Leadership Lessons from Enders GameI saw Ender’s Game on its opening day and fell in love with the movie. Not because I love sci-fi over all other movie genres (I do). Not because Harrison Ford is my favorite swashbuckling actor (he is). And not even because I thought it had a great plot, great writing, great acting, and great special effects.

No, I loved Ender’s Game because it’s one of the best “levels of leadership” movies I’ve ever seen.


In the next few paragraphs I’m going to talk about character/leadership development. What follows really doesn’t give away the movie, but if you’re sensitive to this sort of thing then go see the movie before you read on.

  • Effective leaders rarely win popularity contests.
    Ender Wiggin was arguably the least popular recruit, partly at no fault of his own. Effective leaders understand that being liked isn’t synonymous with being effective.
  • Effective leaders keep the end game in sight
    Ender Wiggin understood that to win the game, sacrifices may have to be made … and some of those sacrifices may even include the loss of some team members. By keeping the end game in sight, he was able to make the decisions to achieve the mission that would otherwise have been nearly impossible to make.
  • Effective leaders think strategically and know the “why” for their decisions
    People make decisions all the time. Leaders make decisions all the time. But effective leaders understand the strategy behind the decisions they make – even when they make decisions based on their intuition.
  • Effective leaders create options when there are no options
    When lesser leaders give up because they’ve hit dead end after dead end, an effective leader takes the time to look outside the box … and sometimes to be creative enough to create their own options in their own box. 
  • Effective leaders change their leadership practices as their influence grows
    At the beginning of the movie, although Ender Wiggin was a natural-born leader, he had no followers and so he had to begin his leadership journey as a “doer” to get things done. But as he “did,” he maximized his influence with others who then began following him. As they followed, Ender changed his leadership style by leading through other leaders. By the end of the movie, he not only led through his leaders, but he’d empowered his leaders to the point that he would trust them to make difficult and complex leadership decisions without his input or approval. He came to trust those he led and was therefore able to lead through the hands of his leaders who then led through the hands of their leaders and so on.
  • Effective leaders recognize potential in others
    Ender Wiggin saw potential in others … even in those he didn’t particularly like. Effective leaders look beyond their “likes” to see potential in those around them. (On the other hand, effective leaders trust their instincts and don’t put people they don’t trust into leadership.)
  • Effective leaders take others with them
    It’s one thing to recognize potential. It’s quite another to make an investment in maximizing that potential. Effective leaders invest in others and take them along with them in order to develop their potential.
  • Effective leaders reward loyalty and trust their team
    Ender Wiggin noticed those who were loyal to him and to his vision. In turn, he rewarded them with increasing responsibility and increasing trust.
  • Effective leaders recognize they don’t know everything and depend on their team to fill in the gaps
    No one person, and no one leader, really does “know it all,” even though they may think or act like they do. Effective leaders recognize they not only don’t know it all, they have a limited perspective and need others around them to fill in the gaps of their leadership style and abilities.
  • Effective leaders relish accomplishment through the hands of their team
    Ender Wiggin was not only proud of his team, he celebrated their victories, knowing that it was also his victory. He was content – indeed, he relished – the accomplishment of his team. Effective leaders don’t have to be the hands-on implementors of accomplishments. They are totally content to see the mission accomplished through the hands and skills of others. And totally content to see their team get the credit.
  • Effective leadership comes with a price
    Ender Wiggin suffered greatly throughout the movie because of his leadership and his leadership decisions. He was reviled by some, discounted by others, and carried the burden of his responsibilities and his actions. Effective leaders realize there is a price to pay for being an effective leader – and they’re willing to pay it in order to accomplish their mission. 
  • Effective leaders take responsibility for their actions, for their team’s actions, and for the consequences of those actions
    For every risk, there is a potential for great reward and also for great failure. But even worse, sometimes risk-taking decisions must be made that aren’t black or white, better or best. Sometimes decisions must be made that bring loss and pain to some in order to achieve a nobler purpose. It’s not that the end justifies the means, but effective leaders understand that win-win is nearly always an ideal at best and is rarely a reality. However, when a decision is made on their watch, they own that decision and the consequences of those actions. Effective leaders take responsibility immediately and then do whatever has to be done to make things as right as they can be – knowing that making things “right” may mean self-sacrifice for the good of others – and it may mean they cannot really make it right at all.

If you haven’t seen Enders Game, and if you’re a church leader, then you need to see this movie. It’s not a kid’s movie, so don’t take your eight-year-old. But if you watch it with church leadership principles in mind, you’ll see what it takes to be an effective church leader in today’s church.

Question: What movies have you learned leadership lessons from? Share your favorites in the Comments section below.