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March 01, 2022 Vol. 47, No. 4

Seen any good TED Talks lately? A curated list for bar leaders

What began as a conference in 1984 is now a phenomenon perfectly suited for this era when attention spans are short and many of us love to learn through video: the TED Talk. With so many great talks now recorded and available to view any time, it can be hard to know where to start. The staff of the ABA Division for Bar Services recently gathered a curated list of talks that may be of interest to bar leaders.

For those who learn best by reading rather than by watching or listening, transcripts are available with each video, and we’ve included links to books by each TED presenter.

Classic for a reason: Simon Sinek, “How great leaders inspire action”

First presented in 2009, this talk examines why some leaders and innovators stand out from the rest, even if their ideas and resources are similar to those of others in their field. As examples, Sinek considers Apple, the Wright brothers, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and what allowed them to blaze such noteworthy trails and inspire others to follow them. Sinek shares his idea of the “golden circle”—the idea that all people and organizations know what they do, some know how the work is done, but very few know why. “People don’t buy what you do,” Sinek says. “They buy why you do it.” The most inspiring people and organizations, he believes, rally others around that central focus on a mission or core belief—and the structure of the human brain means people are hardwired to respond to this call to action. If you’ve seen this one before, watch it again for a refresher on the importance of starting with why.

For readers: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (2011) by Simon Sinek.

Followers are important, too: Derek Sivers, “How to start a movement”

“New followers emulate the followers, not the leader,” says Derek Sivers in this talk from 2010. In less than three brisk minutes, Sivers reviews some video footage from an outdoor event and shares what we can learn from it. When the video clip begins, a crowd is calmly seated at the event when one man (who happens to be shirtless) comes forward and begins dancing. He is joined by one other person and then another, and before long, there’s a tipping point where much of the crowd stands up and begins dancing—because there are now enough people dancing that the risk of being ridiculed has been reduced. While leaders are important, Sivers believes, the “first follower” may be even more important (and should be valued)—because this person validates the leader’s idea and encourages others to feel safe enough to join in. “If you really care about starting a movement,” he advises, “have the courage to follow and show others how to follow.”

For readers: a selection of books by Derek Sivers.

Not just a seat at the table: Rha Goddess and Deepa Purushothaman, “4 ways to redefine power at work to include women of color”

Why are so many women, especially women of color, leaving high-level jobs and positions of leadership? While this has been accelerated by the pandemic, that’s not the full story, according to Rha Goddess and Deepa Purushothaman, both women of color who left corporate America to pursue a different path. Goddess and Purushothaman share findings from their recent research into what is driving other women of color to make a similar decision. “What we learned from these women was that their struggles were not personal,” Purushothaman says. “The system is broken.” What can help fix it? Goddess and Purushothaman present some challenging ideas, including watching out for “toxic rock stars”—individuals who produce big results and are great leaders in many ways, but who also erode organizational culture. At a time when so much is changing, Goddess notes, women of color are important truth tellers about what’s working and what isn’t. Whether you’re battling the Great Resignation at work, are struggling to keep members and leaders engaged, or simply want to make sure you’re at the forefront of diversity, equity, and inclusion, this talk from 2021 can help.

For readers: The First, the Few, the Only: How Women of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America (2022) by Deepa Purushothaman; The Calling: 3 Fundamental Shifts to Stay True, Get Paid, and Do Good (2020) by Rha Goddess.

Toward servant leadership: Adam Grant, “Are you a giver or a taker?”

In most interactions, do you focus on what the other person can do for you, or on what you can do for the other person? In studying dozens of organizations and thousands of people, Adam Grant found that slightly more than half of us are what he calls “matchers”—meaning we seek an even, reciprocal balance between giving and taking. While this may sound sensible, every organization critically needs givers. “The more often people are helping and sharing their knowledge and providing mentoring,” Grant says in this talk from 2016, “the better organizations do on every metric we can measure.” All too often, though, what’s good for the organization may not be best for the individual: Givers’ personal productivity may suffer, and they are apt to burn out. How do you build a culture where givers can thrive? It may be less about hiring or recruiting more givers than it is about not bringing in more takers—and creating an environment where everyone feels able to ask for help.

For readers: Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success (2014) by Adam Grant.

Responding strategically in a crisis: Adam Grant, “What frogs in hot water can teach us about thinking again”

If you enjoyed the preceding talk, here’s a chance to check in with Adam Grant again—this time, on the subject of why we so often miss warning signs of impending crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. You may have heard the fable about how frogs will jump out of a pot of boiling water but will remain and die in a pot that’s slowly heated to boiling. People are very much like these mythical frogs, Grant says in this talk from 2021—and our world is full of “slowly boiling pots of water.” Whatever the next crisis is, how can we escape the worst of it? It’s not through intelligence alone, Grant says; in fact, “Being good at thinking makes you worse at rethinking”—and rethinking is the way to get out of that hot water. Using examples from his own life, Grant shares how easy it is for us to believe that our current path is the only correct one—and how to cultivate the kind of curiosity and openness to new thoughts that just might save our lives.

For readers: Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (2021) by Adam Grant.

Hindsight can be productive: Daniel H. Pink, “What regret can teach you about living a good life”

Be forward thinking. Just keep swimming. No regrets. As leaders and as people, we are often encouraged not to look back and wish we could get a do-over. But Daniel H. Pink says regret is “our most misunderstood emotion” and that—if managed properly—it can help improve our decision making, negotiation skills, sense of meaning in life, and more. In studying thousands of regrets that people shared with him, Pink found that they typically fall into one of four categories: foundation regrets (such as not saving money), boldness regrets (such as not speaking up), moral regrets (such as stealing candy as a child), and connection regrets (such as not reaching out to a friend who is drifting away). Another observation? Regrets caused by inaction—not taking a risk—can be much more painful than those caused by action. In this talk from January 2022, Pink walks an audience member through one of her regrets and how she can draw from that emotion to help her make a better decision down the road.

For readers: The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward (2022), by Daniel H. Pink.

Storytelling for a purpose: Bryan Stevenson, “We need to talk about an injustice”

If you attended the 2022 National Conference of Bar Presidents virtual Midyear Meeting, you may have heard Ann marie Houghtailing (a professional storyteller herself, as well as a TED Talk presenter) cite this talk as an example of how to rally people to a cause through powerful storytelling. In 2012—years before the murder of George Floyd—Bryan Stevenson used stories from his own life to help call attention to racial inequity in the law enforcement, penal, and justice systems. His talk also led to an outpouring of support for the Equal Justice Initiative, of which Stevenson is the founder and executive director. This talk may be useful not only for leaders to understand problems that persist in these systems, but also, as Houghtailing suggested, as an example of how to rouse people to action by tapping into personal anecdotes and telling them well.

For readers: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2015), by Bryan Stevenson; and How I Created a Dollar Out of Thin Air (2013), by Ann marie Houghtailing.

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