How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Ashton Kutcher plays Steve Jobs...and Sheryl Sandberg?

August 23, 2013: 2:23 PM ET

The star of the movie Jobs lights up Twitter and YouTube with an inspiring speech that evokes not only Apple's late CEO but also Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In lessons.

Is Ashton Kutcher the new male version of Sheryl Sandberg?

When the star of the new Steve Jobs bio-pic took the stage of the Teen Choice Awards to accept the "Ultimate Choice Award" last Sunday, he delivered a talk that evoked the Facebook (FB) COO's memorable 2010 TED Women speech.

Kutcher's talk, which has generated more than 3.3 million views on YouTube, is suddenly catapulting the actor into the leadership-guru sphere. And like Sandberg, whose TED talk zeroed in on what women should do to succeed in leadership ("One, sit at the table. Two, make your partner a real partner. And three, don't leave before you leave.") Kutcher gave three tips:

"First, opportunity. I believe opportunity looks a lot like hard work."

"Number two. Being sexy. The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart," he added. "Be smart. Be thoughtful. Be generous."

In researching his role as the Apple (AAPL) founder, the actor told thousands of shrieking teens that he re-learned something about life: "Steve Jobs said that when you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is…and to try not get into much trouble." He said: "Life is made up of people no smarter than you. And you can build your own things. Build a life."

This is Kutcher, beyond movie star and Hollywood wunderkind. He's recasting himself as a wise adult--who no doubt knew he'd reach millions of parents as well.  (He's a smart guy— beating CNN to one million followers on Twitter in 2009, hobnobbing with Silicon Valley VCs, and investing in dozens of tech startups.)

Never mind that Kutcher is suddenly the darling of conservative politics. (Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Sen. Ted Cruz have gushed over his straight talk, even though he's a staunch, Obama-supporting liberal.) So, why is Kutcher stepping up and preaching about success now?

For what it's worth, his message is not only Sandberg-like. It's also Jobs-like, a la the Apple founder's Stanford University commencement speech in 2005. "Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories," Jobs said in what is today considered one of the best speeches to college grads ever. His three stories were about "connecting the dots" (dropping out of Reed College to take calligraphy), "love and loss" (getting fired at 30, "the best thing that could have ever happened to me") and "death." Diagnosed with cancer in 2004, Jobs told the Stanford graduates, "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose."

This was a rare talk by a man who tended to speak publicly only about Apple's products. "He was in a reflective mood after his health scare and turning 50," Walter Isaacson wrote in his bestselling biography, Steve Jobs.

As for Kutcher, we'd love to know what's behind his surprising and inspiring message. Was the actor opportunistically vying to recast his image? Or is this the case of a man genuinely influenced by a role he played? Ashton, tell us, Tweet us. Meantime, nice to see you lean in to your career.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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