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8 TED Talks on Leadership

A company’s emphasis on quality leadership can be key to putting their entire organization on the path of success. As leaders and managers know, effective leadership can not only allow for continued profitability but also help organizations protect their employees’ interests and maintain stability. To help current and future leaders develop the skills and traits needed to effectively lead, the below eight TED Talks highlight important aspects of what it takes to become an exceptional leader and gain the respect of those around you.

Simon Sinek - How Great Leaders Inspire Action

With his talk, Simon Sinek offers an in-depth lesson that explains how great leaders can get their followers to take action by offering powerful and specific messages to persuade people to invest in their goals. In particular, Sinek notes the power that comes when leaders hire individuals who believe in the company’s vision, rather than hiring those that can perform the job exceptionally well but are apathetic. However, many organizations struggle with this concept, because their vision or long-term goals are unclear. Most have a relatively clear picture of “what” goal they are working to accomplish and “how” they will go about doing it, but few have any distinguished idea of “why” they are working.

To clarify his point, Sinek offers a unique perspective by using a widely known business as an example: Apple. Under the wise leadership of Steve Jobs, Apple managed to position itself as a powerhouse in the electronics industry. They accomplished this partially through strategic positioning and extremely good timing, but also through the company’s clear understanding of “what,” “how,” and “why” they were doing business. Jobs perfected the most important of these three factors – the why – by using a simple but incredibly specific message: Think Differently. Having a clear purpose set the company apart from other firms who focused mostly on the “what” and “how” aspects of their business, allowing Apple to surpass many of their competitors. As Apple has shown, success in business is based on purposeful interactions with clients, and Simon Sinek believes that people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

Fields Wicker-Miurin – Learning from Leadership's Missing Manual

Fields Wicker-Miurin is the co-founder of Leaders’ Quest, an organization that is dedicated to connecting leaders across the world, with hopes of improving the leadership skills and strategies of everyone involved. Leaders’ Quest’s mission is cross-cultural, allowing the organization to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be an effective leader and how even less modern ideas can be integrated into modern leadership structures to achieve meaningful results.

In her talk, one particular example Wicker-Miurin discusses is Dr. Fan Jianchuan, who was born in the Sichuan Province. Jianchuan has lived quite an unfamiliar life, having been a vice-mayor, soldier, teacher, and politician in China. Even without a formal business education, Jianchuan was able to mold himself into an effective leader through hard work, networking, constantly refining his interpersonal communication skills, and understanding how to delegate tasks effectively. Ultimately, Fields hopes to inspire students and future leaders through his example of Jianchuan to help them to recognize that their circumstances don’t eliminate them from developing effective leadership skills to do their job well.

Drew Dudley – Everyday Leadership

Drew Dudley believes that leadership is an ability that all people are capable of. Dudley believes that refining this skill requires an everyday approach—in other words, leadership stems from simple daily acts, such as offering constructive guidance to a coworker or friend-in-need, helping to troubleshoot a task, or assisting a team with overcoming a minor obstacle. When an individual works to help others on a regular basis, they not only boost their leadership skills and improve the lives of those around them, but they also inspire others to follow suit. Dudley’s approach is primarily intended to help average people discover the leader that lies dormant within them. By using a unique example involving a lollipop, he offers an eye-opening perspective on just how easy it is to fundamentally improve someone’s life with just a single well-intended action. Dudley’s example clearly demonstrates the power that all of us have to lead others, and gives everyone a valuable opportunity to change the world by simply altering their perspective of a simple event or concept.

Roselinde Torres – What it Takes to be a Great Leader

As a leadership expert, Roselinde Torres left her job to travel the world and study the leadership processes of organizations across the globe. What she discovered was many unique examples of how these leaders were able to adapt to their situations and prosper regardless of challenging circumstances. In fact, Torres has seen great leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, who was able to heavily impact the state of the world even with very little financial backing.

During the video, Torres highlights that a proper 21st-century leader must bring together every member of the team to form a collective understanding of what is happening in the organization and what needs to be done to accomplish the next goal. Opposed to simply keeping their heads down, great leaders should keep their eyes fixed on the future so they can anticipate the next move. This perspective is a valuable asset in leadership, as advanced preparation could likely mean the difference between a failed endeavor and one that is wildly successful.

