Alert: spoilers below.
Is Jon Snow a good manager? It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, he’s had to deal with his share of adversity. Like many bosses, he was born a bastard, oversees a barren wasteland, and constantly fears betrayal. Despite these hardships, Jon continues to demonstrate positive leadership traits. He’s a great strategist. He’s principled. He doesn’t die. Overall, he’s a solid choice for Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
Still, the challenges he’s faced have consistently been of a quantity and a severity, frankly, that a lot of managers seem to avoid. While he’s a likable guy and a talented fighter, it’s hard not to conclude that some of his struggles could have been prevented had he simply applied basic management principles. Here are a few areas in which he can improve.
Focused as he was on his upcoming meeting with the wildlings, Jon Snow never carved out time to interface directly with the junior members of the Night’s Watch. Had he prioritized discussing Olly’s goals and challenges, the boy might have felt that his concerns were being addressed. Instead, he opted for betrayal. In retrospect, Jon should have put time on Olly’s calendar for regular one-on-ones.
To be fair, many businesses rate succession planning as a significant challenge. Jon Snow feels the pain. Pressed to find a replacement after being brought back to life, he rushed and handed off leadership in an ad hoc way. Passing along the reins is a common problem for managers, whether following a promotion or magical reanimation from one’s own murder. The difference is, some managers plan ahead of time. A good learning and development program would ensure the Night’s Watch is always in good hands.
Jon Snow commonly encounters problems of strategic alignment. He seems to make the right decisions, but he has trouble getting people to follow him. It was an inspired idea, for example, to redefine the Night’s Watch’s relationship with the wildlings and invite them to settle in the North. Unfortunately, Jon couldn’t effectively communicate his strategy and was terminated because of it. If he put more effort into aligning the team behind his vision, the Night’s Watch could move faster as an organization.
Building an inclusive work environment
The Wall is a cold place with terrible food, which is why it’s no surprise that many of the Night’s Watch are not happy to be stationed there. Simple things like praising someone’s performance or scheduling morale-boosting events can go a long way towards creating a more positive work environment. Would Jon Snow have been stabbed by his brothers had he rewarded their hard work with a pizza party? We’ll never know.
In rising to the title of Lord Commander, Jon Snow defied the odds of his humble birth. Now he needs to make sure others can do the same. For Alliser Thorne, being passed up for promotion left him with little opportunity for advancement, so he chose mutiny. Good managers create career pathways for everyone in the organization and provide resources to help them develop. Especially in an organization where turnover is fatal.
In our world, poor management can cost you your job. In Jon Snow’s world, it can cost you your life. “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” has become a common phrase at Castle Black, but it would be more constructive to ask, “What can you learn with an effective development program, Jon Snow?” While he has undeniable talents in certain areas, he’s not a natural manager.
But here’s the secret: no one is. Good management is learned, not bred. Which is just as well, because who knows what kind of genes Jon Snow is hiding.