The Dothraki follow strength above all.
It's a lesson that Daenerys' advisor, Jorah, repeats to her as she's trying to figure out how to navigate her new position. While other tribes in the various kingdoms follow self-proclaimed or inherited leaders, the Dothraki have a high respect for those who have the strength to lead, no matter what bloodline they follow.
In other words, the Dothraki are about as meritocratic as they come (). You get to lead as long as you ARE a leader. If someone else shows themselves to be more capable, you are out. And leadership is more than just displaying brute strength, something the Dothraki seem to also value. Leadership can also be wisdom and insight and knowing how to care for one's people. Therefore, the Dothraki, though they seem very brutish, are incredibly advanced in their thinking. The best leader for the situation becomes the leader.
In the non-Dothraki world we live in, leadership style doesn't always seem to suit the situation. In fact, most of our leadership rules resemble the kingdoms of Westeros. Whether it is anointing former-Googlers as having earned a pedigree (whether founding employees or not) or looking for the next Steve Jobs, we assign the same thinking to leadership over and over again, no matter the situation.
Lucky for us, the definition of what makes a leader is changing because of people who, like a Dothraki leader, step up and show their strengths are the strengths that are needed at the moment. I'm thinking of people like Tony Hsieh from Zappos (who demonstrated a CEO can win by focusing on culture and happiness, without a corner office or real hierarchy) or Marissa Mayer's leadership at Yahoo! (whose focus on data is legendary and who is a product person, not a business person) or the 20 female senators who led the US out of the government shutdown with their willingness to cooperate. Their surprising leadership styles emerged in the right situations.
Sometimes we need the business mind of a seasoned CEO and sometimes we need a leader with strong empathy skills and sometimes what we need is something completely different.
Leaders lead. They step up and do what needs to be done without being given a position. Saying someone is a leader doesn't make them one. For those of you who have seen the series, I have two words to illustrate this: Joffrey Baratheon.
When Cersei Lannister arrogantly asserts that "Power is power," she's underscoring the problem with treating leadership like a zero-sum game, where those who are in power deserve to be there because they have the power. This system benefits nobody. The motivation is power. "I'm the best," "I deserve this," when it is really just our job to do the right thing and move humanity forward. Our special skills will be needed again. No need to get greedy.
As I've watched through the seasons, I keep seeing characters die or lead others to their death because of an insane focus on gaining and/or keeping power. It all seems to come from this awful place of insecurity all caused by the fact that there is this one throne to rule them all. And I'm not even really sure why people want to sit in it...it seems uncomfortable and like it's a crappy job.
But what I really wonder is, if we were to make leadership truly meritocratic and non zero-sum (no one throne to rule them all), would that insecurity dissipate? Or would it be aggravated?
I'm curious to know what you think.