Anyone who’s ever stepped up to guide a team—big or small—knows that leadership, and the skills that it requires, redefines the word difficult; this list of 17 best TED Talks can make it easier. After all, there’s not enough time to make every leadership mistake ourselves, so we might as well learn from the people who’ve been there.
Whether you’re just starting your leadership journey or are a seasoned veteran, these talks will help you reshape your approach to leadership, refine your skills, and maybe even remind you why you want to lead in the first place. We’ve been inspired by them ourselves, and we know you will be too.
17 of the Best TED Talks on Leadership to Inspire and Make Change
Below you’ll find our list of the best TED Talks from great leaders and psychologists, who approach leadership from a variety of angles, including listening, failure, disagreement, trust, and more. But before we share their hard-won wisdom, let’s dig into what TED Talks actually are. And what TED actually means.
What are TED Talks?
TED is a global nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to spreading ideas that change attitudes, lives, and the world. How? Primarily through talks from the brightest minds around the world that empower and inspire—in less than 20 minutes. What does TED stand for? The acronym TED refers to technology, entertainment, and design, though TED Talks now cover nearly every topic from science to business to global issues. You can find more of these TED talks at TED.com, which stores a reservoir of free knowledge from the world’s greatest thinkers.
And that’s why they’re so qualified to talk about leadership—they are the world’s current (or future) leaders. Let’s let them take the lead on how to lead in 17 of the best TED Talks for taking action.
1. “Everyday Leadership” by Drew Dudley
Most of us have been leading without realizing it for a long time. And that’s why leadership is so powerful—it’s open to all of us. According to Drew Dudley, leadership is not reserved for the extraordinary. He encourages people to get over their fear of becoming a leader by realizing their power in each other’s lives. Learn more about your everyday impact in his 2010 TEDx Talk.
2. “4 Ways to Build a Human Company in the Age of Machines” by Tim Leberecht
Want to know how to thrive as a leader in a world being taken over by machines? Be more human. In his 2016 TED Talk, Tim Leberecht highlights the importance of the emotional and social aspects of work. If you’re looking to be an authentic leader who unites people, this talk will help you get there.
3. “Are You a Giver or a Taker?” by Adam Grant
Who succeeds in the long run? Givers, takers, or the people in between? In his 2016 TED Talk, psychologist Adam Grant shares the surprising answer. Backed up by his own research, Grant shows us what giving takes away, what it gives back, and how to build a strong culture around it. There are more twists than we’re letting on, which is what makes Grant’s talks one of the best TED Talks on our list. Go watch now.
4. “Listen, Learn … Then Lead” by Stanley McChrystal
No one knows leadership like someone who’s been in the trenches—literally. Four-star general Stanley McChrystal shares his experiences as a leader in the military. Learn about success, failure, and shared purpose when the stakes are life and death in this 2011 TED Talk.
5. “We Should Aim for Perfection—and Stop Fearing Failure” by Jon Bowers
Here’s a thing we’re still trying to learn over here: Perfection isn’t possible. But, according to Jon Bowers, that doesn’t mean you can’t shoot for it. In his 2017 TED Talk, Bowers shares his experience of running a training facility for professional delivery drivers to show how striving for perfection can save lives. Bowers teaches you how to rethink perfection so you can achieve more without fear of failure—a super tough combination and a key in great leadership.
6. “How to Speak Up for Yourself” by Adam Galinsky
Leaders need to know how to speak up for themselves. Okay, everyone needs to know how to speak up for themselves. It doesn’t come easy for most of us, which is why social psychologist Adam Galinksy’s insights landed him in our best TED Talks on leadership…and life, to be honest. Don’t know how to assert yourself? Galinsky will help you navigate the conversation powerfully and with purpose. This 2016 TEDx Talk will give you the tools to advocate for you and your team.
7. “Tribal Leadership” by David Logan
We are all members of tribes, even if we wouldn’t call them that specifically. In his 2009 TEDx Talk, David Logan talks about the stages of tribal leadership that make up our society. Being a leader means taking people from where they are to where they want to go. In order to do that, leaders need to be able to reach every person in society. Logan teaches you how to lead your tribe to the highest, best stage.
