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TED Talk Tuesday: Anyone Can Be a Leader

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This is part of our monthly TED Talk Tuesday series, spotlighting can't-miss TED Talks and their key takeaways. You can learn more about our partnership with TED here.

Everyone is a leader in someone's eyes, says leadership expert and educator Drew Dudley. Although leaders are often made out to be extraordinary figures with unique skills that inspire and guide others to greatness, Dudley believes that moments of true leadership can happen in seemingly mundane situations.

Dudley calls these pivotal times "lollipop moments," named after an interaction he had in college with a new student. While she nervously waited in line for new student materials during orientation, Dudley, who was promoting an on-campus organization, handed a stranger a lollipop to give her. Dudley forgot this ever happened, until the woman approached him years later and told him that he changed her life. Not only did his small gesture make her feel at ease in a new environment, but she also began dating the stranger Dudley commandeered to give her candy, and eventually went on to marry him.

These types of exchanges happen every day in the workplace as well, Dudley says. In his TED Talk, he explains why instead of looking for perfect opportunities to make a difference, leaders should embrace small moments that can create big changes.

Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from his talk.

"We have made leadership about something that is beyond us."

It's natural to idolize prominent leaders and strive to emulate them, but anyone can lead, Dudley says. Employees see their managers and supervisors as leaders, and while they're certainly in positions to offer guidance, employees can inspire each other as well, regardless of their roles at the company.

Leadership isn't exclusive to certain individuals—all employees should strive to be leaders not only during pivotal moments, but during everyday interactions with their colleagues, Dudley says. You never know when a pep talk from a fellow worker can give someone the courage to ask for a raise or learn a crucial new skill.

"We take moments where we truly are a leader and we don't let ourselves take credit for it."

Often, great leaders lead and inspire without knowing it, Dudley says. On the rare occasion that leaders get to hear about the impact they've had on someone, they should accept the credit. It's important to understand that ordinary individuals have the capacity to influence others—this is something to value, not fear, according to Dudley.

For employees, the notion of giving and receiving credit and gratitude ties back to the importance of feedback. Humans crave feedback and thrive on it—that's why Dudley says it's important to tell people when something they did or said made a difference, and it's equally important to internalize that feedback, especially in the workplace.

"We need to redefine leadership as being about lollipop moments."

Life is full of little moments that add up to meaningful life changes, Dudley points out. To him, giving a fellow student a lollipop was forgettable, but to the recipient, it was a turning point. This goes to show, he explains, that leadership is all about perspective.

Perhaps not everyone is a leader in the traditional sense—not everyone becomes a CEO of a company, for example. But, that doesn't mean that an entry-level employee doesn't have the potential to inspire her team during a tough time. Anyone can lead at any given moment, Dudley says, sometimes without even realizing it.

Photo: TED

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