TED Talk: What It Takes to be a Great Leader

 

Over the past 35 years, Rosalind Torres has studied leaders. Now, in one of the most viewed TED Talks for business of all-time, she explains what it takes to be a great leader.

Why Current Development Models Fail

At the outset of her speech, Rosalind Torres poses a simple question to her audience: ‘What makes a great leader today?’ According to Rosalind, often times current leadership development programs are as outdated as the images that come to mind when one thinks about a great leader.  According to Rosalind, this is because too often the current leadership development programs in place are prepared leaders to reflect ‘the world that was’ instead of ‘the world that is’, or most importantly, ‘the world that is to come’.

The Numbers to Back It Up

Rosalind and her team conducted a study to determine the effectiveness of the leadership development programs across 4,000 companies. What they found was that 58% of companies surveyed sited significant talent gaps in key leadership roles. According to Rosalind, this means over half of the corporate development programs today are failing to produce adequate leaders for their companies. This caused Rosalind to ask herself, ‘What are the great leaders doing differently to thrive and grow?’ In order to answer that question, Rosalind left her job to pursue an answer full-time.

The Three Questions Successful Leaders Ask

Over the next year, Rosalind traveled the world studying both effective and ineffective leadership practices.  According to Rosalind, in the more global, digitally enabled, and transparent world of today successful leaders must ask themselves three important questions:

Where Are We Looking to Anticipate Change?

First, ‘Where are we looking to anticipate change?’ According to Rosalind, the answer to this question is on their calendar. Who are they spending time with? Where are they traveling? And what are they doing during these times to understand potential conflicts and making decisions to prepared for it? According to Rosalind, ‘Great leaders are not head-down. They see around corners. Shaping their future, not just reacting to it.’

What is the Diversity Measure of My Personal and Professional Stakeholder Network?

The second question defines 21st century leadership models according to Rosalind. That question is, ‘What is the diversity measure of your personal and professional stakeholder network?’ According to Rosalind, this question is about one’s ability to develop relationships with people very different from themselves. When people are willing to work to achieve a shared goal, great leaders understand better solutions are being provided because different people think differently.

Am I Courageous Enough to Abandon a Practice that has Made Me Successful in the Past?

Finally according to Rosalind, the third and final question a leader must ask himself or herself in the 21st century is, ‘Am I courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made me successful in the past?’ According to Rosalind, in order to be a great leader a person must not constantly do was is familiar and comfortable for them. According to Rosalind, great leaders dare to be different. Here Rosalind recounts a conversation with a leader who once told her, ‘The most impactful development comes when you are able to build the emotional stamina to withstand people telling you that your new idea is naïve, reckless, or just plain stupid’. According to Rosalind, great leaders need people willing to join them in taking courageous leaps.

A Final Note

According to Rosalind, answering these three questions will determine a leader’s effectiveness in the 21st century. So what makes a great leader in the 21st century? According to Rosalind, in a single sentence it is men and women who are, ‘Preparing themselves not for the comfortable predictability of yesterday, but for the realities of today, and all of those unknown possibilities of tomorrow’.

 

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