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How to Not Burn Down the Kingdom when the Stakes are High

*Mild Game of Thrones plot spoilers ahead*

The HBO miniseries, Game of Thrones (GoT), has captivated audiences for nearly a decade and is drawing to a close this coming Sunday. While the battle for The Seven Kingdoms seems as though it’s been pretty much decided, there are likely more twists and turns as the story draws to a close; in what viewers hope to be an epic fashion.

During the series penultimate episode, The Bells, we couldn’t help but notice that there were some important lessons in handling stress when the stakes are high. Here’s what our favorite Game of Thrones characters can teach us about high stress situations.

Jon Snow (The Highly Functional Introvert)

Jon Snow is a character that can be best described as a highly functional introvert. He knows all the intricacies of battle and is very experienced in what he does. He quietly leads through example and takes his job very seriously.

Photo Credit: HBO

Throughout the series, he has shown that, while he is a reluctant leader, he is one who truly loves the role and has strong moral intentions to do what is right to protect the good of his people; whether as King of the North or Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.

During the Battle of Kings Landing, Jon tries in vain to hold back the Targaryen and Northern forces as they start slaughtering unarmed Lannister forces and finds himself horrified by the carnage that occurs despite his efforts to stop it, and he orders his forces to retreat.

While high stress situations in your club are more of a metaphorical battle than a literal one, a key take-away from Jon’s leadership is that it’s never too late to admit your mistakes and be true to your character. Jon also was ‘in the trenches’ with his team, standing and fighting side by side with them. When the team is faced with high pressure and feeling anxiety, it’s important that the leader is perceived as being ‘in the foxhole’ with the team: helping to absorb the team’s anxiety, showing confidence in the team’s ability to succeed in a powerful, yet compassionate way. When faced with a high stress situation in your club, it’s important that you are leading by example. The most effective managers clearly communicate their expectations regardless of the situation and they keep the lines of communication open. Jon made sure to treat his men with respect and hold them to as high of a standard as he held himself. Like engaged employees, very few of Jon’s followers deserted him when he led them into dangerous situations; they trusted him implicitly and found themselves valued members of a team working for the greater good.

Daenarys Targaryen (The Intense Temperament)

One of the most complex and polarizing characters on the show, Daenarys Targaryen, has a decidedly intense temperament. Though outspoken, she is very charismatic and can easily win her way into the hearts of those who follow her. She champions herself in standing up for those who don’t have a voice and vows to be a fair and just ruler, but she has very little tolerance for those who disagree with her or stand in the way of her journey to the Iron Throne.

Photo Credit: HBO

Leading up to the final episode of Game of Thrones, we see a prime example of how dangerous it can be to let emotions cloud your judgement in stressful situations and also how our decision-making ability can be compromised if we feel alone. As a result of losing those closest to her; two of her dragons, Ser Jorah and Missandei, she mounts a devastating attack on Kings Landing to exact revenge on those whom she perceived took everything she has lost from her. Daenarys ignored the guidance of her advisors, instead letting her single-minded goal of the throne and her emotions interfere with sound reasoning and facts presented to her.

Managing an employee with an intense temperament can be difficult, and as a manager it’s important to find the source of your employees’ irritability. Many times, anger over the situation at hand not going as planned, or frustration over not being heard causes those with intense temperaments to lash out. As a leader, taking actions to change your employees’ attitude to focus on the positives rather than the negatives is key. Listening to understand - rather than simply to hear and respond - is crucial. The last thing a manager wants to do is isolate their employee in a time of anger; this is a sure recipe for rash decisions (and in the case of Daenarys, cause to burn an entire city to the ground).

Arya Stark (A Mix of The Anxious Warrior and The Highly Functional Introvert)

Arya Stark begins the series as a cunning, spunky child determined to set herself apart from her beautiful, regal sister Sansa. Arya grows into an skilled warrior determined to exact revenge on those who have taken those whom she loves away from her. As a highly functioning introvert she is focused on her tasks and takes them seriously – hello Night King!

