Spoilers for House of the Dragon, season 1, episodes 1-4 ahead
When fans of House of the Dragon, the new Game Of Thrones spinoff, think “dragon-riding Targaryens,” the word “relatable” like isn't the first their mind conjures. But upon further thought, I've realized the blonde powerhouse Rhaenyra Targaryen actually does have quite a bit of applicable career advice to offer.
A main character on the show, Rhaenyra aims to ensure sure her dad, King Viserys, makes good on his promise to name her as his successor. She also has to worry about gaining acceptance—as a female ruler—from the Realm over which she would rule. Meanwhile, the mediocre men of King’s Landing won’t actually let her prove her mettle as a leader, and some are hoping a literal baby takes her place instead, just because he’s a boy.
- Vicki Salemi, career expert, author, columnist, keynote speaker, HR/talent acquisition leadership consultant, and career coach
Sound familiar? If you’re a female-identifying who’s been talked over in a meeting, watched less deserving male-identifying coworkers get praised and promoted over you or experienced them take credit for your good work, maybe it should. House of the Dragon may not be set in 2022 or even in our universe, but research has found that gender equity right now on planet Earth is likewise far from being achieved. The gender pay gap remains pronounced, and to a more severe degree for women of color. Fewer women than men hold managerial and C-suite positions, and, again, even fewer still for women of color.
Changing that reality is not the responsibility of the women looking to rise in the ranks in their career; it will require a number of changes in education access, recruiting practices, and institutional shifts. But, at the personal level, Rhaenyra may be able to offer some pointers for navigating a patriarchal power structure and advocating for oneself in pursuit of workplace mobility. Rhaenyra is essentially waiting for a promotion at work—the promotion just happens to be from Princess to Queen. (Targaryens: They’re just like us!)
But Rhaenyra is also far from perfect. The hot-tempered dragon rider is figuring out how to get that promotion just like the rest of us, and is making just as many mistakes as she has victories. That’s why we’ve brought in an expert, Vicki Salemi, a career expert with Monster, to dissect Rhaenyra’s path to the Iron Throne.
6 tips for getting promoted at work, inspired by the trials and triumphs of Rhaenyra Targaryen from House of the Dragon
1. Take initiative
While the men advising King Viserys are making a royal mess of how to deal with the rogue Prince Daemon, Rhaenyra is busy getting down to work. She decides to go to Dragonstone and put Daemon in his place with some real talk (and dragon force) that only she can deliver. That’s called taking initiative, people, and it’s a good thing!
"Seeing someone take charge shows leadership abilities.” —Vicki Salemi, career expert
“As a manager, seeing someone on their team taking charge, whether it's a new project or something as simple as organizing a birthday celebration one day a month for people on the team, shows leadership abilities,” Salemi says.
Sure, Rhaenyra’s dad was angry that she put her life in danger (or whatever) and flew off on a dragon without permission. And that's reflective of the reality that there are risks associated with taking initiative, such as “you may end up with a workload that's unmanageable, of which you initiated a significant portion,” says Salemi. But, she adds, the rewards outweigh the risks, because taking initiative shows that you can identify what needs to be done and are willing to do it yourself without being micromanaged: "These are positive traits to possess and demonstrate. And often, they get noticed by leadership.”
2. Go above and beyond when assigned a project
Even after being named heir, Rhaenyra seems to have been relegated to serving wine to her dad and his friends. So when she’s actually given a project—even though it’s not a project she wanted—she fully commits: She shows discernment and takes the job seriously when selecting a new member of the Kingsguard for her dad, and she she's successful in the ask.
“When you're asked to complete a project, your goal should be to work on it accurately and impeccably with a positive attitude,” Salemi says. “If it's challenging and something you haven't encountered before, your goal should be to leverage it as a learning experience to problem solve, troubleshoot, and resolve the issue.”
3. Make your interest in a job promotion clear
Rhaenyra spends a couple years being angry after the birth of her new brother, out of fear he will get the king job instead of her as queen. But, she finally musters the courage to talk to her dad and reiterate her interest in the crown.
“Speak to your boss and be articulate your interest in the job,” Salemi says. “Make it clear that you're positioning yourself for that promotion and outline the skills you've gained and accomplishments you've achieved that point to reasons why you should get promoted.”
4. Maintain professional relationships
Rhaenyra nearly put the kibosh on the whole queen thing after a spy saw her getting it on with her Uncle Daemon in a brothel. This should serve as a good reminder to keep your relationships above board and not get into compromising situations with people you know you shouldn’t.
“Be friendly and professional with colleagues, but keep it light and polite,” Salemi says. “Becoming romantic with colleagues can negatively impact your leadership prospects in terms of who's in the position of power and can even turn sour. Then you need to see that person and interact daily, which could hinder your performance.”
5. Finish assigned tasks even when you’re not happy about them
Rhaenyra doesn’t want to get married, and it doesn't please her dad when she skips out early on the suitors world tour. When she speaks with her dad about the situation, she calls it unfair—as if the task is below her. Salemi says this is reasonable: “You can speak up, especially if it's impacting your ability to do your primary responsibilities.”
But that doesn’t mean your boss has to listen, and once King Viserys makes clear how important marriage is in order for her to get the promotion she wants, she agrees. This exact application of swallowing your pride and doing tasks you deem beneath you isn't one to follow in your own life, but it can be extrapolated to a more reasonable workplace situation. “Many times, we're asked to do tasks that aren't in our job description, so you may want to pick your battles,” Salemi says.
6. Don’t mind the haters
While King Viserys’ brothers are trying to convince him that the baby would be a better future ruler than Princess Rhaenyra, she's busying herself with demonstrating that she’s an independent woman by killing a boar.
Relatedly, Salemi says that dealing with adversarial, undermining colleagues can be tricky, and that the best way to get the better of these haters is to just do you. “Focus on what you can control: your performance, your behavior, your attitude, your impeccable work,” Salemi says. “You're not accountable for colleagues, too. If they don't want you to get the top job, that's on them, not you. Don't let them dim your shine.”
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