Straight Talk on Leadership: Ender’s Game

A few nights ago, my daughter talked us into going to the theatre to see the movie Ender’s Game. “A guaranteed hit she told us. Dad you are going to love it.” Well, I don’t normally take my movie recommendations from a 15 year old; nevertheless, I agreed to go, figuring the time with my family would be worth much more than the price of admission.

Family time was great as always, however, to be perfectly honest, I loved the movie…excellent plot, excellent effects, well executed. Keep in mind I’m not a movie critic so my endorsement may not be reason enough to go see the movie. What if, however, I told you that everything you need to know about leadership you could learn from Ender’s Game?

Ok, everything is a bit of an exaggeration; nevertheless there are some great lessons to be taken away from the movie. Here are two of my favorites- minus any actual movie references of course as I would hate to spoil it for you.

Give up Power to Gain Power

The fall of great empires can be traced to many things not the least of which is the abuse of power. Understanding its inherent, intoxicating potential, Thomas Jefferson wrote “I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, it is your willingness to give up power (also known as control) that exponentially increases your power. Below are three ways to start sharing control.

1. Solicit their feedback: Don’t make the mistake of believing you need to have all of the answers. By asking for and responding  to their feedback, you create an environment where it is safe for them to tell you exactly what they think. You need accurate information in order to make the best decisions; the safer the environment, the more accurate the feedback.

 2. Empower them to make decisions: Ensure everyone is clear on which decisions absolutely require your approval and then allow your team to make the rest on their own. Be present to provide guidance, but avoid setting yourself up as the resident expert. This empowerment will allow them to sharpen their problem-solving skills and you will gain understanding of the way they think and process information when making decisions.

3. Once you have agreed upon the outcome, let them create the execution path: Learn to manage outcomes not process. Even the best laid plans often change once execution gets underway as it is impossible to predict the obstacles they will face. Clarity about the outcome is the key to success. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins refers to this as Commander’s Intent; the idea of creating crystal like clarity about the destination, while allowing your team to use their creativity to reach it.

  How you win is far more important than simply winning

Vince Lombardi is quoted as saying “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” As a former athlete, I understand what he meant; nevertheless true leaders know winning is not the only thing. Sure, your drive for results and desire to be the very best are great assets. Displaying a never ending belief in your team’s collective ability to deliver can serve as a point of great inspiration- a rallying cry if you will.

But here’s the straight talk, winning without the grounding of true leadership character will damage your team and render all of your wins into hollow victories. As noted by Mark Miller in his book, The Heart of Leadership, “If your heart is not right, nobody cares about your leadership.”

Winning may in fact be your goal, but my advice, let winning be the icing on the cake, while you dedicate your time to the more important work of cultivating an environment where the good of the team outweighs the needs of the individual, where you think of others before you think of yourself, and where you “block and tackle” in order to remove the obstacles from their pathway to success. Do this and the winning will take care of itself.


6 thoughts on “Straight Talk on Leadership: Ender’s Game

  1. Great blog! I happened to see this movie this weekend as well. While watching the movie, it became very evident that what was going to differentiate Ender was his leadership. It was refreshing to watch this young man inherently embrace these skills that many people in leadership roles do not posses. Often we don’t teach people how to be leaders until after they’re already In a leadership role -if at all. Instead, I think leadership skills training should be much more ingrained in early education.

    • Paula…you have rasied some very salient points. Ender learned by doing (with guidance of course) and his leadership provided an incredible competitive advantage! Thank you for continuing the conversation.

  2. This is an extremely important discussion on power. So often in social services, clinical mental health practices, and higher education programs leaders are coercive, abusive and disenfranchise individuals they view as “lowest on the totem pole.” The practice of getting ones needs for power and control met through these practices can be very damaging for all involved.

    In response to this behaviors by leaders, disenfranchised employees may (and I’ve seen it happen numerous times) resort to getting their own needs for power and control, met by disenfranchising the very vulnerable patients and clients we seek to serve (at the extreme end this involves inciting power struggles, and at times abusing clients). From my little old clinical psychology perspective I have to say this is a phenomenal entry Tony! When we let go of our need to obtain power and control in our lives by asserting it and obtaining it at work we are less stressed, less burdened and I believe we can model for others around us, below, above and beside healthier ways of getting those needs met.

    Well said friend.

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