Bend the Knee or Seize the Throne - Ideas for Leaders

Bend the Knee or Seize the Throne

Leadership Lessons from the Seven Kingdoms

About Author/s:

The authors, Nathan Tong and Michael J. Urick, are both academics researching organizational behaviour. Tong is a professor at the French business school, ESSCA, and Urick is Dean of the McKenna School of Business at Saint Vincent College, PA – and is editor of the Exploring Effective Leadership Practices Through Popular Culture series.


Humans are designed to enjoy and learn from stories. Wrap a fact or a lesson up in a character-filled story and we will remember and recall it far better than if we are presented with just the cold, factual data. From a neuroscience perspective we recall things we attach emotions to, and we attach more emotion to relatable stories than we do to pure data.

It is therefore a puzzle why more leadership books are not allegorical – Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble’s 2013 book on innovation ‘How Stella Saved the Farm’ being a rare example.

So, this book on Game of Thrones (GoT), which while not an allegory itself, is an exploration of a rich and widely familiar story, is a welcome addition to the often too dry and samey leadership repertoire. It is the fifth book in an ongoing series from Emerald, titled “Exploring Effective Leadership Practices through Popular Culture’.

Core Idea

The book explores the various characters and their leadership styles from the TV series Game of Thrones itself adapted from the fantasy novel series of George R R Martin’s book series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. The reader will benefit from a knowledge of the characters and plot-lines of the eight series of GoT, but it is not a prerequisite as the authors describe their subjects well. However, the impact of the learning from that allegorical, story-telling perspective clearly comes from knowing the and recalling the story and characters themselves.

The book is split into twelve chapters, each dealing with a separate leadership capacity: Power & Influence; Communication; Justice; Negotiation and the like. The authors set out the key issues and thinking on each capacity before cutting to the chase and analyzing the leadership approaches and outcomes of the leading characters for each capacity.

There is a lot of academic reference in the text to support the presentation of these key issues and thinking, while the references to the GoT examples can be quite list-like and often miss the opportunity to take the colour of the original story content to enliven the educational message.


This makes the book more akin to a primer or learning support volume, that might be using GoT as illustrative content, than an enjoyable journey through leadership concepts on the back of a fantasy world tale.

Nonetheless, for those who have already invested days of their lives to watching the 73 episodes of GoT and are intimately familiar with the characters, this relatively short book, is a useful support to illustrate concepts with examples, albeit not real-life ones; and introduce a wide range of leadership capacities to a new audience.


Bend the Knee or Seize the Throne

  • Title: Bend the Knee or Seize the Throne: Leadership Lessons from the Seven Kingdoms

    Author/s Name/s: Nathan Tong and Michael J Urick

    Publisher: Emerald Publishing

    ISBN: 978-1802626506

    Publishing Date: June, 2023

    Number of Pages: 120

  • Author Knowledge Rating: 1-5 (based on their years of experience, academic expertise in subject areas, and exposure to cross-functional thinking in the area)
    Readability: 1-5 score(1=dense and v academic; 5=frantic; page turner)
    Appropriate Length: (1=could have been written in 25% of the length;5=could have been longer)
    Core Idea Value: (1=nonsense (or entirely esoteric); 5=game-changer)