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20 Essential TED Talks for Future Leaders

by Staff Writers

If you want to get to the top in any field, whether it’s business, science, or even construction, you have to have some pretty solid leadership skills. Unfortunately, these kinds of skills often aren’t the sort of thing you’ll find being taught in your college courses, and may take some extra effort to learn and apply outside of your classes. While there is little substitute for leadership experience through campus organizations, hearing from experts on psychology, leadership, and business can also be a big help in giving you a basic leadership education. TED is one of the best places to find all of these diverse subjects in one place, and here we’ve collected some of the best videos for anyone, young or old, hoping to hone their leadership abilities.

  1. Nancy Duarte: The secret structure of great talks

    While they might have different messages, this talk will show you that great speeches all have something in common that makes them, well, great. Watch and listen to find out what you can do to make your own talks more powerful, motivational, and inspiring.

  2. Seth Godin on standing out

    To be a leader, you can’t really blend into the background; you have to stand out. This talk from marketing guru Seth Godin discusses why standing out sometimes means being a little weird or bizarre and how that’s actually a good thing, even though we might not see it that way at first.

  3. Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

    Simon Sinek, an expert on leadership, showcases a simple but effective model in this talk that can help show you how to be a more inspirational leader.

  4. Fields Wicker-Miurin: Learning from leadership’s “missing manual”

    Leadership doesn’t come with a handy user’s manual, and learning the ropes can take quite a bit of effort for those new to a leadership role. There are some guidelines just about anyone in a leadership position can look to for inspiration, however, and Fields Wicker-Miurin shares a few examples in this powerful talk.

  5. Derek Sivers: How to start a movement

    Want to spearhead a movement? It might be simpler than you think to get the ball rolling, as you’ll learn from this entertaining talk.

  6. Tim Harford: Trial, error, and the God complex

    The best systems, it seems, aren’t perfect from the get-go. Whether businesses, governments, or something else altogether, the most successful enterprises are those that are built through trial and error, as you’ll learn from economics expert Tim Harford — an important fact for any budding leader to remember.

  7. Richard St. John’s 8 secrets of success

    This short talk boils down some of the fundamentals that will help separate successful leaders and entrepreneurs from the pack. From persistence to passion, leaders can learn what they’ll need to focus on to make the most of their ideas, human resources, and position.

  8. Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation

    Think you know what will motivate the people you’re leading? As you’ll learn in this talk from Dan Pink, you probably don’t have a clue what really motivates people. Watch to learn why traditional reward systems aren’t as effective as you might think and what you can do to truly motivate anyone under your leadership.

  9. Dan Ariely asks, Are we in control of our own decisions?

    Behavioral economist Dan Ariely uses some pretty amazing research findings to showcase how we’re not as rational in our decision-making process as we think. Leaders should remember this as they make decisions in their own organizations, and try to consider all sides and information before making a decision.

  10. Diana Laufenberg: How to learn from mistakes

    None of us are perfect and even the best leaders will make mistakes now and again. In order to move forward, however, you’ve got to learn from those mistakes. Listen as teacher Diana Laufenberg shares some of the life lessons she’s learned, many of which can be applied to other leadership roles as well.

  11. Derek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourself

    It’s only human to want to share your leadership and professional goals with others, but you might be better off keeping those details to yourself instead. Why? Derek Sivers explains in this talk how research has found that those that discuss their goals are much less likely to achieve them.

  12. Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success

    How do you define success or failure? Listen to this talk to understand how to take a less harsh approach to defining these terms and find ways to make even missteps a pleasurable part of the work experience.

  13. Itay Talgam: Lead like the great conductors

    Conductors have a big challenge on their shoulders, having to bring dozens of instruments together into perfect harmony. Their work offers some inspiring and fundamental lessons for anyone in a leadership position, which you’ll find highlighted in this lecture.

  14. David Logan on tribal leadership

    Human beings tend to naturally form tribes, whether at school, home, workplaces, or even just waiting in line. Understanding these tendencies, as is discussed by David Logan, can help not only make us better leaders but better individuals as well.

  15. Ron Gutman: The hidden power of smiling

    Think a smile isn’t worth much? It could be if you’re a leader. Watch and listen to find out what research has to say on the power of a smile.

  16. Dan Ariely on our buggy moral code

    We often have very strong ideas about wrong and right, but as you’ll learn from this talk, there are often quite a few exceptions to our rules. Understanding this irrational tendency could help you to be a better, more measured leader.

  17. Stanley McChrystal: Listen, learn … then lead

    In this talk, former General Stanley McChrystal shares some of the most important lessons he learned about leadership during his years in the military, highlighting the importance of being willing to listen and learn from others.

  18. Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar

    Lies can sometimes be innocent but they can also be very harmful. In this talk, you’ll learn some valuable ways to tell when someone you’re leading is lying to you.

  19. Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better

    Leaders not only need to be great speakers but also great listeners. In this talk, you’ll learn five critical tips for being a better listener that can in turn make you a better leader.

  20. Derek Sivers: Weird or just different?

    Ideas that appear weird might be brushed off, but as you’ll learn in this talk, perspective can change weird to simply being different in a heartbeat. In today’s highly competitive world, being different could just help you and your organization stand out from the crowd.