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5 Ted talks to motivate aspiring leaders

Being a leader isn’t always easy. Just when you think you have it covered, there’s a new challenge to face.

If staying relevant and continual learning is at the top of your list – as it should be for any great leader – then we have some Ted Talks on leadership that will hit the spot.

1. Why great leadership is closer than you think

When you think about your idea of a ‘great leader’ what does it look like? In her talk on ‘What it Takes to be a Great Leader’ BCG’s Roselinde Torres debunks the myth that great leadership is an all-knowing superhero who stands, commands and protects their followers. Her point is that many of these ideals are now outdated and leadership development programs are teaching the wrong lessons. In reality, what you actually need to become a great leader is right under your nose – cue the whiff of success.

If you have attended countless courses and still feel like you haven’t found your leadership mojo, then this is the talk for you.

“So what makes a great leader in the 21st century? I’ve met many, and they stand out. They are women and men who are preparing themselves not for the comfortable predictability of yesterday but also for the realities of today and all of those unknown possibilities of tomorrow.”


2. Embrace your randomness and make better mistakes

Economics writer Tim Harford blows the lid on our obsession with being right and explains why a God Complex will block our path to success. Instead, more of us should embrace the process of solving a problem through trial and error, being random and striving to make better mistakes that move us forwards to a solution. This may seem obvious and like something you already embrace, but do you really? Could it be true that you fall into the talons of The God Complex? Watch this Ted Talk if you want to be less ‘right’ and more open to being wrong to get it right. Wait, what? Mind blown already.

“The U.S. economy is still the world’s greatest economy. How did it become the world’s greatest economy? I could give you all kinds of facts and figures about the U.S. economy, but I think the most salient one is this: ten percent of American businesses disappear every year. That is a huge failure rate. It’s far higher than the failure rate of, say, Americans. Ten percent of Americans don’t disappear every year. Which leads us to conclude American businesses fail faster than Americans, and therefore American businesses are evolving faster than Americans. And eventually, they’ll have evolved to such a high peak of perfection that they will make us all their pets — (Laughter) if, of course, they haven’t already done so. I sometimes wonder. But it’s this process of trial and error that explains this great divergence, this incredible performance of Western economies. It didn’t come because you put some incredibly smart person in charge. It’s come through trial and error.”

3. Stand to attention: listen and learn before you lead

If you like straight down the line talking and respond to authority – no we don’t mean those fluffy handcuffs from the weekend – then four-star general Stanley McChrystal could be the man to help you get your leadership shiz in order. In his talk ‘Listen, Learn… then Lead‘ Stanley shares what he learned about leadership over decades in the military.

Having been raised with traditional stories of leadership by the likes of Robert E. Lee and John Buford at Gettysburg, Stanley always believed that soldiers were strong, wise, brave and faithful – but he learned along the way that being a leader meant so much more than that. A fascinating Ted Talk to watch if not for the insights on leadership, then the great and inspirational stories alone.

“I came to believe that a leader isn’t good because they’re right; they’re good because they’re willing to learn and to trust. This isn’t easy stuff. It’s not like that electronic abs machine where, 15 minutes a month, you get washboard abs.”

4. Dig deep to find your own missing ‘leadership’ manual


Social entrepreneur Fields Wicker-Miurin believes the secret to becoming a great leader is found through connecting with others. In her talk ‘Learning from Leadership’s Missing Manual‘ she reveals some of her discoveries from around the world. We are not talking scientific breakthroughs or mind-blowing statistics, just human stories of people who have found success in their own unique way. If you have read every self-help book and ‘how to’ article and still feel lost, this could be just the Ted Talk to remind you that the answer isn’t necessarily found in a manual. Ultimately, it comes right back to you – your values, your mission and your own unique journey as a leader.

“These people inspire me, and they inspire me because they show us what is possible when you change the way you look at the world, change the way you look at your place in the world. They looked outside, and then they changed what was on the inside. They didn’t go to business school. They didn’t read a manual, “How to Be a Good Leader in 10 Easy Steps.” But they have qualities we’d all recognize. They have drive, passion, commitment. They’ve gone away from what they did before, and they’ve gone to something they didn’t know. They’ve tried to connect worlds they didn’t know existed before. They’ve built bridges, and they’ve walked across them.”

5. Tap into your Tribal Instincts to unlock your leadership power

 When you attend a networking event do you often find yourself hovering towards a certain type of person? Professor of Management and best-selling author, David Logan, believes that a great leader can tap into our tribal tendencies. In his talk ‘Tribal Leadership‘ David describes five kinds of tribes that humans naturally form and how to recognise and nurture a tribe.

Now, you don’t need to strip off and paint your body or get into a squat to make this work – thank goodness. It really is about being intuitive about the people around you to get the best out of them.

“All of you are members of tribes. In walking around at the break, many of you had met members of your tribe. And you were talking to them. And many of you were doing what great, if you will, tribal leaders do, which is to find someone who is a member of a tribe, and to find someone else who is another member of a different tribe, and make introductions. That is in fact what great tribal leaders do.”


Are you ready to lead the way?

Sometimes too much information just sends us further into a pit of indecision, which is why you could read a ton of books on how to be a great leader and still be nowhere nearer a solution. Watch this lot and get some inspiration fast – you’ll be banging your chest in triumph and leading the world in no time.

If you’re craving more Ted Talk inspiration you could check out their ‘How Leaders Inspire’ playlist. Fancy a career change or feeling a little lost? You could also head on over to our list of empowering Ted Talks to inspire a career change or motivational Ted Talks to help you get a promotion.