15 podcast episodes that will make you a better leader

When you’re a leader, it’s easy to feel alone. After all, you’re dealing with issues and decisions that affect your team’s efficiency, culture, and morale. To face these challenges, you need the input of not just your colleagues, but also experts. The question is, where do you find them?

This is where podcasts can help. Podcasts can turn to the stories and experiences of other leaders into applicable knowledge for your own leadership style and strategy.

In no particular order, here are some podcasts episodes that can help motivate, inspire, and inform the leader in you:


1. “How much does a good boss really matter?” (Freakonomics)

How can you tell if a leader is really making an impact? You can use data, according to a study covered in this episode of Freakonomics. In the company they studied, they found that changing the leader of the team from a low quality leader to a higher quality leader increased the output of the team more than adding another worker did.

Other key takeaways include the impacts of high quality bosses (employee retention, team productivity), and stories from Joe Maddon, manager of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Other recommendations: If you enjoyed the data-driven angle of this episode, check out another Freakonomics episode, such as “The Hidden Side of Keeping Employee Morale High.” Another economics-related show, Planet Money, also has an episode on pay transparency and how it affects an entire company.


2. “How to Become Batman” (Invisibilia)

In this episode, hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller investigate how our expectations of others—and how their expectations of us—affects behavior. If you’ve ever had any hidden expectations of your team members, the stories in this episode can help you re-evaluate those expectations to see if you’ve been limiting their performance just with your own thoughts.

Other recommendations: If you liked Invisibilia’s storytelling format or science angle, you might want to check out another engaging science show, Radiolab. “Emergence” deals with the emergence of leaders in the animal kingdom. There’s also an episode of NPR’s social sciences show, The Hidden Brain, that deals with finding purpose at work.


3. “Interview with Simon Sinek” (The One You Feed)

The One You Feed is an interview podcast about moving in the right direction, about “feeding your good wolf.” In this episode, they interview author Simon Sinek about how leaders emerge, what makes a good leader, and most importantly, the cost of being a good leader.

Other recommendations: If you liked Sinek’s ideas in this episode, you can check out his podcast Start With Why. If you enjoyed The One You Feed, you can check out their interview with Belinda Gore on identifying and dealing with different personality types—all of which you’ll probably encounter as a leader.


4. “An Interview with Major Dick Winters” (The Art of Manliness)

In this episode of The Art of Manliness, host Brett McKay interviews Major Dick Winters, who served as the commander of Easy Company in World War II, a story featured in the miniseries Band of Brothers. The interview features stories about how Winters kept team morale up in the face of extreme difficulty, as well as the habits that gave him self-discipline and consistency during the war.

Other recommendations: If you’re looking for other leadership stories with a military slant, you can check another episode of The Art of Manliness, an interview about strategic thinking with military consultant Tom Ruby. Bestselling author Tim Ferriss also has an episode of his podcast featuring Navy SEAL Jocko Willink.


5. “Contagious Culture with Anese Cavanaugh” (The Art of Charm)

Intentionally or not, leaders have a major impact in a company’s culture just because of their presence. This episode of The Art of Charm features author and business adviser Anese Cavanaugh, who talks about setting a company culture and how a person’s presence affects the entire room. Also, the episode specifically covers how your company can set a culture of leadership.

Other recommendations: If you want a closer look at how leaders affect company culture, an episode of Stanford eCorner features HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah’s presentation on how culture can help people deliver their best work. Foundr also has an excellent interview with MindValley founder Vishen Lakhiani on creating a positive company culture. Finally, Hired is an entire show about company culture.


6. “When People are Obstacles” (Good Fortune)

The philosophy of Stoicism attracts a lot of entrepreneurs and leaders, mostly because of its practice of cultivating self-control throughout even the most disruptive emotions and circumstances. In each episode, Good Fortune tackles a specific aspect of this philosophy. “When People are Obstacles” covers practical meditations and advice on how stoics can deal with even the most challenging people.

Other recommendations: “How Stoics Treat Jerks” is a follow-up episode to the one above. “What We Control” can help remind you that, despite your role as leader, you cannot control everything. If you want to delve more into stoic philosophy, the podcast The Partially Examined Life has several episodes on Stoicism.


7. “Successful Givers, Toxic Takers, and the Life We Spend at Work” (On Being)

In this episode of On Being, we learn from organizational psychologist Adam Grant that success in business doesn’t necessarily mean survival of the strongest. In fact, those who just take what they want don’t really succeed. It’s those who openly lend their skills and connections who actually succeed.

Other recommendations: On Being has an episode on vulnerability, another aspect of leadership that’s often overlooked. If you’re interested in hearing more of Grant’s ideas, he has an engaging interview on The School of Greatness, a podcast hosted by entrepreneur Lewis Howes.


