6 Powerful Lessons From TED Talks About Leadership
We all need a little inspiration from time to time. On mornings when I feel like a cup of coffee won’t cut it, I’ve found that watching a TED Talk can really energize me for the day.
While it’s easy to let an hour go by with these quick and powerful presentations, a few of them really stand out in my mind.
These TED Talks offer some highly actionable nuggets of wisdom that are worth sharing. I hope the takeaways in these talks can invigorate your approach to leadership this week.
1. Empowering Others Empowers Us
Drew Dudley had no idea he had changed someone’s life. In his talk, Dudley explains how an encounter he doesn’t even remember changed the course of a young woman’s life. His point is that he never would have known about it if she hadn’t approached him four years later to let him know.
In what Dudley calls a “lollipop moment”, these small interactions are evidence of the infinite power of our words and actions on other people. In a poignant moment, he reminds the audience “there is no world, there’s just 7 billion understandings of it”. That means that making an impact on just one person changes the world completely.
With a simple but powerful lesson, Dudley invites us to recognize our power in the smallest of actions. It can be something as small as offering praise to a junior member of your team or letting a colleague know they’ve made a difference in your career. The value of these momentary acts of everyday leadership is often far greater than we know.
2. Make Decisions Based on the Future, Not the Present
In this talk, leadership expert Roselinde Torres asks why the talent gaps in most organizations are growing wider when companies are investing more than ever in Leadership Development.
Torres has spent years of her life looking for the answer, and her findings show that today’s Leadership Development programs serve a leadership model that no longer exists. Her findings come down to three attributes that companies are not imbuing within their talent pool.
Firstly, great leaders look to the future to anticipate what’s coming. Torres asks us to evaluate how we’re spending our time, our attention, and our focus, and how we distill that time into plans of action. In her words, “great leaders don’t have their heads down, they see around corners”.
This leads to the second quality, which is the diversity of our network. Torres acknowledges that there’s often a group of people we’re most comfortable around. However, we become better leaders by surrounding ourselves with folks who see the world differently, and therefore think differently.
The third is having the courage to abandon tactics that used to work, but don’t anymore. That means daring to accept that things change, and sometimes the future demands risks. Often, Torres asserts, those who follow you in these risky pursuits aren’t the ones you’re closest with, they’re those who see the potential, which leads us into the next lesson.
3. A Leader is Made by their First Followers
In a three-minute clip of a lone man starting a dance party, Derek Sivers explains how a movement begins. The key takeaway is that the lone dancing man isn’t the one who started the party—it was the first few who joined him.
From a leadership perspective, this brief but powerful talk reminds us of the power of our “followers”. Within our organizations, they might be our first employees, our hardworking assistants, or simply a team member who believes in your organization’s mission. These individuals may be inspired by us, but they also serve the crucial role of showing others how to follow.
Sivers encourages us to nurture the people who “transform a lone nut into a leader”. In turn, we should also have the guts to cheer for those who are taking the right risks.
Do these TED Talks inspire you to take a new approach to leadership? Start by downloading our complimentary eBook “Leading the Business”, part of our four-part Balanced Leadership™ Framework.
4. People are Drawn to the “Why”, not the “What”
There are plenty of computer companies, so why does Apple make us feel something different when we think of their products? Simon Sinek’s influential talk explains how people are wired on a biological level to resonate with missions, not products.
Most organizations, Sinek explains, sell in the order of “what is it”, “how do we do it”, and the “why we do it” is optional. Truly innovative companies, however, do the exact opposite.
Apple, the Wright Brothers, and Martin Luther King Jr. all became massively influential not because of who they were or what they produced, but what they stood for. Sinek asserts that people feel compelled to become loyal to what an organization believes, not what they produce. This is the same part of the brain that drives us to say something “doesn’t feel right”, even when the evidence points in that direction.
When we understand this principle, we can harness the power to inspire others. This has massive potential for earning buy-in from teams and stakeholders, and for driving our customers to take action.
5. Lean Into Vulnerability
If you haven’t yet heard of Brené Brown, her powerful talk on vulnerability and shame is an essential introduction to her work. As a doctor of social work, Brown has spent decades performing tireless qualitative research on how people experience joy, creativity, and connection.
Using humorous anecdotes, Brown ties in her quest to understand the purpose of vulnerability into her own struggle to embrace it. Her stories will resonate with those of us who would rather control every variable of a situation than let the chips fall where they may.
For leaders, the most important insight in Brown’s talk is how crucial a role vulnerability plays in our lives and careers. The people Brown identifies as masters of vulnerability (the “whole-hearted”) see vulnerability as a fundamental fact of life. They understand that vulnerability and fulfillment are inextricably linked.
In our organizations, that means taking a deep breath and having the courage to do the uncomfortable. Speaking up when something doesn’t seem right. Pushing back against a stakeholder. Being honest with your team when you’ve made a mistake.
If these things make you feel warm under the collar, Brown assures us it’s worth it. We can hold these uncomfortable vulnerabilities, and still be worthy of respect and belonging. In fact, by portraying our authentic selves, we open ourselves to rewards we could never access by playing it safe.
6. Replace Excuses with Solutions
If you’ve ever felt like you’ve been handed an impossible mission, Linda Cliatt-Wayman’s talk is a must-watch. Having served as principal in three struggling high schools, Cliatt-Wayman explains her mission to change outcomes at Strawberry Mansion High School in North Philadelphia.
There are so many profound leadership lessons to be gleaned from this talk. Notably, it was important for Cliatt-Wayman to change the environment. The halls, classrooms, and entrance needed to present an environment that was welcoming and proud to exist.
She also explains one of her many beloved slogans; “so what, now what?” Having done the work of cleaning up the school, the staff were presented with dismal data on why the school was considered “low performing and persistently dangerous”. Rampant poverty, special needs, and lack of support at home were a few of the reasons, but Cliatt-Wayman refused to let them become excuses.
To address these issues, Cliatt-Wayman holds her students to non-negotiable standards of excellence and integrity. She reinforces them every day. She also reinforces every day the most important aspect of her approach, which is how much she loves her students. “If nobody told you they love you today,” she reminds her students over the intercom, “know that I love you, and I always will.”
While we may not be serving the same kind of organization, the outstanding results of Cliatt-Wayman’s approach teach us the profound value of environment, expectations, and empowerment. Taking the time to form genuine relationships with our team is the most valuable investment we can make.
Are you ready to discover your own TED Talk-worthy insights on leadership? If so, I encourage you to contact my team and I at East Tenth Group today.