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A Game of Thrones in the Boardroom

A new book explores what managers can learn from the Machiavellian fantasy series.A new book explores what managers can learn from the Machiavellian fantasy series.
A new book explores what managers can learn from the Machiavellian fantasy series.Courtesy of HBO

It is said in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, that when you play the Game of Thrones, you win or die—there is no middle ground. In real life, mercifully, the stakes aren’t so brutally high.

Yet as Columbia Business School professor Bruce Craven describes in Win or Die: Leadership Secrets From Game of Thrones (Thomas Dunne Books), there are real-world lessons to be gleaned from the political machinations of fictional Westeros. Fans of the multi-book series or HBO’s adaptation will enjoy Craven’s analyses of characters’ personal development and motivations in strategy. Much like Martin’s treatment, Craven doesn’t put the heroes on pedestals—starting with the blunt advice: “Dont be Ned Stark,” who placed so much weight on his own values, believing them to be objective, that it cost him his head. “Leaders have an obligation to understand the challenges and opportunities presented by [their] values, Craven writes.

Would-be senior managers looking to hone their people skills might glean more as Craven breaks down step-by-step exercises in self-advocacy, social awareness, and relationship management. And, despite what Cersei Lannister says, there is still a middle ground—at least, according to Craven, when you lead with adaptability and support colleagues with confidence.

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Fortune.