8. “Talking About Race at Work” (HBR Ideacast)

For teams and companies to start talking about race, usually a mistake or controversy has to happen first. But the issue of race is always present in the workplace, especially if your team is diverse. This episode of HBR Ideacast is a great primer on how managers can get the race conversation started on the right foot.

Other recommendations: If you’re looking for more leadership-oriented episodes of HBR Ideacast, you can check out “Are Leaders Getting Too Emotional?” and “How to Say No to More Work.” Another podcast episode about race in the workplace is “Is It Okay for Restaurants to Racially Profile Their Employees?” from Freakonomics.


9. “The Psychology of Visionaries With Justine Musk” (Unmistakeable Creative)

In this interview with author Justine Musk, Unmistakeable Creative delves into what it takes to become a visionary like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Coco Chanel. If you’re a leader who’s aspiring to make your team unique and exceptional rather than just effective, this episode will give you ideas on how to get started.

Other recommendations: If you’re looking for more material on visionary thinking, The Tim Ferriss Show has an interview with entrepreneur and author Peter Diamandis where he breaks down why people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are successful. For more from Unmistakeable Creative, check out their episode on “Truly Human Leadership” on the differences between leadership and management.


10. “Curing Stress and Anxiety as an Entrepreneur” (Foundr)

When we think about leadership, we often conjure up images of busy activity. But sometimes to be effective at a stressful and demanding position, we need a bit of play and rest. This is where this interview with marketing strategist Charlie Hoehn can help. It’s a great reminder that slowing down and adding a bit of play can be good for us in the long run.

Other recommendations: If the idea of slowing down and de-stressing is appealing to you, check out “Procrastinate on Purpose With Rory Vaden” from the Less Doing podcast.


11. “How Mailchimp Adds Process Without Sacrificing Culture” (Rocketship.fm)

A growing team and a thriving business can be a blessing, but growth presents leadership challenges as well. In this interview, Marti Wolf, Chief Culture Officer at Mailchimp, discusses how their company has managed to keep their quirky culture despite their rapid growth.

Other recommendations: Another episode of Rocketship.fm tackles a similar subject, “How to Strengthen Culture During Rapid Growth Spurts.”


12. “How to Lead in a Crisis” (Coaching for Leaders)

For this episode of Coaching for Leaders, host Dave Stachowiak interviews Dr. Carol Taylor, president of Vanguard University, who tells her story about being a leader in a time of tight budgetary constraints and structural challenges.

Other recommendations: The TED Radio Hour episode “Crisis and Response” contains several compelling talks about how both leaders and ordinary people deal with crisis. If you want a closer look on dealing with crises in a company setting, PreparedEx has an episode on crisis management.


13. “Disruptive Leadership” (TED Radio Hour)

This episode of TED Radio Hour talks about a very specific type of leadership—ordinary people who are leading a major change in the status quo. If you find that the leader in you is more latent than apparent, this episode could kick your inner leader into action.

Other recommendations: For more stories of people who got into their leadership roles unconventionally, check out Stanford eCorner’s “Non-Linear Path to Leadership”. Do you suspect you could be a leader, but you have yet to step into a leadership role? See if you meet the checklist items on “Are You a Leader? 12 Ways to Know for Sure” from This is Your Life.


14. “129 Cars” (This American Life)

For this episode, This American Life sends a team of journalists to cover a car dealership for a month. The dealership’s goal is to sell 129 cars, so that they can be “in the black” again. How does the dealership’s general manager deal with this situation and keep his team motivated? As for his staff, how will they reach this difficult goal given their different performance levels and sales styles? If you’ve ever been in sales, you’ll be familiar with a lot of the stories and personalities.

Other recommendations: If you found the sales team angle of the episode engaging, check out this Mixergy interview about motivating your sales team. But if it’s the narrative style of This American Life that you’re looking for, another episode, “Somewhere in the Arabian Sea,” tells the story of life inside the USS John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier. It covers a lot of ground that leaders can relate to, including how rumors spread on the ship, how sailors take time off, and what to do during a crisis.


15. “Making Better Meetings with John Poelstra” (The Productivityist Podcast)

Meetings are a must for any team but sometimes they take up an inordinate amount of time and energy. In this episode of The Productivityist Podcast, meeting facilitation expert John Poelstra goes into how we can cut back our meeting times while making each minute more productive.

Other recommendations: Apart from meetings, company emails can also get in the way of productivity. If this is the case for your team, check out Rocketship.fm’s episode “Why Your Company Should Ban Email.” If you’re working with a remote team, “Communicate Better With Your Global Team” from HBR Ideacast may offer useful tips.

Post by Celine Roque

Celine Roque is an independent author and marketer focused on entrepreneurship, marketing, and creative work. Her writing has appeared in Gigaom and The Content Strategist.