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Top 10 TED Leadership Lessons Your Employees Need to Learn

Great leaders have been analyzed to death. It seems that every scientist wants to understand how great leaders are born and made, from psychologists to anatomists.

We have many lists of qualities a great leader must have to succeed, and those skills are as disparate (and crucial) as impeccable organization and unending compassion.

We know when a great leader should wake up in the morning and what kind of breakfast a great leader should eat. Yet, despite all this precise information, most companies produce precious few great leaders.

You want your workers to have vision and passion regarding your company, but few will take it upon themselves to learn what it takes to become a great leader.

In the interest of transforming your workers into great leaders, here are 10 superb TED talks you can show your workforce that explain (and entertain) the less obvious aspects of being a great leader. You may even want to hire one of these excellent speakers to motivate your employees directly.


1. The First Follower Is the Most Important

To be a leader, one must have at least one follower — and Derek Sivers claims that the first follower is a form of a leader in and of himself. With a funny video of people dancing erratically in a park, Sivers explains the steps of leadership:

  • Step One: Stand out and withstand ridicule
  • Step Two: Accept a follower as a partner
  • Step Thee: Allow further followers to follow one another
  • Step Four: Watch the movement develop

The key takeaway from Sivers’s talk is that a business leader’s first responsibility is to his or her company, and the best way to demonstrate that is to venerate followers as much as leaders.


See our page: What is a Leader? for more information.

2. Developing True Grit

While not every employee should have the attitude of Rooster Cogburn (or Mattie Ross, for that matter), Angela Lee Duckworth argues that leaders should demonstrate a certain degree of grit in their everyday behavior. Duckworth defines grit thusly:

passion and perseverance for very long-term goals… sticking with your future, day in, day out — not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.

Duckworth and her team found that students who scored high levels of grit (as opposed to high levels of intelligence or talent) were much more likely to be successful in their endeavors.


3. How You Look Is How You Feel

Most people believe that a smile arises from happiness, but social psychologist Amy Cuddy sees it the opposite way: Happiness comes from smiling.

In her talk on “power posing”, Cuddy argues that leaders can feel and become more effective by mimicking authoritative body language. Certain postures have been shown to improve a person’s attitude significantly, even affecting the hormone levels in the brain. Thus, Cuddy believes leaders can “fake it ‘til they make it” with big, confident gestures.


See our page: Non-Verbal Communication for more information.

4. Being the Orchestra Conductor

In many ways, being a director at the company is exactly the same as being an orchestra conductor: all at once, the position is incredibly crucial and lamentably irrelevant.

Companies (and orchestras) can function without their leaders, but often the groups fall into disorganization and chaos.

This is the message Itay Talgam has in his TED talk. He says business leaders should take more cues from conductors; indeed, the best leaders are those who feel partnership with their employees, who demonstrate their passion for their work, and who understand how different stories interact in one setting.


5. Being the Army General

There is absolutely no time that leadership is more vital than in battle, which is why retired general Stanley McChrystal’s advice to leaders is so valuable.

McChrystal explains that trust is the most important quality a leader can cultivate in his or her subordinates because complete trust allows for better communication, better planning, and better action. What’s more, McChrystal says that the best way to develop trust is to listen and learn before one leads.


6. Happiness Is Productivity Is Happiness

Like Amy Cuddy, psychologist Shawn Achor sees the world opposite of most people.

He and his team have found that contrary to popular belief, a person’s circumstances can never accurately predict success or happiness. In fact, career success is almost entirely linked to a person’s positive outlook and ability to be content without outside stimulus. Achor explains that people can be happy, then be productive, then be even happier.



See our page: The Importance of Mindset for more information.

7. Safety and Security Breed Loyalty and Creativity

Simon Sinek noticed that people in the military tend to be more devoted to one another and their cause than workers in more mundane fields, who more often sacrifice others for personal gain.

Studying this phenomenon, Sinek discovered that the environment military leaders create — one of safety and security — allowed their subordinates to demonstrate these cherished qualities. Contrarily, most corporations rule by fear and shame, which weakens the entire system.


8. There’s More to Business Than Profit

Over time, even the most wholehearted leaders can succumb to worries about budget sheets and bottom lines and thus lead their employees based on concerns regarding profit.

In fact, the main purpose of the capitalist system is to encourage companies — and individuals, too — to work only in self-interest to do better for society. However, Harish Manwani argues that “profit is not always the point.” Manwani says that 21st-century leaders’ main concerns should regard responsibility, especially when it comes to value, purpose, and sustainability.


9. Developing Work-Life Balance

In recent years, “work-life balance” has become such an overused phrase that it seems to have lost meaning. Yet, it remains more important than ever that leaders ensure their followers have a satisfying work and home experience.

Nigel Marsh struggled for years to find equilibrium between his responsibilities at work and home, and in his efforts (and studies). Marsh was able to separate the wheat from the chaff and thoroughly understand that workers need to have a true, meaningful work-life balance.


10. There Is No “How-To” for Leaders

Ultimately, no two leaders can ever be the same.

Fields Wicker-Miurin explains in her talk that no matter how much a leader may want it, there is no manual to help new leaders understand and become better at their roles. However, Wicker-Miurin provides leaders an ounce of hope: the stories of leaders who came before often provide enough insight to help anyone inspire, organize, and lead.


About the Author


Megan Andrews is a freelance writer who is just stepping into the wonderful world of content marketing and SEO. She has a BA in English and experience in many fields, ranging from finance to health (and a few odd ones too).

When not creating quality content for quality sites, Megan enjoys reading, photography, and learning new things about the amazing world around her.

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