The most distinguishing leadership characteristic of Ender is not his strategic ability, it is his compassion for his team and even his enemy. A good leader cares.
I know, I’m 40+ years late to the game; but I took Jesse Manley’s advice and instead of putting money into Orson Scott Card’s homophobic hands to see the new Harrison Ford flick, I checked the book out of the LA Public Library (which is stellar). Ender’s Game is both entertaining and thought-provoking science fiction; but while the author adroitly questions the ethics of war, education, and humanity itself, this book’s greatest lessons are about what it means to be a good leader.
The story follows a boy named Ender Wiggin, a born and bred genius, as he becomes the last great hope of humanity at the age of six. Ender goes from outcast to legendary hero through a cruel education at Battle School and Command School, emerging as an 11-year-old to command humanity’s great attack fleet in their defense/assault (one of the book’s main questions) of a hostile alien race.
During school he’s isolated, bullied, and overwhelmed with personal challenges. He has a tough time with intimate friendship during his most trying years, leading him to often question the sociopathy evident all around – and even within himself. And yet he is destined to be the greatest leader in generations, he finds deep compassion for even his enemies, and he still struggles with self-confidence and vulnerability. Aside from being a genius born and bred for the single purpose of mass xenocide, I felt like Ender and I had a lot in common.
There are times when this book gives voice to the greatest challenges in leadership, and other times when it feels absolutely incongruous.
The 6 lessons I learned are (Just to be clear, this is my interpretation of Card’s internal dialogue about leadership. I personally found myself cringing more often than cheering for the leadership examples in this book):
- From ancient legends to newborn children, we all just want to be heard, understood, respected, safe, and loved.
- The most distinguishing leadership characteristic of Ender is not his strategic ability, it is his compassion for his team and even his enemy. A good leader cares.
- Authority, order, and discipline are only valuable when borne from independence, trust, and creativity.
- As a leader, expect challenge up to and beyond your breaking point. At times, I felt exhausted just reading about Ender’s never-ending, ever-increasing challenges.
- In all-or-nothing ultimatums, win at all costs, ethics be damned… except maybe not, you know, if you think about it.
- Leadership can be lonely. To stay grounded a good leader must have three things:
- A purpose (beyond ego). Ender needed a reason to persevere through challenge.
- A support group. Ender needed his sister, his few earned friendships, and the coaching of mentors to feel connected and sane.
- A horizon. Ender knew he was training toward a goal; but he doesn’t make it unless the timing is pressed to him. How often has the sight of the finish line driven us to carry on?
Without spoiling too much, the most powerful statement in this book is the conclusion. Card creates a beautiful resolution that enlightens about war and peace, about our insignificance and our potential, and about purpose and love.
I’m curious, if you’ve read or seen Ender’s Game, what did you glean about lessons in leadership?