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Top Ten Topics & Trends in Leadership for 2020

Listed here are ten (10) top topics that are trending in leadership for 2020. By no means is this an exhaustive list, however, based on extensive research, these are the ones that seem to resonate consistently across many industries.

I. CSR: Purpose-focused organizations

In the world of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), organizations are pressing beyond a profits-focus and are choosing to become more purpose-focused. The latter part of 2019, one-hundred eighty -one (181) CEOs of companies such as Amazon, Apple, Coca-Cola, Best Buys, Pepsico, Target, Walmart and more collectively signed a statement agreeing to the following:

  1. Delivering value to our customers

  2. Investing in our employees

  3. Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers

  4. Supporting the communities in which we work

  5. Generating long-term value for shareholders

(This is an excerpt from the statement on the purpose of a corporation business roundtable, 2019)

More purpose-focused leaders will be seen in 2020.

II. Stakeholder Relationships- Wellbeing

Organizations are listening and responding to the needs of their employees. Employees are speaking up and asking for more from their employers. We see employers address wellbeing concerns of employees through LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified buildings. These are healthy, breathable buildings with enhanced indoor air quality, photovoltaic lighting, low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in paints and paint-related products, low -E energy efficient windows, ergonomically designed desks, chairs, computers, and so much more. However, we are seeing how the strategy for creating green and healthy environments evolves beyond the buildings and more for those who work-live in these buildings. Wellbeing is still a demand that is growing to include not just the physical wellbeing of buildings but also of people

Companies are increasingly focused on creating positive employee experiences as part of a strategy to improve the workplace culture and retain top stakeholders. In 2019, OC Tanner completed an annual study on organizational culture documented in their current Global Culture Report. They gathered research on over 20,000 employees and leaders around the globe. One area of research was on employee burn-out. Seventy-nine (79%) of those surveyed experienced burn-out. Is this something you or your employees are experiencing? Forty (40%) have moderate-to-severe symptoms. Bad, unmanaged, chronic workplace stress create toxic work environments that healthy buildings can’t resolve. After high absenteeism, high health costs, loss of productivity, talent, and profits, many organizations are finding ways to abate this growing epidemic. Wellbeing should be the number one objective in every organization.

III. Stakeholder Investment

Companies are realizing ways to help reduce anxiety about the future of work among their employees is to encourage and empower them, by equipping them. Offering voluntary and career-oriented training assures stakeholders of their value to the organization. Thrive Global quoted Peyton Manning who said, “the most valuable player is the one who makes the most players valuable.” The trend for leaders to invest in their employees through being a mentor and coach as well as encouraging peer-to-peer mentoring, is on the rise for 2020.

IV. The Future of Work

Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Siri and Alexa have become part of the family and work culture. Many find these AI pals convenient, reliable, and life- saving. In the workplace, however, may are threatened by advanced AI, robotics, and automation entities taking their jobs. The reliance on algorithms and analytics has increased exponentially. Artificial intelligence is at the core of it all. HR leaders rely on AI to inform them of the “right fit” candidate for prospecting & onboarding board members. It’s also being used to reduce biases and increase diversity and inclusion as a decision- making tool. As leaders use more automation and AI, workers are more concerned about being displaced and obsolete.

Drug Testing - Marijuana

Many companies have excluded marijuana testing for recreational/ off-duty use. However, many are feeling the squeeze to change their compliance policies on testing for marijuana. According to the SHRMs article, “Workplace Drug Testing: Can Employers Still Screen for Marijuana?”, currently, 33 states have legalized medical use and 11 states and Washington, D.C. allow for recreational use. This is a trending topic of concern as leaders and HR professionals strive to keep up with state laws while ensuring the workplace is a safe place to work.

V. The Employee Experience

Although this was referenced a few times previously, this is a stand-alone trend in 2020. “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients” Richard Branson. According to OC Tanner,’s "A Modern Approach to Improving Workplace Culture", 2020, 92% of employees define their experiences as what happens every day. Companies are more focused on providing positive experiences through an emphasis on purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, wellbeing, and leadership. Investing in employee growth as mentioned under Stakeholder Investment, increases performance and better outcomes. Psychological safety is a popular yet relevant concern that plays a tremendous role in the employee experience. Employees need to know they have the space to make mistakes and not fear being punished. OC Tanner reports when done right, companies' bottom line increases.

VI. Culture

Culture is always trending! Do you have the culture desired? Organizations are creating culture leaders envision. Is your company stagnant? Check the culture. Even as your company grows the culture must change to absorb the growth. The culture of an organization will be impacted by employee experiences and the adaptation to automation & AI. Culture will reflect the purpose of the organization and the wellbeing of the stakeholders. Organizations are purposefully choosing to be more employee-centric, innovative, and environmentally sustainable.

VII. Inclusion

Diversity and Inclusion are still at the top of topics and trends even for 2020. Although measurable achievements are being made in the diversity and inclusion arena, there is still more work to be done. Inclusion answers the need for belongingness that diversity doesn’t. Separating the two, even three when considering equity as another topic among leaders, allows leaders to focus on each entity as a whole. Inclusive leaders offer avenues for diverse employees/stakeholders to feel a sense of being included. When DE&I is treated as one unit, one of the other entities is often neglected. Being inclusive requires being intentional. Intentionally giving room for employees to be who they are and not feel their differences will bring them shame. When leaders are being intentional, it causes one to think about the consequences of their behavior and intentionality can reduce unconscious biases.

VIII. Equity

As organizations are set to improve workplace culture by creating a more engaging experience for employees, being more inclusive and diverse, in 2020 leaders are choosing to show how they are increasing fairness. Being a more equitable organization means providing equal access for board positions, talent recruitment, and impartial opportunities for advancement, recognition, and leadership. Corporations are volunteering to be more transparent about these impartial practices.

IX. Diversity

In 2020, organizations will continue to look for ways to increase innovation and creativity and being a diversified company is a proven way of accomplishing this. As mentioned previously, headway has been made in the area of diversity. Organizations are being more proactive about incorporating a diversity plan as part of its strategic planning process. Doing this opens an opportunity to change antiquated job descriptions that may have gender-specific language. Leaders and L&D professionals have budgets for training and will provide continuous training in diversity (inclusion also) to be more proactive and less reactive, creating a healthier, stable culture in the organization.

X. Analytics

It’s about the use of quality data to aid in making data-driven, sound decisions. Analytics is a top topic trend that begs for proper and frequent use. Combined with AI, leaders who use analytics reduces biased decisions. The challenge with evidence-based data, considered to be one of the most reliable analytic tools, is collecting pertinent and reliable data. In the past, it’s been cumbersome and time -consuming or insufficient, poor data would be gathered causing poor decision-making. High performing organizations use data and analytics skillfully. They make long-term investments of time and resources to craft the strategy analytics furnishes.



The CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Walmart, and Target Just Made a Huge Announcement. It Hinges on 2 Very Important Words. (2020). Retrieved 25 January 2020, from

Workplace Drug Testing: Can Employers Still Screen for Marijuana?. (2020). Retrieved 27 January 2020, from


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Dr. E. Michelle Mickens, DSL, is CEO of Live 4 Change, LLC, a Christian-based, global strategic leadership

development consultancy that brings transformational change in the lives of leaders and their organizations. Live 4 Change, LLC equip C-suite executives, managers, emerging and experienced leaders with the right tools through the leadership development system, Be 4 R.E.A.L. Leadership Series ™. We offer consultations, coaching, workshops, training programs, digital products and more. Live 4 Change, LLC programs, products, and services are designed to:

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