4 TED Talks That Make You Rethink Leadership (and Why You Should)

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A strong company culture stems from its leaders. But, in a landscape where the workplace is taking on new shapes, team structures are being redefined, and technology is commanding us to reevaluate responsibilities, what does “being a leader” mean these days?

In the face of all of these important shifts, one thing is for sure– it’s time to rethink our traditional ideas of leadership and what it means in the workplace.

I’ve collected four TED Talks that help us do just that:

Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity (~17 min)

Linda Hill takes an anthropological approach to exploring how and why certain organizations succeed in innovation. To understand what makes these companies tick, she visited the usual suspects, like Pixar and Google, but then also some unexpected players, such as the Indian outsourcing company HCL Technologies.

Her findings invite us to “unlearn our conventional notions of leadership.” Leadership isn’t about being the most talented person in the room or about getting people to follow your ideas. Instead, it’s about encouraging and aggregating viewpoints. And just as importantly, leaders facilitate an environment where people can be creative.

Hill does a great job of providing examples for what this could look like in your company.


Roselinde Torres: What it takes to be a great leader (~9 min)

Roselinde Torres starts by unveiling a discouraging finding — the traditional leadership development programs in which companies invest time, energy, and money are simply not that effective. In fact, they can sometimes lead to counter-productive conclusions, such as false positives when identifying leaders.

Luckily, Torres doesn’t leave us hanging helplessly with that fact. She equips us with three questions to define an effective leader in the modern landscape:

“Where are you looking to anticipate the next change to your business model or your life?”
“What is the diversity measure of your personal and professional stakeholder network?”
“Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past?”

When it comes down to it, in order to be a strong leader in the 21st century, you need to be proactive yet flexible, and embrace diversity and ambiguity. I can’t argue against that.


Drew Dudley: Everyday leadership (~6 min)

In his short (yet powerful) talk, Drew Dudley challenges the idea that leadership is about grand gestures or changing the world. He believes that by elevating leadership to such a degree, we stop expecting it and believing we are capable of it. Instead, Dudley explains how there is an opportunity for leadership every day, by everyone. Often it takes the shape of a small gesture or discussion that positively impacts someone’s perspective or understanding of the world.

I think there’s a nice reminder here for the workplace. Not only does one not need to be a manager to exercise leadership in a meaningful way, but also we should do a better job recognizing these subtle acts of leadership that too often go unnoticed or unacknowledged. By appreciating the value of these significant contributions to the team, we are encouraging everyday leadership.


Margaret Heffernan: Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work (~16 min)

I saved this TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan for last, because it nicely reinforces and ties together the concepts from each of the above discussions. While a star-studded team full of high-performers seems appealing, Heffernan explains how this is not the key to a project’s success. Instead, it comes down to how these team members interact with each other and their work. Specifically, how helpful they are with each other. Even the most talented people in their field can benefit from the help and input of others.

Therefore, Heffernan encourages leaders to place less emphasis on being or creating superstars, and to replace rivalry with social capital. Similar to Linda Hills TED talk, she explains how leadership is about creating an environment where everyone is able to contribute, collaborate, and be helpful.

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