The Famous Game of Thrones Quote Doesn’t Imply Greatness

If you have spent any amount of time on online forums and comment sections, you definitely will have encountered it. The phrase seems to ring with a certain balance of charisma and elitism that is quite attractive for people who cannot resist a good quote.

The phrase I am referring to is from Game of Thrones’ Tywin Lannister (though other versions of the quote have been found in numerous earlier sources). The phrase is as follows: “A lion does not concern himself with the opinions of sheep”. This is a great line that suits the elitist and no-nonsense character of Tywin Lannister, but you should really take some time to understand what the quote means. In the context of Game of Thrones, House Lannister has a reputation for wealth and strength. As the most powerful nobles in Westeros, Lannisters can afford to alienate the common people. When you kill or payoff your adversaries, you certainly can ignore the opinions of average people, or sheep.

Ignoring the Sheep = Bad Politics

Fortunately, the real world has a completely different set of rules. In our world, you cannot expect to gain power, wealth, or influence without satisfying the needs and desires of other people. In a dictatorship, the supreme leader must offer extravagant benefits to generals and members of his supporting party. Without these benefits, the leader’s supporters will claim power for themselves or endorse an opponent who offers better compensation. The same principle applies to the relationship between politicians and special interest groups in representative governments. The lesson here is this: if you depend on the numbers of the ‘sheep’ for votes or power, you simply cannot ignore them. The rules of the game do not care if you believe yourself to be a lion.

[For more information about how leaders cannot rule alone, read The Dictator’s Handbook]

Dealing with Self-Proclaimed Lions

I mentioned above that I frequently see this phrase on the Internet. In these online encounters, the quote is simply a clever way of saying that they are shutting their mind to anything you will say. The best you can do after this is to simply move on; Internet debates are hardly worth winning anyway.

However, you may encounter someone who finds wisdom in the quote in the real world. In this case, you are dealing with a huge issue. A person who believes they can shut out the opinions of others is probably an elitist. Elitists make poor leaders, and they will sacrifice the needs of the group to satisfy their own wants. At the very least, these people misunderstand human power structures. If you find yourself relating to Tywin Lannister as you fall deeper into the elitist trap, it is time for some self-reflection. Luckily, simple awareness about the behavior of human groups can set you on the right path. I will not go into great detail about this here, but top-down command-and-control strategies that are often proposed by elitist leaders have a poor track record of success. This alone should inspire you to not be a Tywin Lannister.

If you are attracted to this famous quote, you should really take some time to understand why you appreciate it. Do you truly enjoy alienating the common person? I am going to assume that most people do not appreciate this. Instead, they are probably attracted to the confidence of being perceived as a strong individual in an ocean of clueless people who simply follow trends. This kind of rugged individualism and personal strength is certainly appealing. However, you do not need to be a lion to enjoy these qualities. A lion is a predator. For a lion to thrive, the sheep must perish. This is a zero-sum game that will cause the sheep to turn against the lion over time. Being a lion is not sustainable.

[Read about the French Revolution to understand how being a lion is a double-edged sword]

Shepherds Are Greater than Lions

To enjoy sustainable strength and influence, you must throw away your desire to become a lion. Instead, become a shepherd. Instead of coercing and alienating the common people, listen to their worries and complaints. Give them the means to obtain their needs. Care for them and guide them in favor of common objectives. Climb down from your ivory tower to lead them from the front. Finally, tell yourself that the quote is nonsense. People are not sheep, and you are not a lion. We are all humans who are striving to find a way in life. Good leaders understand that the support and respect of followers are the keys to sustainable success.