For years, TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences have dazzled audiences worldwide with hundreds of engaging talks on an endless spectrum of topics. Most of these have been posted online, and TED recently published a list of the 20 most-watched talks to date.
In this article, I curate three of these videos that I feel offer valuable insights on how to lead, motivate and inspire employees–as told by a conductor, an author, and the founder of a boutique hotel chain.
Lead by Enabling Success
Even the world’s best orchestral conductors sometimes struggle to manage talent. In "Lead Like the Great Conductors," conductor Itay Talgam uses the unique styles of six 20th-century conductors to illustrate a compelling lesson in leadership.
While some conductors stifle musicians’ creativity by asserting too much control, others limit development by focusing too much on execution. “Authority is not enough to make them your partners,” says Talgam. Partnership–which makes the best music–requires a conductor to adopt a more balanced leadership style:
It’s necessary for a conductor to direct his players, and that requires a certain degree of control. But when a conductor treats his players as partners–and focuses on making music together, rather than on controlling each note–they will achieve greater success. As Talgam sees it, the ability to establish partnerships is what makes conductors (and leaders) great.
In music, micromanagement is anathema to harmony. In the workplace, it’s anathema to innovation. By allowing employees to play their part in the company’s success, instead of forcing them to play as you would, you’ll likely achieve greater success, as well.
Motivate with Autonomy
Research conducted by social scientists the world over suggests that traditional incentive-based motivators aren’t effective at getting employees to do what you want. Yet businesses use them, anyway. As best-selling author Dan Pink argues, “There is a mismatch between what science knows and what businesses do.”
In his popular TED Talk, "The Surprising Science of Motivation," Pink suggests a new approach to motivation. “If we really want high performance on those definitional tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not…to entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick. We need a whole new approach:”
His proposed system is based on intrinsic motivation–"the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they're interesting, because they are part of something important.” It requires three elements: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Focusing on the first of these, Pink gives examples of how companies are providing employees with a high degree of autonomy to explore their own ideas. Programs like Google’s 20 Percent Time and Atlassian’s 24-hour ShipIt hackathon are proven to boost productivity, engagement and satisfaction–and reduce turnover.
Pink isn’t arguing for a complete overhaul of your compensation process, nor is he calling for the end of cash bonuses. The key theme in his talk: “If we bring our notions of motivation into the 21st century, we can strengthen our businesses.” And that’s something any leader can deliver on.
Inspire Success by Counting What Counts
Following the dotcom crash and 9/11, hotels in the San Francisco area went through the largest percentage revenue drop in American history. Around that time, Chip Conley, Founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels, found himself in the self-help section of his local bookstore where he was re-acquainted with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
His story is a case in point for "Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile." He insists business leaders should rethink the way they’ve defined success. “We're not asking meaningful metrics,” he says. “We're not asking important questions. We're not asking anything that's intangible.” And there’s a reason for that:
“As leaders,” says Conley, “what we need to learn is that we can influence the quality of that unit of production by creating the conditions for our employees to live their calling.”
Inspired by this epiphany, he revamped his company’s business model to focus on some less-than-tangible indicators of success: the higher needs of his company's customers and investors. And he did this by asking questions that matter:
“We started asking our employees, do they understand the mission of our company, and do they feel like they believe in it, can they actually influence it, and do they feel that their work actually has an impact on it? We started asking our customers, did they feel an emotional connection with us, in one of seven different kinds of ways.”
Customer loyalty skyrocketed. Employee turnover dropped to one-third of the industry average, and the company tripled in size.
“Why is it that business leaders and investors quite often don't see the connection between creating the intangible of employee happiness with creating the tangible of financial profits in their business?” asks Conley. “We don't have to choose between inspired employees and sizable profits. We can have both.”
What TED Talks have inspired you? Any words of management wisdom from a school teacher or an astronomer or some other surprising source? Leave a comment, and join the conversation.