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Notes on leadership and strategy from Book: Ender's Game (9/10)

I’ve learned so little from books on strategy and leadership. I’m sure the directives are valid — tasks risks, empathize, think different — but as I read, I think, “I know this already.”

But I know I’m wrong. I can regurgitate the best practices, but until I apply them in my life, I haven’t learned them.

Ender’s Game put those gems into context and understand where they fit in my life.

In fact, it convinced me that softer skills, like leadership and strategy, are better learned through fiction.

Here are some quotes, my notes, on leadership and strategy from Ender’s Game.

Strategy — playing the long game

Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too. So they’d leave me alone.

Strategy — planning and reflection before action

All he had to do was watch the game and understand how things worked, and then he could use the system, and even excel.

The individual soldiers were given little initiative. Once a pattern was set, they were to follow it through. There was no room for adjustment to what the enemy did against the formation. Ender studied Bonzo’s formations like an enemy commander would, noting ways to disrupt the formation.

He and all his men were only thinking of ways to slip around past the formation, control the stars and the corners of the room, and then break the enemy formation into meaningless chunks that didn’t know what they were doing.

Strategy — trying new things and taking risks

I’ll be clumsy for a while. Better get started.

Alai kept trying new things, which forced Ender to think of new tactics to copy with them. In part it was because they kept making stupid mistakes, which suggested things to do that no self-respecting, well-trained solider would even have tried. Many of the things they attempted turned out to be useless. But it was always fun, always exciting, and enough things worked that they knew it was helping them.

It wasn’t unnecessary waste. I can’t win battles if I’m so terrified of losing a ship that I never take any risks.


With Ender, we have to strike a delicate balance. Isolate him enough that he remains creative — otherwise he’ll adopt the system here and we’ll lose him. At the same time, we need to make sure he keeps a strong ability to lead.

I’ll tell you how to get a toon. Prove to me you know what you’re doing as a solider. Prove to me you now how to use other soldiers. And then prove to me that somebody’s willing to follow you into battle. Then you’ll get your toon. But not bloody well until.

Leadership – managing and making the most of your people

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.

And Ender liked having the announcement of the extra fifteen minutes come from the toon leaders. Let the boys learn that leniency comes from their toon leaders, and harshness from their commander — it will bind them better in the small, tight knots of this fabric.

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.

Leadership – empathy

We had to have a commander with so much empathy that he would think like the buggers, understand them and anticipate them. So much compassion that he could win the love of his underlings and work with them like a perfect machine, a s perfect as the buggers. But somebody with that much compassion could never be the killer we needed. Could never go into battle willing to win at all costs. If you knew, you couldn’t do it. If you were the kind of person who would do it even if you knew, you could never have understood the buggers well enough.


Emotional intelligence —

Hot anger was bad. Ender’s anger was cold, and he could use it. Bonzo’s was hot, and so it used him.

Communication —

“So the whole war is because we can’t talk to each other.”
“If the other fellow can’t tell you his story, you can never be sure he isn’t trying to kill you.”

It made Ender listen more carefully to what people meant, instead of what they said. It made him wise.

Table selection —

Welcome to the human race. Nobody controls his own life, Ender. The best you can do is choose to fill the roles given you by good people, by people who love you.

Writing —

I learned to separate the story from the writing, probably the most important thing that any storyteller has to learn — that there are a thousand right ways to tell a story, and ten million wrong ones, and you’re a lot more likely to find one of hte latter than the former your first time through the tale.

Truth —

Never in my entire childhood did I feel like a child. I felt like a person all along — the same person that I am today. I never felt that I spoke childishly. I never felt that my emotions and desires were somehow less real than adult emotions and desires.

Read Ender’s Game (The Ender Quintet) by Orson Scott Card.