The Night’s Watch and the Wall of risk management


In the series A Song of Ice and Fire which begins with the book A Game of Thrones, by George RR Martin, we are introduced to the Wall and the Night’s Watch.

The Wall is an immense fortification on the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms that defends the realm from “what lies North of the wall”. It was created over 8000 years ago and measures 300 miles in length and 700 feet in height.

The protectors of the Wall are a military order clad in black known as the Night’s Watch and they are as old as the Wall itself. While kings come and go and wars are fought in the Seven Kingdoms, the Night’s Watch’s allegiance is always to the realm.

As I see it, the wildlings and Others which lie North of the wall are risks to Westeros; the wall is the risk management; and, the Night’s Watch are the risk managers.

A couple of other takeaways from this analogy:

1. The Lord Commander, the final authority over the Night’s Watch is like our modern day Chief Risk Officer. What’s interesting is that unlike in the rest of feudal Westeros where only lords and knights rise to positions of authority, the Night’s Watch is a meritocracy. Even a common man can rise as high as Lord Commander. (Read: You can make anyone with strong leadership skills the CRO. The position doesn’t have to be filled by anyone else from the C-suite and they definitely don’t have to be a professional accountant.)

2. Like the Night’s Watch who has an allegiance to the realm, modern day risk mangers should only have an allegiance to the organization and shareholders and never to the CEO, CFO or gods forbid the head of internal audit.  This approach has worked for 8000 years for Night’s Watch so it should work for your organization today.

Finally, when someone joins the Order they take a vow; this is known as “taking the black”.  As you read this, consider how today’s risk managers should also take a vow like this:

“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honour to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all nights to come.”

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