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2020 Leadership Trends: Industry Poll + Interview

SmartBrief readers share their top leadership priorities for 2020, plus an interview with the editor of SmartBrief on Leadership.

5 min read


2020 Leadership Trends: Industry Poll + Interview


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In December 2019, SmartBrief polled readers from four trending newsletters to gauge their priorities for 2020. Accompanying our poll results is an interview with SmartBrief on Leadership’s editor, James daSilva, on his outlook for the year.


We recently ran an end-of-year poll in SmartBrief on Leadership asking readers about their top priorities for 2020. What leadership topic do you personally think people should care about most this year and why?

For most people, I’d advise them to dig deep into what they can improve about themselves — immediately or gradually —  and what they can do to help their peers and reports. We can get caught up worrying about the world or watching large-scale events and trends, forgetting what is under our control.


Adding diversity to a leadership team and leading across generations both received the lowest number of poll votes by far. In today’s climate of heightened social conscientiousness and inclusivity, do you think more leaders should re-evaluate their priorities?

Many managers and executives could be downplaying diversity’s importance. It’s also possible that the questions didn’t feel as relevant as say, ongoing leadership development. If you aren’t a member of the leadership team, you can’t add or subtract diversity. That said, there are other ways you can contribute, whether through hiring, processes, actions or mindset.

For “leading across generations,” I think there are some true differences, broadly speaking, between workers of disparate ages. But I caution people not to put too much stock into it. Is everyone from your graduating class the same? Probably not. So why would another age cohort be identical?



From your extensive history as editor of SmartBrief on Leadership, what kinds of articles do readers seem to prefer? Also, which news outlets do you consistently look to for quality leadership content?

Readers look to us to help them be better leaders, managers, communicators and thinkers in their day-to-day work. They want advice they can act on, and they’re open to doing the hard work — they understand that simple fixes are rare. Our readers span industries, titles, ages and geographies, so what unites them is a shared desire to improve.

Blogs aren’t what they used to be, but some of the best advice remains with independent blogs — executives, coaches or researchers who write because they have hard-earned insight to share. Their advice will be more specific and less hyperbolic — and better for you. Wally Bock, Art Petty and the Lead Change blog are just three places to begin.


You’re very active on social media, especially with leadership always being a hot discussion topic. Can you recommend some accounts for us to follow?

I find a lot of leadership-related links on Twitter, but if you’re not already into Twitter, I can’t recommend its toxicity and insularity. So let’s talk about other platforms.

LinkedIn has a lot of people sharing tremendous insight, even if there’s also a lot of sales pitches and braggadocio. Adam Bryant, formerly the New York Times’ Corner Office columnist, is still doing executive Q&As and getting these folks to open up about their work.

And a couple newsletters you should read after you’ve read SmartBrief on Leadership:

  • The Profile: Every Sunday, Polina Marinova of Fortune compiles this look at longform profiles. You’ll learn a lot about people, not just leadership.
  • Money Stuff: It’s not about leadership, per se, but it is a brilliant look at the world of finance and the way money runs our world. You’ll also learn a lot about good writing from Matt Levine.


Following that train of thought, which individuals or companies do you think have unique perspectives on leadership development or philosophy?

Ed Batista, a coach of senior leaders and a lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business, goes into unusual depth, with a clear voice, about his thought processes and tricky leadership concepts. There’s no consultant-speak there.

Lara Hogan is an excellent guide for coaching and development, particularly if you want to be organized and formal about it, yet adaptable. She’s worked in tech and engineer environments, but the advice cuts across sectors.

As many people as I follow, however, the key is to have my eyes open and keep reading. If I’m not finding new voices regularly, I’m not growing.


What was your highlight of 2019 for SmartBrief on Leadership?

I was happy in 2019 that we continued to attract new readers and added new guest bloggers. It’s an exciting challenge to persuade new readers to keep opening the emails, and fresh perspectives on the Originals site gives me new energy — and helps our subscribers learn and grow.

If we’re trying to become better people, then our work is never done, and that means SmartBrief on Leadership will always be relevant.


If you enjoyed this peek into 2020, subscribe to SmartBrief on Leadership to receive content for business leaders, personally curated by James daSilva and Candace Chellew, five days a week. For more quality news coverage, you can subscribe to any of SmartBrief’s 275+ free newsletters.


Poll results based on data from 3,416 respondents.

  • Ongoing leadership development – 1,347 votes
  • Facilitating employee engagement – 660 votes
  • Emphasizing accountability – 639 votes
  • Improving emotional intelligence – 416 votes
  • Leading across generations – 218 votes
  • Adding diversity to leadership team – 136 votes