16 Essential Leadership Articles to Read in 2020

Can we all agree that there is nothing standard about 2020?

Good, because leadership articles from 2019 just won’t cut it in a year like this. Teams need leaders who are ready to support them through challenging current events, like the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, and sudden shifts to remote work.

Every article on this list is from 2020 and addresses issues that leaders are dealing with right now. This collection covers everything from leading in a crisis to addressing mental health in the workplace. With such a wide array, you’re sure to find something that will help you become a better leader.

Crisis Leadership

At this point, you might consider 2020 the year of crisis. But don’t worry, these articles can help you navigate difficult situations.

1. What Managers Owe Our Teams During Coronavirus

Uptick CEO Chris Zaugg begins this article by stating, “In moments of crisis, being a good manager means recognizing that some things are bigger than work.”

While a manager obsessed with the bottom line might balk at such a statement, Zaugg leans into the sentiment. Throughout the piece, he stresses the importance of extending empathy and grace to your team. He points out that prioritizing productivity over your employees’ emotional and physical health is a short-sighted strategy. Instead, Zaugg suggests bringing humanity into difficult situations and being a supportive resource for your team.

Follow Zaugg on Twitter.

2. What Good Leadership Looks Like During This Pandemic

In this piece, Harvard professors Michaela J. Kerrissey and Amy C. Edmondson look at how two leaders — Jacinda Arden, prime minister of New Zealand, and Adam Silver, commissioner of the National Basketball Association — responded to the pandemic.

The article points out that both Arden and Silver went against the grain by quickly acknowledging the threat of COVID-19 publicly instead of downplaying it. Kerrissey and Edmondson explain that overcoming instinctive reactions to uncertainty allows you to focus on what needs to get done. They break down how you can fight unhelpful instincts and lead effectively during a crisis.

Follow Kerrissey and Edmondson on Twitter.

3. The Founder’s Field Guide for Navigating This Crisis — Advice from Recession-Era Leaders, Investors, and CEOs Currently at the Helm

For this article, the First Round founders crowdsourced advice from professionals who have successfully led teams through a crisis. While the COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst for this piece, the advice could be applied to a wide range of challenging situations.

First Round broke the comprehensive guide into eight parts, covering everything from cutting costs to supporting your team. This guide stands out because it incorporates hindsight and reflection. While plenty of leadership articles offer generic advice for what might work during a crisis, this piece explores what did and didn’t work in the past.

Follow First Round on Twitter.

Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

These articles can teach you how to talk to your staff about race and improve your inclusion initiatives in the workplace.

4. How Managers Can (and Should) Address Race and Violence in The News

Maria Alvarez, a senior talent acquisition partner at Internet Creations, tackles this tricky topic head-on. She explains that many companies expect employees of color to deal with collective trauma privately and on their own time. Alvarez paints a painful picture: professionals of color battling through their workdays as they mourn yet another tragic headline. Meanwhile, their colleagues go about their day, unaware of the suffering. In this article, Alvarez challenges managers to be better allies and even provides “Avoid this/Try this” examples for how to initiate conversations about race with your team.

Follow Alvarez on Twitter.

5. Diversity efforts have become formulaic over the years. Where is leadership missing the mark?

Stacey Gordon is a human-capital strategist and the CEO of Rework Work, an organization that focuses on dismantling hiring bias and improving diversity in the workplace. In this article, Gordon calls out misguided “check the box” activities that organizations go through when they feel pressured to improve diversity and inclusion efforts. She explains that companies are quick to label diversity initiatives as failures when leadership is more likely to blame.

But Gordon doesn’t waste time criticizing those missteps. Instead, she offers a list of questions leaders should ask themselves before they dive headfirst into a new diversity project.

