6 TED Talks every frontline leader needs to see

Posted on: December 15, 2023By: Ailsa Bristow

Great leaders are always learning, which is why we love TED talks! Browsing the vast library of talks given by world-renowned experts, you can custom-create your own leadership training program filled with inspiring talks to ensure you’re being the best frontline leader you can be. 

But your time is valuable, so you need to pick your talks wisely. Not sure where to start? Here are six TED Talks that are well worth your time. 

1. This is what makes employees happy at work by Michael C Bush

Time investment: 4 minutes

What it covers: Great Place to Work CEO Michael C. Bush shares the key to employee happiness: making people feel well-treated by their leaders and their coworkers. Bush shares key three strategies that can boost employee happiness: trust and respect; fairness; and listening. 

Why you should watch it: As a frontline leader you already know the challenges of connecting with and retaining your people. Bush gives you practical advice on how to make changes in your organization that can keep your employees happy (and loyal!) and drive your business performance. 

Our favorite quote: “The miracle thing is, you don’t have to spend more money to make this happen. . . It’s not about the perks. It’s all about how [employees] are treated by their leaders and the people they work with.” 

2. Why we need to treat our employees as thoughtfully as our customers by Diana Dosik

Time investment: 10 minutes

What it covers: Organizations are using sophisticated techniques to understand their customer journeys. Boston Consulting Group partner Diana Dosik argues that they need to use the same level of sophistication when it comes to understanding their workforce. Dosik makes a compelling case for how improving the employee experience can help your business run more smoothly.

Why you should watch it: When it comes to communication and execution, frontline leaders often blame employees for failing to respond, without investigating the underlying roadblocks. This TED Talk encourages leaders to explore the challenges organizations might be able to overcome, if they could identify the unseen factors that hinder change and progress. 

Our favorite quote: “Business leaders have a golden opportunity; they can understand and shape employee journeys the same way they do customer journeys. In fact, they can do it even better, because they have more touchpoints with employees than with customers.”

3. How to Lead in a Crisis by Amy C. Edmondson

Time investment: 4.5 minutes

What it covers: What does strong leadership in a crisis look like? Confident? Unwavering? Armed with all the facts? Sounds nice, but this model of leadership isn’t always realistic, especially when uncertainty is high. Instead, leadership expert Amy C. Edmondson suggests that leaders must rethink crisis leadership and focus on being transparent, acting with urgency, being led by their values and giving power away.

Why you should watch it: Frontline leaders recently got a masterclass in leading through a crisis during the pandemic. But this won’t be the last upheaval leaders will face. Edmonson offers a way to “flip the leadership playbook” so that you can meet the next challenge (and the next, and the next) in ways that will bring your team along with you.

Our favorite quote: “We follow this new type of leader through upheaval, because we have confidence not in their map but in their compass. We believe that they have chosen the right direction given the current information, and that they will keep updating.”

4. Forget the pecking order at work by Margaret Heffernan

Time investment: 15.5 mins

What it covers: Writer and entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan argues that we need to reconsider the “superchicken model,” where energy and attention is heaped on high performers at the expense of everyone else. Using research and real-world examples, she illustrates how top organizations instead focus on improving the bonds between employees, and creating a culture of “helpfulness.”   

Why you should watch it: Building a sense of community between employees in a frontline organization can be a challenge. Heffernan highlights how seemingly small changes can have outsized impacts on team cohesion, creativity and even profits. Heffernan’s radical rethinking of how to lead is a vision of making every team member count (and accountable). 

Our favorite quote: “For decades, we’ve tried to motivate people with money, even though we’ve got a vast amount of research that shows that money erodes social connectedness. Now, we need to let people motivate each other.”

5. Why good leaders make you feel safe by Simon Sinek

Time investment: 12 mins

What it covers: Management theorist Simon Sinek goes back to the earliest days of human evolution to explain why trust and cooperation are so pivotal in organizations. Sinek highlights the difference between organizations where employees trust their leaders versus those without trust. 

Why you should watch it: We’ve talked about the importance of psychological safety for frontline workers before, and Sinek’s talk brings that need vividly to life. Sharing thought-provoking examples of leaders who put the wellbeing of their employees above their own interests, Sinek challenges us to think differently about what it takes to create a sense of safety, trust and community in the workplace. 

Our favorite quote: “If the conditions are wrong, we are forced to expend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other, and that inherently weakens the organization. When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize opportunities.”

6. How reverse mentorship can help create better leaders by Patrice Gordon

Time investment: 4.5 mins

What it covers: Executive coach Patrice Gordon uses her experience as a reverse mentor for Virgin Atlantic’s former CEO Craig Kreeger to show how reverse mentoring is a powerful tool for ensuring diverse views are heard at every level of the organization – but for it to work, it’s important to create a structure. 

Why you should watch it: We love upward feedback, and Gordon’s talk offers a blueprint for helping leaders to see beyond their own blinkers. If you’re interested in experimenting with opening up more two-way communication, Gordon’s five steps will help you establish a successful program. 

Our favorite quote: “Our organizations can fall right through that gap into stale thinking, blind spots and having policies that could alienate underrepresented groups, not only in regards to age, race, or gender, but all different types of viewpoints.”

Frontline leaders work in a challenging and dynamic business environment and it can be hard to find time to focus on leadership skills. But with a bite-sized time investment, these TED Talks will help you gain some new ideas and perspectives – all over a quick cup of coffee. 

Ailsa Bristow

Ailsa Bristow is a Toronto-based writer, copywriter, content strategist and workshop facilitator.

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