13. “The Tribes We Lead” by Seth Godin
Speaking of tribes, Seth Godin says your tribe is already out there, ready to help you make change. All you have to do is find them and call them together. It’s all about leading and connecting—people and ideas. The stories Godin shares remind us that potential is limitless and that tribes might be the best way to tap into it.
9. “5 Ways to Lead in an Era of Constant Change” by Jim Hemerling
Want to transform your team from exhausted to energized? It’s all about putting people first. Jim Hemerling’s 2016 TED Talk dives into the five strategic principles of how people are the key to transformation. If you’re looking for better ways to motivate the people around you, watch this talk.
10. “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers” by Adam Grant
Where do great ideas come from? What habits do original thinkers possess that inspire such great ideas? In another powerful talk by organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, you’ll learn about the three unexpected habits of originals. If you’re looking for ways to boost your creativity and get better ideas, this 2016 TED Talk is for you.
11. “The Surprising Ingredient That Makes Businesses Work Better” by Marco Alverà
(Apparently, there are a lot of surprises in leadership TED Talks.) Marco Alverà’s 2017 talk looks at fairness in a totally enjoyable way that can change up both attitudes and results. If you’re looking to motivate through values instead of rigid rules, this talk will help you do it.
12. “What It Takes to be a Great Leader” by Roselinde Torres
What makes a great leader? How do you develop your leadership skills over time? A lot of the traditional leadership development practices actually do more harm than good, says Rosalinde Torres. What can you do instead? She distills 25 years of watching great leaders work in this 2013 TED Talk and shares three questions that will guide you to your full leadership potential. Worth a watch.
13. “Learning from Leadership’s Missing Manual” by Fields Wicker-Miurin
Do you know what a successful leader actually looks like? Want to see them in action? Look no further than Fields Wicker-Miurin’s 2009 TED Talk. Wicker-Miurin highlights three stories of leadership that sprung from authentic purpose. Watch this talk if you want to see leadership done differently.
14. “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe” by Simon Sinek
When you think of a good leader, you might think of someone powerful and fierce. But Simon Sinek points out that good leaders actually create a sense of safety in their team or organization. What does it take to create an environment where the people you lead feel safe and feel like they belong? When you figure that out, remarkable things happen. Take a watch of this 2014 TED Talk to learn how.
15. “The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get” by Susan Colantuon
What’s missing for women in leadership? Leaning in and confidence are factors, but there’s still a piece most women haven’t heard of. And it’s not because they’re not capable. The simple piece of advice that Susan Colantuono shares makes up the missing 33 percent of the career success equation for women. Listen to this 2013 TED Talk to find out what it is. And don’t skip this one if you’re not a woman—this is one of the best TED Talks for people of all genders.
16. “Dare to Disagree” by Margaret Heffernan
In order to create the best ideas, great leaders need to be challenged. Margaret Heffernan proposes that leaders should invite people to disagree with them—and bring those people on their teams. Heffernan teaches you how to stop being blind to what’s right in front of you and dare to disagree. If you don’t have anyone of your team disagreeing with you, watch this 2012 TED Talk to see why it matters.
17. “How to Build (and Rebuild) Trust” by Frances Frei
Trust is one of the most important connections a leader can foster. It’s pretty much the foundation for everything else. So how do you build it? How do you maintain it? And what happens if it’s lost? Harvard Business Professor Frances Frei’s 2018 TED Talk shares what you need to know about trust and how it can bring out the best in people.
Now, can you feel the potential of great leadership? Us too. We hope these 17 best TED Talks on leadership gave you some powerful knowledge, inspiration, and motivation to take the reigns and get going. Time to make a difference.
Your turn: What’s on your list of best TED Talks on leadership, innovation, or business? And how did it help you? Share in the comments below.
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Author: Nadia Chaudhry
Nadia Chaudhry is an SEO copywriter and content marketer. She’s all about growth in business and life. No surprise, she loves to write about personal development, productivity, e-commerce, and marketing. But first, pilates. Follow her on Twitter @NadiaChaudhry.