21st April 2016

You Know Nothing, Jon Snow (…about change management)

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Jon Snow is a Game of Thrones fan-favourite.  Against the odds (and despite the oath-breaking), we have enjoyed his wind-swept curls, his glowering brow and his rightful rise to the top.  He has smouldered.  He has sulked.  And he has, most recently, been stabbed multiple times.  In fact, when we last saw him, Jon had been stabbed to death and left to bleed out in the snow.

Where did it all go wrong for Lord Snow? 

What led to him being (literally) stabbed in the back by his own men? 

And who is going to feed his dire-wolf, Ghost, now that he is dead?

I have reflected on his leadership in the past few months and have come to the conclusion that Jon made various basic leadership blunders during his time as a leader.

Jon was stubborn

Jon seemed immune to counsel.  Time and time again, Jon failed to take advice from his peers and, worse still, from his senior subordinates.  His friends advised him against combining the Night’s Watch army with their enemies, the Wildlings army.  Jon did not listen.  As a leader, whilst it is not your job to be everyone’s friend, it is your job to make tough decisions with due consideration.  Jon was too stubborn for this.  Instead of listening to opinion and reaching an informed decision, he completely disregarded other opinions and haggled “like a crone with a codfish”.  Bad decision, Jon.  Bad decision.

Jon did not consider strategy

It is ironic that, for someone who was in the Night’s Watch and a guardian of The Wall, Jon failed to properly horizon-scan.  Horizon-scanning is management-speak for the process of gathering and analysing information in order to support decision-making for the future.  Jon should have made a number of basic strategic decisions.  Ser Allister hated him.  When Jon got the opportunity, he should have sent him packing, rather than leaving him by his side as his First Ranger.  When Lord Stannis offered him the opportunity he’d always dreamed of, the chance to become Lord of Winterfell and leave the Night’s Watch, Jon refused it.  As a leader, it is important to consider strategy for the future.  Had Jon made different decisions on either of these occasions, he may not have ended up dead.

Jon instantly forgot his friends

Jon Snow had been taught that a Lord should not get too friendly with his bannermen.  That was advice he took to heart almost immediately when elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.  As a result of this, the “under-wolf” completely isolated and alienated himself from his peers.  When they invited him out for dinner, he ignored them and chose to sleep alone in a barn, rather than with his kinsmen.  What Jon failed to appreciate was that, although he was now a leader, the step to Lord Commander could have been more gradual.  He appeared to have forgotten that, in the days previous, these bannermen had been his brothers.  Instead of jumping into his new role without a thought for where he came from, Jon should have continued with the machismo and the man-hugs for another few weeks, before making the step up to Lord Commander on a more gradual basis.

Jon was insensitive to change management

As Lord Commander, Jon chose to unite an army which was comprised of his own brothers in the Night’s Watch with a group of five thousand Wildlings.  Historically the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings had been at war with one another.  Whilst an observer could see the sense in combining these two forces for the common good, it was always going to be extremely difficult for Jon to lead an army comprised of criminals and cast-offs.  This was, in fact, Jon’s biggest mistake.

During a period of change-management, a leader should consult and explain to the workforce the reasons for the change.  A leader should communicate to the workforce what he hopes to achieve and report back at each significant step of the process.  Where possible, a leader should involve people in decision-making and be open to feedback once at proposal stage as to what will work and what will not.  Most importantly a leader should be transparent about when the change is going to happen.  There will come a point when no more feedback (moaning?) will be permitted.

I had always envisaged that Jon Snow would end up in Team Daenerys.  Instead he kept his enemies close (to his fur cloak), isolated himself from his brothers and, with a sulky charisma, signed his own death warrant.  Ultimately this was Jon’s downfall.  His lack of communication about this change led to his army failing to support his decisions.  The divide between him and his men was the final reason for the ultimate mutiny.

As we have heard from Cersei, the one-time Queen Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die”.

Unfortunately for Jon Snow, he is dead.

For now …

Simon Allison
Partner – Head of Employment Law



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