  • Be clear in your motivation for embarking on this journey. Why now? What’s the purpose in taking this action? Is it the result of an authentic desire to change or a last-ditch attempt to avoid lawsuits?
  • Define organization values and align diversity initiatives to them. What do you stand for as an organization and better yet, what behaviors won’t you tolerate?
  • Create accountability in your senior leadership team. How do you make it clear what the expectations are as they relate to creating an inclusive workplace? Who drives the initiative?

Follow Gordon on Twitter.

6. What company leaders can learn from J.K. Rowling’s missteps on gender

J.K. Rowling broke the hearts of many Harry Potter fans this year when she shared some upsetting opinions about transgender people on Twitter. Lisa Kenney chose to turn this example into a lesson for leaders.

As the CEO of Reimagine Gender — an organization that educates people about evolving understandings of gender — Kenney offers an authoritative perspective. She acknowledges that everyone has biases and blind spots, but she stresses that it’s our responsibility to continually address them. Kenney includes some common mistakes she sees in her work and explains how leaders can do better when it comes to gender inclusivity in the workplace.

Follow Kenney on LinkedIn.

Managing Remote Employees

Unfortunately, your old in-office leadership tactics aren’t always going to work for your remote workforce strategy. Turn to these articles for guidance if you’re shifting to remote work for the first time or trying to improve your current remote work environment.

7. Employee engagement in a WFH world: what to know

Cassie Sanchez is the senior content manager at Textio, an augmented-writing platform that identifies unconscious bias in writing. In this piece, she breaks down how people respond to different terms, such as “work from home” versus “distributed team.”

Sanchez also emphasizes the importance of helping your team deal with feelings of isolation and fostering a sense of community. She explains that written communication can be tricky for remote teams and sometimes leads people to feeling excluded. To avoid this outcome, she offers advice for eliminating bias in your memos and Slack messages, and she shares a few team-building activities the Textio team is trying out.

Follow Textio on Twitter.

8. 7 tips for managing remote employees

Once the COVID-19 crisis began, articles with generic work-from-home advice popped up everywhere. Janine Anderson’s article stands out because she is the managing editor at Zapier, which was a fully remote company prior to the crisis.

Instead of focusing on logistical issues or productivity concerns — like most articles about remote work — Anderson stresses the importance of showing your team that you care about them. She offers tips for fostering career growth, improving remote team communication, providing feedback, and more.

Follow Zapier on Twitter.

9. Building a Remote Workforce Under Pressure: Approaching Change With Empathy

Dharshan Chandran is the product marketing manager at Whatfix, a digital adoption platform for enterprise applications. He builds his remote workforce strategy around the Kübler-Ross Change Curve. While most people know the Kübler-Ross Change Curve as the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — Chandran points out that it’s also a proven change-management model that’s useful for shifting to remote work.

Chandran walks you through each of the five stages, explaining how your newly remote employees may react to the shift to working from home. He shares a combination of his own advice along with several quotes from experienced remote team managers. Regardless of where you are in your shift to remote work, this article can help you bring empathy into the transition.

Follow Whatfix on Twitter.

Workplace Communication

As a manager, it’s your job to constantly improve how you communicate with your team. Read through these pieces to learn how to have more effective conversations at work.

10. Sayonara Silos — Don’t Neglect Cross-Team Collaboration

Heikki Väänänen is the founder and CEO of HappyOrNot, which offers customer and employee satisfaction-reporting solutions. Väänänen offers a unique perspective on the flat corporate structure used in many Scandinavian countries. Why Scandinavia? Because, thanks to their focus on promoting a happy work culture, countries in that region consistently rank in the top percentiles of the World Happiness Report.

Väänänen explains that the flat structure limits and sometimes even eliminate hierarchal levels between managers and employees. This organization leads to a more inclusive and collaborative work environment. With fewer barriers between departments, team members are more attuned to the company’s shared goals and feel a greater sense of community at work.

Follow HappyOrNot on Twitter.

