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Our Most-Read Leadership Articles of 2020

January 6, 2021

Beth Almes

in BLOG

A roundup of DDI’s most-read leadership articles from 2020, plus three top trends that sum up the year.


I know, I know. We’ve finally gotten to 2021, and the last thing any of us want to do right now is take a look back at 2020. But there’s a compelling story behind our most-read leadership articles of 2020.

Take a glance down the list, and I’m sure that three trends will pop out at you that really sum up the year:

  1. Our collective challenge in figuring out how to connect both to ourselves and to each other in a global health crisis.
  2. The struggle to learn and work in a suddenly virtual workplace.
  3. A reckoning with injustice and the blossoming of honest conversations about equity and equality.

If you missed any of our most-read leadership articles, now is the time to get caught up. Because learning from the events in 2020 will be our best tool in 2021.


1. 10 Hot Leadership Topics for 2020

One of most-read leadership articles every year, our annual list of hot leadership topics pulled in tens of thousands of readers this year. While we didn’t anticipate a pandemic, it’s amazing how many of these trends held up. (And now we've got the top 2021 leadership trends!)

2. 5 Critical Steps to Creating a Successful Virtual Classroom Experience

Going into 2020, we had no idea how critical virtual classrooms were going to be. In the past, they’d mainly been used by clients with international or dispersed leadership teams. But as everyone went remote, we realized a lot of our clients didn’t really understand this format. And for a lot of them, it’s been a game-changer in helping them connect their leaders when they’ve needed development most.

3. Let’s Commit to More Effective Meetings

This was a big hit from one of our partners, Dr. Steven Rogelberg. (If you didn’t catch him on CBS This Morning or read his book, The Surprising Science of Meetings, he’s THE expert on meetings.) As many of us found ourselves sitting in on massive, boring Zoom calls this year, Steven’s advice on not wasting meeting time has become more relevant than ever.

4. 7 Types of Coaching in the Workplace – and the 1 that Gets Results

This is an oldie but a goodie. It comes from waaaay back in 2019 (which certainly seems like a different era). So why is it so popular this year? While I can’t tell you what readers were thinking, I suspect it has to do with the fact that we need coaching now more than ever. We’re all looking for more direction. And leaders are looking to connect better than they ever have before. So it’s no big surprise this remains one of our most-read leadership articles!

5. Navigating COVID-19: Using Key Principles in a Crisis

This is one of my favorites of the year. It really gets to the heart of what it means to be a leader during this pandemic. Above all, we needed to remind ourselves to connect on a human-level first and on a work-level second.

6. Personal Leadership: The Role of Mindfulness in a Time of Crisis

If #5 on our list was about connecting with others, #6 is about connecting with ourselves. Under stress, a lot of us may have shown less-than-flattering sides of ourselves at work. And since we’re not out of the woods yet, I think we all could use a refresher on how to manage our derailers.

7. Everything You Need to Know About Virtual Facilitation

As I mentioned in #2, this year was all about moving to the virtual classroom. The good news is that you can connect leaders every bit as well in a virtual setting as you can in person. The trick? It takes some different skills to engage people virtually. This blog gives you a quick rundown of 11 key tips to facilitate virtually.

8. Is This Time Different?

One of the hardest questions of 2020 is about whether we’ve really turned a corner on diversity, inclusion, and equity. In this blog, our CEO Tacy Byham explores the question that’s on a lot of our minds: Is this time different? Will things change permanently? It’s the right question to ask as we enter 2021 and decide how to embrace the lessons of 2020.

9. The Virtual Workplace Creates a Leadership Development Revolution

Anyone waiting for things to go back to the way they were pre-pandemic is going to have a long wait—possibly forever. One of the biggest changes? The virtual workplace. Even as some folks head back to the office—fully or partially—Pandora’s box is open. So leadership development has to catch up to it.

10. The Future of Leadership Development

Rounding out our top 10, a lot of our readers were interested in what happens next. How will leadership development change? Are we going down a horrible path where everyone goes back to click-through online training? (I’ll set your mind at ease: No. But read the blog for more context on that.)

11. The DNA of Inclusive Leadership

Another holdover from 2019, this article saw a resurgence of interest this year. Why? People want to really figure out inclusion. And these two authors have a fantastic take on the problem with inclusion: It can’t be separate from everything else. It has to be woven into what your leaders do every day.

12. The One Big Thing You Need to Do Before Rewiring Your Competency Model

Just squeezing into the top dozen, this blog reflects what we all know: Requirements for success are going to change. The world has changed so radically in the last year that we need to rethink what it means to be a successful leader. And that means changing your competency models.


Honorable Mention

The big challenge of looking at the results across a year is that the data tends to favor blogs earlier in the year. After all, they had more time to attract an audience. Plus, I wanted to limit my number to just the top 12 of our most-read leadership articles because we certainly don’t need any more bad luck.

But I wanted to call out an up-and-comer that was published toward the end of the year about 3 Leadership Trends for 2021 You Can’t Afford to Ignore. This blog is already pushing its way toward the leaderboard and I can easily see why. We’re all ready to move on to 2021, and this is one of the early pieces that takes a look at new data from our Global Leadership Forecast Series 2021. Stay tuned for more!


From Heroes to Rebuilders

As we look to 2021, we have a lot to look forward to as vaccines begin to roll out worldwide. But it also means picking up the pieces, and creating a brand-new path forward.

And often, that’s the toughest part of leadership. As we saw in early leadership trends data, people really looked to their leaders in the time of crisis, rating them as higher quality. But as the crisis dragged on, scores dropped again.

Responding well in a crisis can be a nearly heroic part of leadership. But making the right decisions to move forward can be a much more thankless and difficult job. Leaders will need to show more resilience than ever. And they’ll need greater support, development, and guidance to help them build proactively for the future, rather than only reacting to the crisis at hand.

On the positive side, it will mean a tremendous opportunity for growth. Leaders who can grow and adapt will help their businesses thrive in 2021, and will ultimately shape the new economy ahead.

Want to offer the ultimate in flexible leadership development in 2021? Learn more about DDI’s leadership development subscription.

Beth Almes is manager of marketing and communications at DDI. When she's not busy writing and editing, you'll most likely find her with a spatula in hand cooking up a storm.

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