalities couldn’t be more different. Cersei is cruel, manipulative, and untrustworthy; everyone who works for her does so out of fear. The only exception is her brother/lover, and Cersei drives even Jaime away in the season finale. In contrast, people fall all over themselves to fight for Daenerys out of love and respect. Both Cersei and Daenerys have suffered pain and loss, but Dany is the one we admire—and the one who just seems happier.
Will Daenerys’ leadership prowess be enough to put her on the Iron Throne? We’re not sure, but we do know that her panache has been the best kind of bootstrapping—and we’ll be cheering her along in every episode of season eight.