‘The Enemy’s Gate is Down!’ Leadership Lessons from Ender’s Game

In the 1980s sci-fi classic Ender’s Game, Earth has barely escaped annihilation after two invasions from a deadly alien race. Expecting a third invasion, humankind begins training its children through a series of war games. In highly competitive, zero-gravity simulations, the children learn military strategy and leadership to protect humanity in the event of a future invasion.

Things may not be so grim here on Earth, but the question of how to train effective leaders remains an important one. We face many challenges in our personal lives, our businesses, and as a country. With so much responsibility, we sometimes ask ourselves, “Do I have what it takes to lead my people through this? What kind of leader do I need to be?”

Whether you serve as a leader in your business, or you’re looking to train good people to fill those roles, Ender’s Game teaches useful lessons about true leadership.

In the world of Ender’s Game, wars are waged in outer space. So to prepare for future wars, the children train in a zero-gravity simulation. Without the grounding force of gravity, it is extremely difficult for them to coordinate together—everything about how planes fly or how bullets travel is in flux, and perspective and orientation change drastically from one minute to the next. In this environment, it is crucial that the team shares a fixed focal point. To achieve this, the main character Ender leads his team with the mantra “The enemy’s gate is down.”

“The enemy’s gate is down” refers not to a breech or malfunction, but to the gate’s literal direction. By setting the enemy’s gate in their simulation environment as the “down” direction, Ender can give orders using the gate as a reference point. Regardless of which way they are spinning or turning in zero gravity, all team members know that “down” means toward the enemy’s gate, and “up” is away from it. It provides them focus and clarity amid a chaotic and ever-changing environment.

Good leaders must continually refocus their teams on a common goal. The day-to-day challenges of business will distract and discourage even your best people. As a leader, you can help them overcome such challenges by reminding everyone of the bigger picture. When people know the greater vision of the company, when they have an overarching goal to strive for, it puts the smaller frustrations into perspective. Knowing the vision helps people focus their efforts, prioritize, and recover from setbacks.

Think about your company goals and how they can be communicated in the most direct terms. Perhaps it’s as simple as “Provide every customer with the best possible service.” Depending on the department or team, more specific goals may be appropriate, such as “Reach x number of sales this quarter,” or “Increase our market share by x percent.” Communicate the goal or goals often, and use them to get people back on track when they lose their way.

Remind yourself of these goals as a leader as well. Setbacks in business are inevitable. Problems you did not foresee might cause you to lose focus. In those moments, try to remember, “the enemy’s gate is down.”