The Middle Manager

Surviving & Thriving as a Leader

Ender’s Game

EndersGamePosterI went to see the movie Ender’s Game this week. I’ve been looking forward to this film ever since I first read the novella of the story many years ago. It’s by far one of my favorite books, and I’ve read it more times than I can recall. As movies go, it was OK. It obviously takes a lot of work to distill a novel down to ninety minutes of film, and I think they did a reasonably good job of capturing the spirit of the book. My biggest disappointment with the film was missing the connection and relationships Ender creates with other characters in the book – characters that were in the film but ended up as one-dimensional or lacking any connection to Ender. If you’ve never read Ender’s Game, I can highly recommend it.

In the book, but missing from the film, are some wonderful lessons for leaders. I’ll share a couple that I’ve found.

“The soldiers knew by now that Ender could be brutal in the way he talked to groups, but when he worked with an individual he was always patient, explaining as often as necessary, making suggestions quietly, listening to questions and problems and explanations.”

In our role as managers, we often have clear business goals we must work towards, and in doing that we have to be very direct in our communication and expectations for our team. This might include things like performance expectations that are more aggressive than some may expect. Like Ender, we’d want to spend some time working with the individuals on our team to help them come to terms with the overall goals, and aid them in understanding how they contribute to that objective.

Next, Ender is having a conversation with Bean, one of his best soldiers. This is one of the relationships I really missed seeing develop in the film.

“There’s a limit to how many clever new ideas I can come up with every day. Somebody’s going to come up with something to throw at me that I haven’t thought of before, and I won’t be ready.
. . .
“I need you to be clever, Bean. I need you to think of solutions to problems we haven’t seen yet. I want you to try things that no one has ever tried because they’re absolutely stupid.”

One of the hardest things many managers face is the prospect of relinquishing control. Ender recognized that Bean had a particular talent, and delegated work to him that leveraged that talent. We can learn a lesson here by doing the same. Get to know our staff well enough to understand what they’re capable of, learn their individual abilities, and don’t be afraid to delegate work that let’s them use those talents.

There are other great examples of leadership in Ender’s Game, but I’ll leave the rest of that exploration to you. I really do recommend this book – it’s not only full of lessons, it’s an entertaining and interesting story.

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