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What SmartBrief’s top leadership posts of 2020 tell us

SmartBrief on Leadership examines the top blog posts of 2020 and what we can learn from them.

5 min read


What SmartBrief's top leadership posts of 2020 tell us


Every year, SmartBrief’s Leadership blog publishes a few hundred posts, each with the goal of offering useful advice for being a better and more thoughtful leader, manager, communicator and strategist.

This year, that mission took on urgency, as our society came to grips with a pandemic, social unrest over longstanding injustices and a most unusual presidential campaign and election. Businesses were disrupted or destroyed, while no one was spared changes in how we work, live, shop, learn and congregate. Our routines are different, and while much of the upheaval is for good reason, change never gets easier. Not helping is the feeling sometimes that our societal divides are so deep we can’t even agree on the questions, much less the answers..

Even still, most of us still strived to improve ourselves and do right by the people we manage or lead. Commend yourself for that, and keep it up in 2021. Leadership is a lifelong journey, and every effort helps, even on those when we — or our teams — are just trying to get through the day.

As always, SmartBrief on Leadership isn’t promising all the answers. There are no simple solutions to never-ending tasks like leadership, working with others and human interaction in general. The SmartBrief on Leadership newsletter (please sign up!) exists to pique your curiosity, your desire to make yourself better and your purpose of helping others be better.

I’ve done this recap for several years now. For reference, here are last year’s top posts and 2018’s.

What do these posts mean?

Being among the “most-read” posts includes factors such as luck, timing and whether I wrote a good headline when sharing the post in the SmartBrief on Leadership email newsletter. Occasionally, a post catches the blessings of Google or an influential social share, and it rockets up the list for that reason. See the 2018 post. “14 ways to improve interdepartmental communication” as a prime example.

Of course, impact is not the same as reach. I hope, and believe, that these top 15 posts gained popularity because they delivered measurable impact. But there are many posts not on this list that are equally worthy of your time.

This year’s list is marked by two 2020s — the year before COVID-19 and the year afterward.

What the pandemic revealed is easy to understand. COVID-19 created anxiety and a loss of connection throughout our lives, including at work, that was new and largely involuntary. Videoconferencing suddenly became the default instead of a curio, and thus we needed new advice for how to present and how to meet over screens. Crisis management, for many of us, finally became relevant and not theory or history. We quickly realized that the pandemic was not a short-term event, and new, stronger forms of endurance and resilience were needed.

Even the posts that make this list from before mid-March still feel relevant in this time. Trust and good vocal delivery were always important, but they’ve taken on added heft in the past nine months. And while “leadership styles” can feel like a thought exercise at times, we’ve learned firsthand how leadership style matters when everything changes about where you work, how you work and how you communicate.

Thank you

I’ve edited SmartBrief on Leadership for nine years. This job helps me every day understand what people are going through, and it helps me navigate my own career.

We’re also lucky to have a loyal audience that subscribes, opens and reads the newsletter, and clicks on the links to learn more. There are a million apps and screens nowadays, and yet all of you choose to spend time with us. SmartBrief on Leadership’s blog traffic increased by roughly 17% over 2019. This isn’t just accidental or random traffic — the average reader spent nearly 4.5 minutes per article, also up from 2019.

All of that is a testament to the audience’s desire to learn and to the authors’ talents. Thank you for supporting our work and the writers, especially longtime regular contributors. This place thrives because of them and the thoughtful PR folks who work with them.

And, for yet another year, we’ve been blessed to have Mike Figliuolo, a leading blogger in his own right, continue writing our weekly reader poll and analysis. 


Here are the 15 most-read posts for 2020:

  1. “How to manage anxiety in 4 simple ways,” by LaRae Quy, July 15
  2. “Why relational connection is so important during the coronavirus pandemic,” by Michael Lee Stallard, March 19
  3. “How to run an effective virtual meeting: Stop blaming Zoom!” by Julie Winkle Giulioni, July 9
  4. “It’s time to rouse your inner Churchill,” by Steve McKee, April 1
  5. “How the crisis will change the way we manage forever,” by Art Petty, March 26
  6. “How can you increase your emotional intelligence?” by John R. Stoker, Aug. 21
  7. “Take control of vocal delivery: Be yourself and be heard,” by Stephanie Scotti, Jan. 17
  8. “A crisis is not a marathon — but it is a call for endurance,” by Becky Robinson for Lead Change, April 16
  9. “How to identify the most important tasks,” by Naphtali Hoff, Aug. 12
  10. “Do people trust you? Advice for building trust and inspiring confidence,” by John R. Stoker, Jan. 13
  11. ‘Leadership techniques for working with high-conflict people,” by Marlene Chism, Dec. 7
  12. “How the coronavirus pandemic is affecting job searching,” by Cathy Guiles, April 8
  13. “14 ways to improve interdepartmental communication,” by Young Entrepreneur Council, May 9, 2018
  14. “5 strategies for combating WFH-based burnout,” by Julie Winkle Giulioni, May 14
  15. “The modern leadership style: Being, not doing,” by Joyce Wilson-Sanford, July 21


James daSilva is the longtime editor of SmartBrief’s leadership newsletter and blog content. Contact him at @James_daSilva or by email.