Photo Credit: HBO

She embodies the traits of an anxious warrior when, midway through the series we find her repeating her “kill list” over and over—essentially insisting that everyone she meets is aware of the heavy workload that she, and she alone, has ahead of her.

In times of stress, an Arya Stark-like employee is one who needs to be recognized her efforts and contribution and active encouragement to improve her work/life balance. Arya’s sole purpose in life was to find and kill those who tore her family apart. While she could have greatly benefited from a mentor helping her to find joy in the journey and discover healthier coping skills; the way a manager might do for an employee, in the end, she did find someone she trusted enough in The Hound, and she listened to him when he told her to choose a different path. Many times, in high stress situations, it’s important to take a step back and look at the big picture and set clear and realistic expectations for how to handle the situation at hand. As a manager, its important to build trust with employees daily so that in times of high stress, their trust in you will help lead the way toward success. Delegating and prioritizing is key as well.

Tyrion Lannister (The Ambitious and Amiable)

One of the characters that undergoes the most drastic transformation throughout the series is Tyrion Lannister—we witness Tyrion growing as a character from a witty playboy who spends his time “drinking and knowing things” to a trusted advisor to Queen Daenarys.

Photo Credit: HBO

Tyrion is valued for his intellect and abilities to strategize conquests in which the benefit for the greater good is always first and foremost. He seems to be on the fence about betraying Daenarys in favor of Jon as rightful heir to the Iron Throne but it appears that this decision too will be one made with the greater good of the people in mind.

Every manager wants an employee like Tyrion in times of stress—he is eager to learn and gets along well with just about anyone. An employee like him prefers to avoid conflict, inspires others, and works well under pressure; which is crucial in high stress situations. An employee like Tyrion is one who listens intently, observes others to understand their motives, finds ways to collaborate with others and inspires them to work through a stressful situation to tackle the task at hand, helping them to believe in themselves. Collaboration and consistent positive communication with team members and managers is crucial to working through stressful situations.

This time of year can be very stressful to those working in the club industry; for some it’s the end of their season, and for others their busy season is just beginning. Childcare concerns as kids get out of school, graduation events, teenagers with their eyes on college in a few short months, and family vacation planning all add to the stress your employees bring into work during an already busy season. As managers, it’s our job to help our employees manage stress, absorb some of their anxiety, be a little more patient than usual, and provide them with an outlet to express their concerns. As you identify these four different personalities at work, it is important to recognize there is no right or wrong here, but it is your job to identify each person’s strengths and talents within the team and play to them for the benefit of the team – the greater good.

Remember, just like the Game of Thrones characters, everyone has a backstory, that brought them to the person you know today. And just like you, they have their own life and family stressors that can sometimes rear its ugly head. His/her ‘tree of influence’ (experiences, education, values, friends, family) will also factor into the way your employees filter information, view their job, teammates, and your customer/member. As a manager, you must communicate in a fashion that resonates with them in ways they can understand; inspire them with a clear vision and how they fit within the bigger picture; earn their trust through honesty, integrity and modeling the behavior you want; and assure them that they are not alone – as their manager, you are the safety net and you care about them personally and professionally. If you do this, there is no need to worry that one of these personalities will reach their limits, causing them to act of character in a detrimental way, thus harming the team or worse, your customer/member.

Enjoy your weekend and the last episode of GoT – we sure will!


Whitney Reid Pennell, president of the RCS Hospitality Group (formerly Reid Consulting Services) is a celebrated management consultant, educator and speaker. RCS, the creators of the Food and Beverage Boot Camp™, specialize in operations consulting, strategic planning, food and beverage management, and training programs.

For more information, phone (623) 322-0773; or visit the RCS website at

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Whitney Reid Pennell
 Founder & President

Whitney Reid Pennell is the founder and president of the award-winning RCS Hospitality Group (formerly Reid Consulting Services). She is a published author and widely praised seminar leader, with over 20 years of club operations management and consulting experience. 

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