TED Talks: Leadership

Peter Crush

Thursday 23 October 2014

We’ve trawled the TED Talks archive to bring you three presentations on leadership. Featuring Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, author Simon Sinek and retired army general Stanley McChrystal, these talks – presented in bite-sized format – ask the question: how can I become a better leader?

1) Why we have too few women leaders

Who: Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook

In 2012, Sheryl Sandberg, became the first woman to sit on the Facebook board. In that same year she was listed in Time as one of the 100 most influential women in the world. In this TED Talk, filmed in 2010, Sandberg says she won’t even “come close to seeing half of organisations being run by women in my lifetime”.

Sandberg argues that women who want to reach the top must do so by following three main rules:

1. You have to sit at the table: “Women systematically underestimate their abilities.” While men will always attribute their success to themselves, women consistently downplay their achievements and put their accomplishments down to luck or being the right place at the right time.

2. Make your partner a real partner: According to Sandberg, working women still do more housework (twice the amount) and more childcare (three times the amount) than working men – but it’s not for the reason people might think. “Women have to make men feel that working is just as much an achievement as working in the office.”

3. Don’t leave before you leave: “As soon as women think about having children, they immediately start to think of how they can make room for them – which means they don’t take promotions or interesting projects.” This is wrong, according to Sandberg. “It’s bad because to return to work after becoming a mum, you have to have a great, exciting job, but you won’t have this if you didn’t take the promotion that made it worth coming back for.”

2) How great leaders inspire action

Who: Simon Sinek, author

This 2009 talk is one of TED.com’s most-viewed videos ever, and it’s not difficult to see why. Sinek is the perfect orator. You hang on his every word because he claims to have the answer to success itself.

Sinek speaks about the need to understand the why, rather than just the what and the how. Concentrating on the why, Sinek claims, will mean you will “always attract people who believe what you believe”. And that is the key to success.

The Wright brothers’ brilliance in achieving man’s first powered flight was down to exactly that, says Sinek.

“There were numerous competitors, all hiring the best brains in the land. Some were even funded by the government. But what made the Wright brothers different was that they were trying to fly because they were driven by a cause – that they could change mankind forever. Their competitors were only driven by money, the prize, the acclaim for being first. They pursued the riches rather than a cause, so they were never doing to inspire others around them to follow a dream.”

His big message for leaders is this: “There are leaders, but there are those that lead. Those that lead inspire others because they get people to believe what they believe.”


3)  Listen, learn…then lead

Who: Stanley McChrystal, former US Army general and commander in Afghanistan

In Stanley McChrystal’s 2011 speech, the retired general used his experience as a former commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan to talk about how the key to becoming a good leader was simple: listen and learn.

“At one point, the forces I was leading were spread out across 20 different countries. Sometimes things failed… and there was no possibility to even put an arm on people’s shoulders to explain why things had failed. I could no longer lead by giving orders; I knew I had to build consensus.”

When McChrystal asked one soldier where he was when 9/11 happened, the reply he got was that he had been in sixth grade. “This was when the great generational divide really hit home. There were people I was leading who had totally different skill sets and totally different ways of thinking. How can leaders be credible when they haven’t done some of the things they now expect of their young soliders?”

McChrystal’s answer, and advice to fellow listeners, is simple: “You have to be more willing to listen, and to be reverse-mentored. Today, it’s clear that relationships are more important than ever.

“Nowadays, a leader isn’t good because they’re right. They’re good because they’re willing to learn and adjust. If you’re a good leader then the people you need to count on will be at your side when you need them the most.”

Image: Simon Sinek, Ted Talks