7 TED Talks That Will Make You a Better Leader

7 minute read

There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there about how to best lead a team.

“Fake it ’til you make it,” but “don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know.” “Foster friendship on your team,” but “Don’t be too chummy with your reports.”

Every manager has their own style and every team its unique challenges, but there are universals that can guide you toward being a more effective leader, no matter your industry. Whether you’re a seasoned team leader or have just been promoted to your first management position, check out these seven inspiring TED Talks with advice for becoming the best boss you can be.

1. Drew Dudley: ‘Own your title’

Our society spends a lot of time idolizing people who achieve what very few can, making leadership feel like some far-off, earth-shattering thing that you’ll someday be worthy of. “Who am I to lead?” Who are you not to lead? Your first act as manager should be casting aside any signs of imposter syndrome. Leadership isn’t just about changing the world; it’s about the everyday influence you have on your company, your team and your individual coworkers. As Drew Dudley says, if you change one person’s understanding of what they’re capable of, you’ve changed the whole world. Sounds easy enough.

2. Derek Sivers: ‘Find your first follower’

Creating change is hard. But not as hard as you might think when you’re first confronted with it. This quick talk from Derek Sivers packs a real punch, and the lesson is this: “The first follower is what transforms the lone nut into a leader.” It only takes one person to support what you’re doing to bring along more followers, so long as you embrace them as equals and let them be partners in your plan. So when you decide your team’s mission, aim to find your first follower, embrace them as a partner in crime, and you’re on your way to making a movement.

3. Margaret Heffernan: ‘Don’t favor the all stars’

I know. You just became the manager, and here I am telling you to throw the hierarchy out the window. But hang tight because there’s science here. Margaret Heffernan cites evolutionary biology, which shows that extremely Darwinian environments full of only star players and top performers actually create such fierce competition that innovation and collaboration can’t happen. That’s not what you want for your team. To prevent your top performers from fighting each other to the death, adopt the mindset that everyone has value, no matter their rank. Encourage collaboration, give everyone a chance to speak and make sure that everyone knows that his or her perspective is valued.

Read more: Jenna Lyons’ Secrets to Impressing Your Boss

4. Matt Cutts: ‘Baby steps can be more effective than big leaps’

When you get a new role or a new job entirely, you’re coming in with fresh perspective. With fresh eyes, it’s natural to see opportunities for institutional change, new processes that can be implemented or things that might be lacking. But before you fire up your wrecking ball, follow Matt Cutts’ lead on this one: Small changes are more sustainable and more likely to stick than big, hairy, audacious goals—at least right out of the gate. Look for small opportunities to optimize and little ways to shift existing processes for the better, and the momentum of those wins can help power the changes needed for your larger vision.

5. Emilie Wapnick: ‘Ask people not to check their passions at the door’

As Emilie Wapnick says: “The notion of the narrowly focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling.” It’s easy to see your colleagues and employees as one-dimensional and want to keep them in their “swim lane.” But Wapnick introduces the idea of a “multipotentialite,” someone with diverse interests and many creative pursuits. Multipotentialites are rapid learners who adapt quickly and apply learnings from their different interest areas to innovate. If you want an innovative team and happy, fulfilled employees, make room for people to pursue their diverse interests and find ways for those out-of-office passions—whether it’s music, architecture, comedy, knitting, kayaking or psychology—to inspire their work inside the office.

6. Dan Pink: ‘Don’t assume money is the best motivator’

Much of the business world is built around the idea that you can get employees to perform better by offering them financial incentives: Bonuses, raises, commission, the whole shebang. But Dan Pink lets you in on a little secret in this TED Talk: For most of the work we do today, it just doesn’t work. For purely mechanical tasks, sure, people can be motivated to fold neater or sort faster for a cash bonus. But for anything cognitive—tasks that require mental energy like creativity, problem solving and innovation—cash incentives don’t work. They actually make people perform worse. So what can you do? Be sure that the incentives you and your department embrace are actually helping you get to your end goal, and leave time and space for passion to be the true driver of creative and cognitive tasks for your team.

Read more: There Are 3 Keys to Career Success—But Women Are Only Taught 2 of Them

7. David Grady: ‘Say no MAS to excessive meetings’

If someone walked into your cube and stole your chair, David Grady says, you’d question it. And yet we often accept meeting invites with no background, letting our calendars become a colorful and depressing game of Tetris the whole office can play. He calls it “Mindless Accept Syndrome,” or “MAS.” MAS results in ineffective and overcrowded meetings that leave us feeling rushed and stalled at the same time. The struggle is real. So in your new role, vow to protect your time and your employees’ time like you’d protect your chair. Embrace the “tentative” button, and ask for details about why meetings are being called, who really needs to be there, and whether the meeting needs to happen at all. With some critical thinking, your team and your department can start to be more mindful about meetings, leaving more time for team bonding, creativity and productivity. Your schedule, your bottom line and your chair will thank you.

By stepping up to the plate, embracing everyone’s ability to contribute and ensuring that common goals drive your actions, you can secure your place as a vital leader of a collaborative, creative and effective team.

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