11. Asynchronous Communication Is The Future Of Work

Blake Thorne, product marketing manager at Atlassian, encourages leaders to embrace asynchronous communication at work. He starts by sharing several benefits of asynchronous communication, arguing that it gives employees more time to focus on deep work, improves collaboration across timezones, and creates an automatic record of every conversation. He also explains how to manage asynchronous check-ins with chat applications such as Slack and project management systems such as Trello or Asana.

Follow Thorne on Twitter.

11. Why We Need to Stop Saying, “How Are You?”

Be honest — how often do you give a real answer to the question, “How are you?” If you’re like most people, you’ve been trained to give a standard response.

Deloitte’s chief well-being officer, Jen Fisher, encourages you to fight the instinct to rely on clichés by ditching generic greetings and asking employees more specific questions. While we’ve addressed this topic at Uptick before, Fisher adds to the conversation by suggesting “thought starters” for anyone who wants to build deeper connections with others.

Follow Fisher on Twitter.

General Leadership Articles

These leadership articles from 2020 don’t quite fit into a category, but they’re more than worthy of a spot on your reading list.

12. Nearly Half of Employees Rarely or Never Meet With Managers. 3 Tips to Build Relationships With Your Team

In this article, Adam Robinson, cofounder and CEO of Hireology and host of The Best Team Winspodcast, addresses the unfortunate reality of one-on-one meeting: most managers don’t take the time to build relationships with their staff. If you’ve ever visited the Uptick blog before, you know that we take one-on-ones very seriously, so this headline alone was enough to stop us in our tracks.

Robinson shares a few sobering statistics that show the risks of disengaged employees, such as higher turnover rates and likelihood of burnout. Then, he shares his tips for building connections with team members and empowering staff by mentoring them instead of resorting to micromanagement.

Follow Robinson on Twitter.

13. How CEOs Can Support Employee Mental Health in a Crisis

Ryan Smith, cofounder and CEO of Qualtrics, kicks off this article by discussing mental health during the COVID-19 crisis. Smith shares a few statistics to show that leadership continues to struggle when it comes to dealing with mental health at work. He then lays out five steps leaders can take to remedy these issues. Smith talks through his experiences and provides actionable advice for leaders who want to support their team’s mental and emotional well-being.

Follow Smith on Twitter.

14. 4 Habits of Gritty Leaders–Do You Have Them?

Jan Rutherford is an executive coach, founder of Self-Reliant Leadership, and a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier. In this article, he translates his military experiences into four key habits of “gritty” leaders. He defines a gritty leader as someone with the resilience and stamina necessary to keep themselves and their team moving forward.

If gritty is not a word you’d use to describe yourself, don’t worry. Rutherford stresses that everyone is capable of building grit as long as they are comfortable facing and then working to overcome inevitable setbacks.

Follow Rutherford on Twitter.

15. Tech Isn’t the Problem or Solution for Better Productivity. Instead, Look to Your Own Leadership

Gene Hammett, executive coach and cofounder and managing director of Core Elevation Inc., argues that technology is not the end-all solution to productivity. He explains that technology creates distractions and eliminates boundaries between work and free time. But instead of blaming the tools themselves, Hammet says leaders should examine their own actions.

He stresses that managers have to lead by example. When managers send messages on weekends and off-hours, employees feel pressured to prove they are just as committed to work. Hammet also includes data that shows longer hours lead to lower productivity, which might make you think twice about shooting off that late-night email.

Follow Hammett on Twitter.

16. The New Leadership Playbook for The Digital Age

This MIT Sloan Management Review guide offers a comprehensive look at what it takes to lead in a digital economy. The information in this playbook is built on knowledge gained from 4,394 surveys across 120 countries, 27 executive interviews, and several focus groups around the world.

It shows that people overwhelmingly agree that leadership needs to be digitally savvy to succeed. However, only 10% of the respondents believe that leaders currently have those skills. While the authors admit that the findings are a bit sobering, they also feel this piece can inspire today’s leaders to move away from legacy solutions and embrace new digital tools.

Follow MIT Sloan Management Review on Twitter.

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