One thing that makes “Game of Thrones” so compelling (like “Girls,” “Homeland,” and the late “Breaking Bad”) is its complex, often controversial leading lady. As professional women, what lessons can we draw from Daenerys and her counterparts on other hit shows? A lot, as it turns out. Below, four of my personal favorites — and what we can glean from each:
Skylar White from “Breaking Bad”
Love her or hate her (yes, there is a whole subculture of Skylar haters), Skylar is savvy and smart. She lacks the sinister evil of her meth-cooking husband, but she definitely isn’t a pushover. Skylar successfully negotiated a bottom-dollar price for the car-wash acquisition — a move that even Walter seemed skeptical of. She’s also keen with numbers, enough to cook the books and launder drug money.
While it’s not wise to use those tactics (they will land you a visit from the IRS or your brother-in-law DEA agent), it is every business owner’s job to know their numbers. Lessons learned:
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Everything is negotiable. Even business contracts presented by large corporations can be amended to your benefit. But you must speak up and have a leverage point; never want or need something so badly that you accept it at face value.
- Know your numbers. You don’t have to do math equations in your head, but you need to know the financial status of your business at any given time. Start with your costs of goods or services and the margins on sales and go from there.
- Carry on when things seem bleak. There may be days when even you don’t want to show up for work. But you must: for yourself, for your employees, and for your customers.
Daenerys Targaryen from “Game of Thrones”
As women, we often underestimate ourselves and even fall victim to the Imposter Syndrome. Dany could have easily slunk away or become the wife of another, silenced forever. But she had a burning desire to win in a man’s world. She takes up a league of her own, first by creating a trusted inner circle of advisors and then by winning over legions of loyal soldiers through compassion and empathy. By meeting their needs, she fulfilled her own. Lessons learned:
- You are worthy. The only limitations we have are the ones we put there. With confidence and self-esteem, knowledge and a strong skill set, any opportunity is available to you if you seek it out.
- Build a team. You can’t build a business alone. Invite people into your team who can complement your existing talents. Make sure they are supportive and results oriented as well.
- Your employees are your strongest asset. Your employees help make your vision happen. Treat them well. Be fair and honest. If you do happen to have an underperforming employee who you can’t help improve, get them out! Bad employees will tarnish the good ones.
Carrie Mathison from “Homeland”
When she’s not interrogating prisoners of war or foiling bomb plots, Carrie is neurotic, unstable, and quite frankly, off her rocker. From the outset, it seems Carrie’s case is one of “how not to behave in business.”
Now look closer, and you’ll see Carrie is outshining her counterparts by acting on intuition, pushing boundaries and delivering results. Here’s the truth: great entrepreneurs, creators, and inventors are all a little neurotic. They are the ones really thinking outside the box (see: Steve Jobs). And most great business leaders all lead imbalanced work/home lives. So as we embark on the next season of “Homeland,” let us not judge. After all, isn’t there a little bit of Carrie in all of us? Lessons learned:
- Business is emotional. Business involves daily interaction with many individuals. People’s livelihoods are at stake. Just like with your employees, be honest and fair. Keep your composure and treat others as you would want to be treated.
- Crazy comes with the territory. Entrepreneurs are risk-takers. Our enthusiastic, out-there way of thinking is often the catalyst for new business ventures. Embrace the wild ride — and be glad that we aren’t all on the crazy train.
- Push boundaries. You can’t copy your competitors. You must out-think them, outsmart them, out invent them. You sell tacos in a restaurant? Well, how about selling them in a food truck? Get creative and take your business to the next level.
Marnie from “Girls”
In HBO’s hit “Girls,” we meet a young, eager Marnie, who desperately wants the perfect life but quickly loses control. She is fired from her job, breaks up with her boyfriend, and is labeled a bad friend by her roommate, Hannah.
As entrepreneurs, we know that failure doesn’t seem quite as bad once we have a few years under our belts. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough. So dear Marnie, make mistakes while you’re still young. And for those of us that are now past our twenties, let’s try something new today. In failing, we will ultimately win. Lessons learned:
- You can’t control your environment. When the unexpected happens, use your system of checks and balances to deal with the situation and move on, so you can get back to business as usual.
- Don’t be too rigid. Just like in fashion and music, there are trends in business. You may suddenly have a product no one buys anymore. Pivot. Accept the challenges head on — or go out of business.
- Failure leads to success. A failed new product can be devastating. But within every failure are many learning opportunities about what worked and what didn’t. Next time, you will do things differently and hopefully succeed.
Our favorite characters may not be teaching us anything new, but they remind us of the many roles we have to play. We too fret over numbers, negotiate contracts and expand our businesses — all while pregnant with our third child. And yes, our own emotions sometimes get the best of us.
Maybe that’s why there is no “The Real Women Entrepreneurs.” We’re already charting our course, somewhere between the blurred lines of business, art and reality.