I’ve learned so much from TED Talks over the years, and when asked to do this article, I beamed like a kid in a candy story. There are so many stellar speakers with jaw-dropping messages, it was hard to pick just nine.
While the list is in no particular order, the first one, by Shawn Achor, ranks as my all-time favorite.
Have at it. Take some time to reminisce over your favorites. Bring the popcorn. Dim the lights. And share the knowledge!
1. Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work
Achor–quite possibly the most entertaining scientist you will ever see on a TED stage–has spent years studying happiness and proves that your brain in a positive state performs significantly better–up to 31 percent better. To get your brain in “happy mode,” try these simple daily exercises to rewire your brain in just 21 days.
Favorite quote: “We’re finding it’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”
2. Drew Dudley: Everyday Leadership
Dudley, founder of Nuance Leadership Development Services, believes that leadership is about “lollipop moments”–those times when you’ve made someone else’s life better.
Favorite quote: “We need to redefine leadership as being about lollipop moments–how many of them we create, how many we acknowledge, how many of them we pay forward, and how many we say thank you for.”
3. Roselinde Torres: What It Takes to Be a Great Leader
Torres spent 25 years inside Fortune 500 companies observing what makes leaders great. A few years ago, she noticed a disturbing trend in leadership preparation. In this talk, she asks (and answers) two questions: Why are the leadership gaps widening when there’s so much more investment in leadership development? And what do great leaders do differently to thrive and grow?
Favorite quote: “Great leaders understand that having a more diverse network is a source of pattern identification at greater levels and also of solutions, because you have people that are thinking differently than you are.”
4. Adam Grant: Are You a Giver or a Taker?
Wharton professor and author of New York Times bestseller Give and Take says that in every workplace three basic kinds of people exist: givers, takers, and matchers. Grant breaks down these personalities and offers simple strategies to promote a culture of generosity and keep self-serving leaders and their employees from taking more than their share.
Favorite quote: “If we can weed takers out of organizations, if we can make it safe to ask for help, if we can protect givers from burnout and make it OK for them to be ambitious in pursuing their own goals as well as trying to help other people, we can actually change the way that people define success. Instead of saying it’s all about winning a competition, people will realize success is really more about contribution.”
5. Margaret Heffernan: Dare to Disagree
Are you conflict avoidant? Meaning, is your method of dealing with conflict to avoid directly confronting the issue at hand? While you probably won’t admit to it, serial entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan, author of Willful Blindness, looks at how entire organizations and the people who run them often behave this way–with dire consequences. She says “good disagreement” stemming from constructive conflict is central to effective collaboration and progress.
Favorite quote: “So how do organizations think? Well, for the most part, they don’t. And that isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s really because they can’t. And they can’t because the people inside of them are too afraid of conflict.”
6. Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action
This classic has been viewed, as of this writing, 30,225,437 times. And for good reason: Sinek forces us, as leaders and owners, to reexamine the message we’re putting out and to make it about why we’re doing what we’re doing, instead what we’re doing. It’s always a question of what will appeal to the emotions and values of people–employees and customers alike.
Favorite quote: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.”
7. Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability
Best-selling author and researcher Brené Brown says vulnerability is “the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” This now-historic TED Talk establishes the importance of vulnerability in the workplace, and how critical it is for leaders to connect with and inspire others.
Favorite quote: “Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. The ability to feel connected is–neurobiologically that’s how we’re wired–it’s why we’re here.”
8. Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation
The New York Times best-selling author of Drive and To Sell Is Human tells us what science already knows but most managers and HR people haven’t figured out–that the traditional way of rewarding workers is all wrong. Extrinsic motivators, such as bonuses, vacation time, etc., should be replaced by intrinsic motivators, like purpose, passion, mastery, autonomy, and control. When that happens, productivity goes up, worker engagement goes up, worker satisfaction goes up, and turnover goes down.
Favorite quote: “Management is great. Traditional notions of management are great if you want compliance. But if you want engagement, self-direction works better.”
9. Stanley McChrystal: Listen, Learn … Then Lead
This four-star general and former U.S. commander in Afghanistan shares what he’s learned about great leadership. It all starts by listening, learning from others, and having a shared purpose. I love how, in battle, the presence of technological advances and different age groups forced McChrystal to become more transparent, a lot more willing to listen, and a lot more willing to be reverse-mentored from lower ranks.
Favorite quote: “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.”