7 Mistakes New Contractors Make: As Told by Game of Thrones

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Once upon a time, you handled projects solo like a knight on your own lonely quest. If you needed to buy supplies or fill out paperwork or find new leads, you did it yourself. But suddenly, all that has changed. You’re starting to feel a lot less like a newbie contractor and more like the commander of an army—a team that’s growing all the time.

Sound familiar? Not only is that the general outline of many of our favorite Game of Thrones plotlines, it’s also the journey most contractors take as they progress from a self-run operation to a larger business with subcontractors and employees. But change is hard, and just like Daenerys, Jon Snow and Tyrion have all struggled to lead their separate groups through various trials, you’ll have to shift your focus from a doer to a manager. Here’s how you can learn from the blunders of the Westeros heroes to correct your own contractor mistakes—before your whole kingdom goes up in flames.

Warning: this article contains major spoilers for season 7 of Game of Thrones. If you haven’t had a chance to catch up, put your laptop away and come back when you’ve watched all of season 7. You can consider it “research.” But just don’t say we didn’t warn you!

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Mistaking an Ally for a Threat

Shipping aside, we all knew that Dany and Jon were the perfect power couple—and basically the only chance of stopping the White Walker army in its tracks. Thankfully for the future of Westeros, Daenerys finally recognized Jon as the ally that he was and swooped in to save him in the nick of time!

But not every powerful manager gets away so lucky. It’s fairly common to mistake a talented hire as a threat, especially when you’re new to the game of managing. Work on your insecurities privately, instead of taking them out on your staff. Give your employees your trust, and you’ll be the kind of boss your subordinates actively root for.

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Letting Personal Ties Get in the Way

On the other hand, you don’t want to let your workers take advantage of you—a likelihood that increases every time you fail to handle conflict. Jaime is a bit like the manager who knows they need to let that one employee go, but can’t. He knows he needs to cut ties with Cersei, but can’t seem to put his personal history aside to do the deed (although hopefully that will change next season—fingers crossed!).

That kind of behavior is all too common with new management. It’s hard to let anyone go, let alone someone you like. And in the construction world, where most relationships are informal, it’s easy for employees to mistake you for a friend. But that’s where trouble starts, because at some point you’re going to have to choose between maintaining the relationship and doing what’s right for your business. Your job is to set the right boundaries with your employees and make the hard choices—even when it means risking a friend. Sure, take the whole staff out for a beer after a rough day, but don’t hang out with your contractors one-on-one or dish about other team members. It’s just going to come back to bite you in the end.

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Refusing to Get with the Times

Oh, Eddard Stark. So honorable. So stuck in his ways. Ned’s big problem is that he just can’t see that the times are changing. No longer is he Robert’s hunting partner, defending his kingdom by adhering to a rigid moral code. Things have shifted in the seven kingdoms, and Stark just can’t seem to get with the nuances of the new order.

You’re probably not going to meet a fate resembling that of the elder Stark. But you will be hindering yourself if you refuse to change with the times. That means you’ll need to upgrade to the newest construction technology, both for your administrative work and your day-to-day operations. For instance, you may need to invest in industry software to help manage the project, financial, technical and sales aspects of your business. Young, talented construction workers are hard to find these days, so you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you appear current. After all, millennial workers are undoubtedly drawn to businesses who stay up-to-date.

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Taking an Ego Trip

Being the boss definitely has its perks. But the advantages can go to your head, too, if you let them. There’s something to be said for becoming the kind of boss you’d want to work for—and giving people a reason to come into work. After all, you don’t want to be viewed as a kind of ruthless Cersei character who’s only capable of inspiring loyalty when her underlings are riddled with dread.

Bosses who rule with an iron fist witness a higher number of callouts and no-shows throughout the year. They don’t establish the kind of long-term relationships that let you shape and mold a team. And the kind of harshness they foster eventually trickles down to the clients they serve, which means fewer customers, bad reviews, and low capital. Keep your ego in check when working with your team. Give your team the benefit of the doubt when mistakes are made—and offer them some literal benefits as well, such as paid sick leave or health insurance.

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

Jon Snow is so adorable and yet so tactically dumb—at least sometimes, as evidenced in Season 7, Episode 6, “Beyond the Wall.” This highly-criticized episode features Jon heading off with a party of about fifteen men to capture a white walker and drag it back to Westeros, since presumably, that’s the only thing that will convince Cersei of the coming wightpocalypse. This plot line is a little suspect, especially since we know Jon has seen the army of the dead and just plunges on ahead. You’d think a guy who had literally come back from the dead would have more sense than that!

How is that relevant to the contracting life? Well, it’s not unusual for a successful contractor to get in over their heads. After years of hard work, business is finally taking off, and someone pitches you a potential bathroom remodel. The only problem? You’ve barely touched plumbing beyond plunging a toilet or two. Don’t be like Jon. Either stock your address book with reliable contacts to whom you can punt off projects, or learn how to turn jobs down.

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Spend Like It’s Going Out of Style

The Iron Bank is a lot like any other financial institution. Like Tycho Nestoris of the Iron Bank says, it doesn’t bet on winners and losers. In the Game of Thrones world, that means that Iron Bank has a vested interest in Cersei’s success—because she owes them money.

Don’t expect that kind of favor from your lenders. Your bank is not going to let you wallow around while you figure out dragon-killing (or balancing your budget, whatever the case may be). If you don’t have a head for figures, hire outside help to manage your finances. It will be worth it when tax season comes around!

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Hire for Skills, Not Character

Here’s a lesson Game of Thrones teaches us over and over again: a person’s position in the world does not necessarily dictate their character. Jon Snow, for instance, born fatherless and penniless, rises up to become the King of the North. Tyrion—whom his own father considers shameful—survives every obstacle to earn himself a place as Daenerys’s hand. Davos Seaworth, a pauper born in Fleabottom, overcomes his upbringing and becomes Jon’s closest associate—and delivers some of the funniest, most trenchant lines in the process.

It just goes to show you that someone who looks good on paper isn’t always the kind of person you want to hang around with all day, and vice versa. Skills can be taught, but character is a lot harder to learn. So when you interview for new hires, make sure to pay close attention to a candidate’s personality and values. After all, as Game of Thrones has taught us it can (literally!) make a world of difference!

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