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How to Lead: 6 Lessons from Ender’s Game

I was excited to see one of my favorite childhood books come to life in the new box-office hit, Ender’s Game. The book was written in 1985 by Orson Scott Card and received the Hugo and Nebula Awards (science-fiction’s highest honors). Not only has it remained popular, it also has been on the recommended reading list for officers in the U.S. Marine Corps for offering “lessons in training methodology, leadership, and ethics.” This story is worth paying attention to.

Spoiler free summary: The story is of a young boy genius, Ender, who is trained to be Earth’s greatest commander of the military. He defends humanity from a hostile alien civilization. Throughout the story, Ender must learn how to become an effective leader.

Ender gives us 6 Lessons on Leadership

1.    A Good Leader Builds Relationships

Ender gets to know his people. He doesn’t simply bark orders or lead though fear and intimidation. Instead, he develops relationships and gains respect from his soldiers. They trust their commander as a friend and respect him as their leader.  “Ender did not go to classes that afternoon. He lay on his bunk and wrote down his impressions of each of the boys in his army, the things he noticed right about them, the things that needed more work” (pg. 168).

2.    A Good Leader Delegates Well

Good leaders know their people. Ender trusts his team. He gives them tasks that each member can fulfill well. He finds ways to connect with them. People feel valued and empowered when they know they are contributing to the overall success of the team. “They also knew that Ender trusted them to do as they judged best when he gave them no orders. If their style of fighting were not right for the situation they were placed in, Ender would not have chosen them for that assignment” (pg. 275).

3.    A Good Leader Creates a Culture

It is very hard for any leader to do everything himself. Unfortunately, many leaders would much rather do it all themselves.  This is a great way to burn out and fail.  You simply can’t do everything yourself.  As a leader, create a culture where the team feels encouraged to be creative and the freedom to be adaptive. When team members are allowed to think outside the box and be innovative, it will enable them to accomplish more.

4.    A Good Leader Challenges the Status Quo

Ender challenged his superiors to be better. Ender respected those in authority over him, yet he voiced his expectations that they needed to be better. He asked questions that challenged the views of the leaders who blindly followed orders. Ender thought outside the box. He changed the game, the rules, and ultimately the outcome. Ender took risks and was rewarded for his innovative decisions.  “Most armies practiced mass maneuvers, performed strategies. Ender had none” (pg 175).

5.    A Good Leader Leads From the Front

Ender does not stand back and let his soldiers do all the fighting. He stays in the trenches with those he commands. I am reminded of other leaders in history who fought alongside their men, such as George Washington on the front of the boat crossing the Delaware and William Wallace charging his enemy. Ender lives with, eats with, and goes into battle with his men. This is leading by example.

6.    A Good Leader Understands Decisions Have Future Implications

Ender was constantly given a set of problems. He was forced to confront bullies, defend his team in an ambush, and play a game that could have disastrous consequences.  Ender is constantly thinking ahead, to end not just that fight, but all future fights. The way he fought and how he would be remembered is of the utmost importance to Ender.

Ender’s Game has given us many great lessons to think about and improve in our leadership. If you haven’t seen the film, GO! If you have seen this film, what did I miss? Can you think of other lessons on leadership that you learned from Ender?

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