Stanley McChrystal – Listen, Learn... then Lead

Formerly a United States military commander, Stanley McChrystal is responsible for starting a revolution that involves fusing intelligence and operations to change the state of modern warfare. Within his TED Talk presentation, McChrystal recounts stories of his military experiences and offers examples of the numerous opportunities he had to develop a diverse arsenal of leadership skills, painting a vivid picture of what it takes to unite a team of people with many different backgrounds and with a diverse range of skillsets. One such story took place on September 11, 2001 and highlights the patience and poise needed to effectively lead a team. McChrystal explains the feeling of responsibility he felt, understanding that he would need to make some significant changes to provide the leadership his men would need to face these uncomfortable new circumstances. Instead of making sudden movements, McChrystal took the time to listen and assess the situation before making any moves or commands, which showcases a powerful example of how to effectively lead during a crisis.

Sheryl Sandberg – Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders

Leveraging her position as Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg uses the TED Talk platform to discuss three powerful pieces of advice for women aiming to become leaders at the highest levels of their respective organizations. With the understanding that females have more unique opportunities to lead than ever before, Sandberg explains that women are still an extreme minority in high-level leadership roles throughout society. Through her experience and research, she has discovered that women are likely to doubt themselves, which can eventually dampen their confidence in their leadership abilities and lower their chances of pursuing executive roles. As an example, Sandberg references a study that discovered a pattern of significantly more men negotiating their first salary after college than their female counterparts. Overall, Sheryl Sandberg urges women to feel empowered to lead and to speak up for themselves, within both their careers and personal lives.

John Wooden – The Difference Between Winning and Succeeding

As a basketball coach for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), John Wooden led his team to achieve a record number of NCAA titles that was unmatched at the time of the filming of this TED Talk in 2001. As Wooden has shown, in both sports and life, the most effective leaders are those who can connect with people and recognize the true potential for success that lies dormant within them. Yet, in his presentation, Coach Wooden extends this concept, defining both leadership and success as “the peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.”

As the video highlights, during his career, Wooden developed three rules that would allow his players to not only win, but also feel successful even when they lost. The first rule was to always be on time, the second required his players to never use profane language, and the third was to never criticize teammates. In Wooden’s opinion, it was the coach’s responsibility—and no one else’s—to offer constructive criticism. Wooden believes that if organizational leaders employ this mentality when defining expectations for their teams, they’d see more effort and less fear from the people they are guiding.

Itay Talgam – Lead Like the Great Conductors

As a conductor, Itay Talgam has had a long career of leading musicians to perform to the best of their ability. Conducting music requires creating harmony within a team without speaking a single word, a seemingly insurmountable task. Talgam often collaborates with his musicians to ensure that during a performance they are all emotionally invested and working toward the same goal – to tell the same musical story. With this approach, each person understands their place and role and is completely committed to achieving the team’s goal. This style of leadership not only efficiently guides the orchestra, but also the audience. Those leading in organizations, both large and small, could greatly benefit from this leadership style, as leaders may need to unify teams and provide employees with inspiration and confidence with little to no verbal communication.

To help current and future leaders better understand their role as leaders, Talgam’s video also highlights several methods that other conductors use to effectively lead their musicians, creating a unique perspective of leadership and how we perceive it. Using clips from recorded orchestral performances, he breaks down how these conductors establish control. By understanding how to work with a team to ensure that all are working towards a common goal, future leaders stand to learn a great deal about what makes exceptional leaders.

Everyone has the ability to become a leader. However, assuming a leadership role requires an ample amount of work and a commitment towards constantly refining key leadership skills. Using the ideas and concepts the above professionals shared, leaders can continue to progress themselves, their peers and their workplace.

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As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Leadership program is designed to help you demonstrate the skills and knowledge needed to lead teams and inspire progress, while also growing your career. The program is practical and pertinent, allowing students to apply leadership concepts immediately to their careers.

Recommended Readings
9 Books for Understanding Leadership Perspectives
10 Phenomenal Leaders of the Past 25 Years


Simon Sinek, TEDxPuget Sound

Fields Wicker-Miurin, TEDSalon London 2009

Drew Dudley, TEDxToronto 2010

Roselinde Torres, TED@BCG

Stanley McChrystal, TED2011

Sheryl Sandberg, TEDWomen 2010

John Wooden, TED2001

Itay Talgam, TED Global 2009

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