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Why every business leader should watch these inspiring TED Talks

Last updated on November 21st, 2014 at 05:09 am

When it comes to leadership theory, there is an increasing cacophony of voices, each with its own prejudices and agenda, each expounding the virtues of what is often just the latest fickle fad or trend. Cutting through the din for valuable information that can actually help improve your leadership skills can sometimes seem like a mission impossible.

But these five TED Talks, all of them delivered by world-leading business leadership experts, offer outside-the-box concepts and solutions that are sure to leave you better informed about what it really takes to be an effective leader.

From Emmy-award winning business journalist Kare Anderson’s advice on how to create opportunities by stepping outside your comfort zone, to BCG senior partner Yves Morieux’s six rules for simplification, to Unilever COO Harish Manwani’s surprising assertion that profit is not always paramount, you’ll find these talks as refreshing as they are informative about improving your executive skills.


Simon Sinek: Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe (March 2014)

Leadership expert Simon Sinek is fascinated by the means and methods by which leaders inspire cooperation, trust and change. His seminal book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, explores (and popularized) the “golden circle” concept, which he calls “a naturally occurring pattern, grounded in the biology of human decision making, that explains why we are inspired by some people, leaders, messages and organizations over others.”

In this TED Talk, Sinek begins by telling the story of William Swenson, a US Army captain whose unit was ambushed by enemy forces while on patrol in Afghanistan. Swenson is the model of courage under fire, rushing through enemy fire to rescue his wounded men.

“In the military, they give medals to people who sacrifice themselves so that others may gain,” says Sinek. “In business, they give bonuses to people who sacrifice others so that they may gain.”

This talk asks business leaders to think about what they do to make their employees feel safe at work, what their workplace would be like if everyone looked after each other and how companies can excel by favoring “heart counts” over “head counts.” It also challenges leaders to consider adopting what he calls a “lifetime employment” policy.

Kare Anderson: Be An Opportunity Maker (September 2014)

Emmy-winning journalist Kare Anderson lives and breathes connectivity. The former NBC News and Wall Street Journal reporter, now a Forbes and Huffington Post columnist, shares her personal story of triumph over chronic shyness and her journey of self improvement through helping others realize and harness their own talents and passions.

According to Anderson, opportunity-makers share three traits: They incessantly hone their key strength, they seek patterns to help them deal with people outside their normal circle to identify and locate wider patterns, and they “communicate to connect around sweet spots of shared interest.”

Helping others to build their ideas and realize their dreams is great, says Anderson, but be sure to let others help you. Remember that first connections may not always be the most fruitful. Work together to build trust and opportunities. By doing so, unexpected opportunities will arise.

While it may be a bit uncomfortable, Anderson implores her audience to seek out people who are different from them in search of opportunities.

“Opportunity-makers are actively seeking situations with people unlike them, and they’re building relationships, and because they do that, they have trusted relationships where they can bring the right team in and recruit them to solve a problem better and faster and seize more opportunities,” says Anderson.

Roselinde Torres: What It Takes to Be a Great Leader (February 2014)

A senior partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Roselinde Torres is a senior leader in the firm’s People and Organization practice area. In this talk, Torres asks, “What makes a great leader in the 21st century?”

Relying upon traditional development practices in a world that is “more global, digitally enabled and transparent” will stunt your growth as a leader, cautions Torres, who says modern leadership is defined by three questions:

  • Where are you looking to anticipate the next change to your business model of 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?

“Answering these three questions will determine your effectiveness as a 21st century leader,” notes Torres. Such leaders, she asserts, “are preparing themselves not [only] for the comfortable predictability of yesterday but also for the realities of today and all of those unknown possibilities of tomorrow.”

Harish Manwani: Profit’s Not Always the Point (January 2014)

Unilever COO Harish Manwani makes a compelling argument in favor of looking beyond balance sheets and bottom lines by including value, purpose and sustainability in the executive decision-making process.

On Manwani’s first day at Unilever, as a management trainee back in 1976, his boss asked why he wanted to work at the firm. “I’m here to sell a lot of soap,” he replied. “No,” his boss shot back, “you’re here to change lives.”

Manwani then realized that something as simple as selling a bar of soap affect change, in this case by improving hygiene and health.

“Small actions can make a big difference,” says Manwani. But it’s more than just selling soap, it’s doing so with “values and purpose.” Unilever also runs the largest hand-washing program in the world, as well as a health and hygiene program “that now touches half a billion people,” he says.

“There is a larger purpose out there,” says Mawani. “And brands indeed can be at the forefront of social change… small actions can make a big difference.”

Additionally, Manwani asserts that awareness of human fallibility — including your own — and the ability to choose leaders of great character are keys to a sustainable future.

Manwani strongly believes that the world needs “businesses that can actually define their role in society in terms of a much larger purpose than the products and brands that they sell.” He predicts that “values and purpose” will be two main drivers of company creation in the 21st century.

 Yves Morieux: As Work Gets More Complex, Six Rules to Simplify (January 2014)

Keep it simple, asserts Yves Morieux, a senior partner at Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) Washington office and director of the firm’s Institute for Organization. She starts this talk by asking why companies are struggling with so much low productivity in an age marked by tremendous improvements in technology and ever-increasing leadership development programs.

Morieux says management is based on two obsolete pillars:“hard pillars” based on structure, processes and metrics; and “soft pillars” based on interpersonal relationships, emotions, personalities and character traits.

In today’s increasingly complex business world, Morieux argues that businesses must simplify to survive. He proposes six simplification rules for firms to follow:

  • Understand what others do. “We need to go beyond the boxes, the job descriptions… to understand real content.”
  • Reinforce integrators to allow managers to encourage and enable cooperation without forcing key performance indicators and complex, rule-filled structures on employees.
  • Increase the “quantity of power” in the company so managers can “empower everybody to use their judgment [and] intelligence.”
  • Extend the shadow of the future, ensuring that feedback loops allow employees to better understand the consequences of their actions.
  • Increase reciprocity by “removing the buffers that make us self-sufficient.” A key quote; “When you remove these buffers, you hold me by the nose, I hold you by the ear,” says Morieux. “We will cooperate.”
  • Reward cooperation. “Blame is not for failure, it is for failing to cooperate or ask for help,” asserts Morieux.

Which TED Talk did we miss? Which Talk inspired you recently? 



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