5 Inspiring TED Talks and Books for Leaders

This is a difficult time for everyone, especially leaders. You're doing all you can to help your team and your clients/customers thrive despite the challenges of a global pandemic. But this work-from-home marathon has added an unwelcome layer of pressure that's left you feeling stressed, stalled, stuck, stranded and swamped. And not very inspiring.

I know you want to look back on this time and say that you showed up in a way you can be proud of.

So, here's my assist. I am often asked for recommendations on TED talks, books and other resources. Recently the request has been: "Do you have any suggestions for how to be a more inspiring leader?"

Today I've pulled five of my favorites – some you've probably never heard of – that are sure to increase your inspirational factor. Do yourself a favor and carve out some "me" time this summer to dive into these resources. I promise it will be time well spent as you discover some new insights, valuable suggestions and, of course, inspired thinking.

10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation (TED talk)

Celeste Headlee

Inspiring leaders create authentic and meaningful connections with others. But being a good conversationalist doesn't come naturally to everyone. It's especially difficult during this moment in time when social distancing and work-from-home requirements challenge our ability to find meaningful ways to engage.

This TED talk is a very practical, useful listen for every leader who wants to feel more comfortable and relatable when talking with others. Celeste Headlee is a national radio host and author. Based on her years of experience interviewing people from all walks of life, she provides a clear and memorable list of 10 rules for being a better conversationalist.

Not surprisingly, on the list you'll find references to being a better listener. But she also has some gems on what to say, what NOT to say and how a simple mindset shift can change everything. Take heart – Headlee encourages us that just implementing one of the items on the list will improve your conversation skills significantly.

What It Takes to Be a Great Leader (TED talk)

Roselinde Torres

What makes a great leader in the 21st century? TED speaker Roselinde Torres shares the findings of a year-long study she conducted by traveling around the world to answer this question. Her results are compelling – and actionable.

You will want to watch this short (less than 10 minutes) talk that packs a punch by distilling down the characteristics of leaders who are thriving and what they do differently. Torres says great leadership is defined and evidenced by three questions.

The first one is my favorite – and I'll give you a hint as to why. Inspiring leaders are visionary. They have figured out how to look through the turn in order to shape their future, not just react to it.

You can nail this one by increasing your future-thinking skills, which should be a top priority especially now. Not only will this ability to see what's coming help you pivot in this pandemic, it will also boost your inspirational powers.


Discovering Your Authentic Leadership (HRB article)

HBR article Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew McLean, David Mayer, Diana Mayer



One of the most admired qualities of inspiring leaders is authenticity. Leaders who are genuine, self-aware and transparent attract others to them and build deeply trusting relationships that often lead to significant success.



Former CEO of Medtronic, Bill George, has written extensively on the topic. (I also highly recommend George's best-selling book on authentic leadership, Discover Your True North.) This article is an excellent summary of research George and some of his colleagues conducted to understand how leaders inspire through authenticity.



Their interviews showed that you do not have to be born with any particular characteristics or traits to be an authentic leader. The journey begins with leaders understanding their life stories. Authentic leaders frame their stories in ways that allow them to learn from their experiences, discover their purpose and inspire others through leading in more effective ways.



BONUS: The article includes eight questions to help you assess yourself as a leader and discover what you can do to become more inspiring through authenticity.

Give and Take (Book)

Adam Grant

I really love this book because author Adam Grant gets right to the heart of what makes someone inspiring -- namely, your willingness to focus on others' success, not just your own.

We've heard for years that leaders who are passionate, work hard and are immensely talented are the ones who make it to the top. But in today's increasingly connected world, it turns out success is far more dependent upon something else: how we engage with and support others.

Givers, he says are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return. Studies have proven that those who are seen as genuinely interested in helping others are far more successful than those who merely take —or even those who bargain for an equal trade in return.

Grant's research and engaging stories paint a picture of leaders who are not only successful, they are happier. And a happy leader is a far more inspiring one. I also recommend Grant's TED podcast, Work Life.

How Leaders Inspire: Cracking the Code (Study)

Bain Consulting

While "inspiration" is subjective, there is some data that can paint a clear and actionable picture of how to be an inspiring leader. I am a big fan of this study, conducted by Bain Consulting, largely because it is very practical. I share it frequently with my clients so we can map out some tangible steps they can take to lead at a higher level.

The study identifies specific attributes you need to be inspiring. There are 33 in all, divided into four general categories:

  • Developing inner resources
  • Setting the tone
  • Connecting with others
  • Leading the team

While 33 sounds like a lot, the good news is having just four of the attributes as distinguishing strengths is sufficient to make someone highly inspiring. Just four. There is also a pdf you can download that maps out the attributes with definitions. Use it for yourself and/or share it with your team.

I hope these resources will give you that shot of inspiration you're looking for. Taking some time to invest in yourself now will help you recharge for a more rewarding and sustainable leadership journey.

Written By

Elise Mitchell

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