The Warrior Executive: 5 Leadership Lessons from ‘The Vikings’’ Ragnar Lothbrook

Leadership expert Esther Weinberg, who works with PromaxBDA’s Thrive executive development program, draws key takeaways from one of history’s most exciting figures.

by Esther Weinberg

If you want to embolden your leadership and are in need of a stellar role model, look no further than Norse warrior Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) of History’s Vikings, which returns for season 4 on Thursday, Feb. 18. Lothbrok is a hero and charmer with an absolute “I will defy all odds” personality that makes him riveting. But, it’s his good heart and devotion to his family, mixed with a relenting ruthlessness, that rounds him out as a captivating character and a formidable leader.

If you examine Lothbrok’s innate ambition, loyalty and curiosity, you’ll find that the pre-Medieval leader still provides a roadmap for great leadership today. And while we’re not encouraging boardroom battles or ferocious performance reviews, every exec could take a few notes from Lothbrok and his “Viking” vision to strengthen their leadership.

Here’s my five secrets for tapping into your inner Ragnar Lothbrok:

Have a Vision Bigger Than Yourself —

Lothbrok always had grand ambitions for his family, community and himself. As a young man, he dreamed of venturing to the West. He knew instinctively there were uncharted lands to be discovered with spoils to be taken. And even after he proved the West existed, he led armies to conquer lands in England and stormed Paris. Like Lothbrok, successful leaders must have a vision greater than themselves, be willing to defy the status quo and overcome the odds to realize their vision for the betterment of those around them.

Be Anticipatory and Prepared at All Times —

Jarl Borg (Thorbjørn Harr), the leader of Götaland (modern-day Sweden), betrayed Lothbrok and conquered his home of Kattegat.

While this was unforgivable, Lothbrok pardoned him and aligned with Borg to attack England. However, being cut from similar cloth, Lothbrok anticipated Borg’s unrelenting ambition and knew Borg would not settle until he killed him. So instead, Lothbrok took a step back to set up a long con that finally led to Borg’s capture and downfall. While the stakes might not be life and death, leaders must think ahead, see the dangers all around them and prepare for any outcome.

Discern Between Weaknesses and Strengths —

Lothbrok surrounded himself with a seemingly odd group of people — among them: Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) the eccentric friend and trickster, Lagertha (Kathryn Winnick) the loyal and heroic ex-wife, and Rollo (Clive Standen), Lothbrok’s brother who battled fiercely while often standing resentfully in the shadow of his leader. A strange inner circle, but they fit together because Lothbrok was adept at being aware of people’s weaknesses and bringing out their strengths. Leaders must develop the innate skill to be realistic about people’s strengths and weaknesses and leverage them accordingly.

Do What Can’t Be Done —

Vikings believed if they died in battle they would reach the majestic Valhalla. To them, their fate was already sealed, so why not sacrifice everything for your dreams? If you fail, you’ll still reach Valhalla! Lothbrok was constantly defying the odds. If someone said a goal was impossible, he would do whatever it took to make it happen. We can’t lose sight of our goals, no matter how far out of reach they may seem. Who would ever have thought an online bookseller, Amazon, would be delivering content nominated for Emmy awards? The best leaders make the impossible possible.

Go with Your Gut —

When Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) gave orders to travel east, Lothbrok opposed it. Lothbrok encouraged his dear friend Floki to build a formidable boat, and with a small group, he ventured where he wanted to go instead: west. When he returned with considerable riches, Lothbrok proved his gut was right, there was wealth to be conquered in other countries. As a leader, you might be surrounded by trusted advisors who provide solid counsel. But in the end, your own internal compass, your gut, must guide your decisions and thinking.

Take a page from Ragnar Lothbrok — impactful leadership is built on a foundational mix of a good heart, curiosity and a profound courageousness that inspires change, anticipates the future and taps into your internal compass. By leveraging your own internal resources and key talent, you too can conquer uncharted territory.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

PromaxBDA offers its own leadership development program, Thrive, which takes high potential executives and helps them move to the next level. For more information on the program, for which PromaxBDA is now accepting applications, go here.

Esther Weinberg is a leadership expert who works with media, entertainment and technology companies to strengthen and empower global leaders and organizations with the flexibility, focus and mindset to anticipate and adapt to industry changes in real time. She has created breakthrough strategies for such companies as Microsoft, NBCUniversal, Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc., Motorola, Warner Bros and Disney/ABC Television Group. Building on her insight and knowledge from a 20-year track record in media industry, she is finishing her book “Leadership Hollywood Style” with her co-author from the Oscars, in which they share how to produce, direct and create star performers.


Originally published at brief.promaxbda.org.