Bruce Craven, Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones – InnovaBuzz 414

Bruce Craven

Bruce Craven, Craven Leadership

In this episode, I’m really excited to have as my guest, Bruce Craven, a writer, public speaker, and educator, with over thirty years of experience in executive education. He is a Partner at Craven Leadership and an Associate Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School where he teaches his popular MBA/EMBA elective “Leadership Through Fiction”. His leadership book – Win or Die: Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones — was published in 2019. He has also written a poetry collection – Buena Suerte in Red Glitter and his new novel, Sweet Ride, will be published in 2021.

In our discussion, Bruce talked to me about:

  • What lessons there are in fictional stories for leadership
  • The importance of empathy in leadership
  • How our values affect our leadership and how to elicit our values

Bob Kulhan in episode 366 introduced us to Bruce.

Listen to the podcast to find out more.

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Show Notes from this episode with Bruce Craven of Craven Leadership

Key points and takeaways from this episode include:

  • We can often extract ideas from fictional characters that we can use to remind ourselves when we are in a similar situation.
  • Be very transparent and clear about your expectations. Be specific on the role and the job description.
  • We all have our personal values that we share with others but that doesn’t mean we prioritise them in the same way. 
  • Our personal values guide us when making important decisions, but we also have to be careful that we don’t jump to our values in volatile environments and assume that other people share our values. 
  • You need to understand your values. Recognise the importance of them and find the alignment in the work that you do, but also be careful that you don’t assume everyone around you has the same values.
  • A coach or mentor is a great resource to help you think through and prioritise your values. 
  • Whenever you find yourself thinking about how some of the nastiest leaders rise to the top and are successful, ask yourself: Are there moments that you can channel the hunger or confidence that they have even if you don’t like their whole character trajectory? What can you take from it that can fit into your moral approach to life and be a useful strategy?
  • Villains don’t stay as the bad guy or woman the whole way through.
  • When you imagine those people that you find less appealing as being the hero in their own hero’s journey, it allows you to empathise with them to understand what is driving them as well as understand why they can be so effective in that particular space.
  • Empathy is a very powerful skill for every leader. If you can empathise with the people that enrage you, you can see why they think they are heroic and that can give you a better sense of what really drives them and how you can confront them.
  • We all fall into this instinct of judging others, but do not get overwhelmed by it. Whenever you see someone that you really disagree with, think about at what point does that rage and judgment energise you and help you do something productive, and at what point is it just feeding your anger and is useless.
  • We all need to be less judgemental so we can build stronger relationships with the right people to pursue our goals and achieve our dreams. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everyone. But if you can at least control your judgment enough to think more clearly, you are going to be more effective in whatever steps you decide to take to pursue your own goals.
  • Recognise the strengths of the people around you. Recognise their potential and do not judge them out of your own interest to succeed. Be more open and try to listen and understand them in order to find a way to build some common ground that can help you move forward more smoothly and efficiently.
  • Some leaders who pursue power only for their self-interest achieve real success but only for a period of time and at a great cost. Leaders who are able to look past their own self-interest and are motivated to help other people are the ones that find the strength to be resilient against a huge amount of adversity.
  • Like any hero in a story, we are all called to do something and can have the courage to step forward and accept the call. If you hear the call to that adventure, take it! Otherwise, you might feel lost. You need to find the balance of being proactive but also being aware of how to lead yourself through those challenges and do the best that you can to confront adversity and succeed.
Leaders who are able to look past their own self-interest and are motivated to help other people are the ones that find the strength to be resilient against a huge amount of adversity. @Ledsofa on #InnovaBuzz podcast Click To Tweet

The Buzz – Our Innovation Round

Here are Bruce’s answers to the questions of our innovation round. Listen to the conversation to get the full scoop.

  1. #1 thing to be more innovative – Be resilient and persevere. Ask yourself – is it something that I really believe in and I am willing to fight for it? If the answer is “yes” and you keep believing it, some doors are going to open. Sometimes things just take the time they are going to take and you just have to be resilient.
  2. Best thing for new ideas – Look at things from a different perspective and try to extract ideas from all around it. Learn from your predecessors. Take a good idea that someone has used. See if it fits the idea you have and if you can generate a whole new creation.
  3. Favourite tool for innovation – Books, magazines, shows, hiking, and meditating. From the mess sometimes come great ideas.
  4. Keep project/client on track – Make the work exciting to them whilst recognising their own time constraints. Envision their own hero’s journey and how they are going to achieve success. Bring something to it that you believe in and a certain amount of discomfort to add a little bit of creativity and intensity.
  5. Differentiate – Be a true believer and do something that you really love. Have the confidence of a true believer that even though you may not know how it’s going to be, something magical is going to happen. 

To Be a Leader

Take the high road. Do right by people and pursue the things that you want to pursue. Fight for the things that matter to you.

Reach Out

You can reach out and thank Bruce through their website.

Suggested Guest

Bruce suggested we have a conversation with Columbia business school professors Paul Ingram and Bill Duggan, as well as novelist, Abbigail Rosewood. So Paul, Bill, and Abbigail, keep an eye on your inboxes for an invitation from us to the InnovaBuzz Podcast, courtesy of Bruce Craven.



​​​​​​​Cool Things About Bruce

  • He published the novel, Fast Sofa, in 1993 and co-wrote the script for the film adaptation in 2001.
  • He studied politics and literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz and received his MFA in Writing from Columbia School of the Arts.
  • He lives with his wife and two sons in the Coachella Valley in California.
Be a true believer and do something that you really love. Have the confidence of a true believer that even though you may not how it's going to be, something magical is going happen. @LedSofa on #InnovaBuzz podcast Click To Tweet

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Jürgen Strauss

Dr. Jürgen Strauss is The World's Best Human-Centred Podcasting Coach and the only Podcast Innovator with the signature bright yellow headphones, who masterfully crafts human connection for high-impact achievers in a vibrant community. You can find Jürgen on LinkedIn, The InnovaBuzz Podcast, The Flywheel Nation Community as well as on Innovabiz' InstagramTwitter, Facebook pages and his personal Photography website.  

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