10 Hot Leadership Topics for 2020

Posted by IMEC on Jan 20, 2020 10:47:39 AM

This is an original article written by Stephanie Neal, Director of DDI's Center for Analytics and Behaviorial Research.


As we kick off 2020, expectations are high for the changes the decade ahead will bring. According to top HR and leadership influencers, this year will challenge leaders to face a new level of workplace transformation. Hot leadership topics for 2020 will continue to be shaped by accelerating technology change, increasing consumer expectations, and hyper-connectivity.

For the past five years we have tracked and analyzed social data from top influencers to reveal the hot leadership topics emerging as the new year begins. This year influencer trends reveal not only the hottest topics now—pictured in the graphic below—but also the topics that have attracted sustained attention over the past five years and also those that have fizzled away.

10 hot leadership topics in 2020 word cloud


Topping the list for 2020 are the following 10 topics with the most mentions across social influencers and posts:

1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Some trends come and go, but AI has seen sustained growth over the last five years. In fact, AI has nearly doubled in the number of mentions by influencers each year as it surged up our list.

Although it has taken time for meaningful business cases to emerge, AI and Machine Learning (ML) are increasingly being used to inform businesses and make structured decisions in place of humans. For HR, this means new opportunities for implementing AI-powered tools to better recruit, hire, manage performance, and personalize development.

Companies that are most successful will need leaders capable of identifying the best opportunities for developing tools in-house, outsourcing to vendors, or hiring new talent to help with their AI initiatives. Fully embracing AI will require entrepreneurship and business savvy. It will also require the ability to recognize where human judgment is still most valuable.

2. Culture

Culture is at the heart of a company, providing direction for how leaders and employees interact and work together. Culture is also one of the hot leadership topics that has made our list every year. This year, it moved up in the rankings again, as it’s garnered significant attention from top influencers.

Work culture has been hailed by influencers as the driving force for companies to become more innovative, technology-driven, employee-focused, and inclusive. The common thread through all their mentions is the need for companies to have more open and inviting cultures that encourage employees to reach their full potential. Leaders who recognize the value of individual contributions, and help unleash this potential, play a key role in creating inclusive work cultures where employees feel their ideas and perspectives are not only welcomed, but nurtured.

3. Employee Experience

Employee experience is a hot leadership topic that appeared on the list last year and continues to be a focus for companies seeking to improve employee outcomes like satisfaction, engagement, and performance.

At the forefront are organizations like those topping Fortune's list of great places to work—recognized for creating cultures that promote fairness, equality, and innovation. Great workplaces like these ensure leaders are well-equipped to provide the support, guidance, and coaching necessary to maximize individual growth and development.

4. Data

Signifying how massive this hot leadership topic has become, gone are the days of measuring data in kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, or even terabytes. This year the entire digital universe is expected to reach 44 zettabytes! It’s mind-boggling to think about the collective size of these data, let alone how they are being harnessed and protected.

For companies, this means an escalating need for leaders who can successfully guide decisions involving data security and quality. What’s more, quality data are necessary for the many AI tools to increase their accuracy, make recommendations, and inform people strategies. For some organizations this has led to the creation of a new C-level role, the Chief Data Officer, to help ensure a strong data strategy and that they make the most from what is an increasingly valuable asset.

5. Change

In today’s business environment, what used to be relatively flat is now ever-fluctuating. As influencers have often pointed out over the past five years, change has become one constant we can rely on. Given how change influences the work leaders must operate in now, it requires a shift in thinking about how to create successful business and people strategies.

Few change initiatives succeed in today’s complex and ever-changing environment, however. For companies to launch successful change initiatives, they need leaders able to gauge and respond to others’ resistance and inspire their team members to take ownership of change.

6. Analytics

Influencers weighed in this year that it’s not just about the numbers. It’s about the people. Or more specifically, the people analytics. Analytics has been one of the hot leadership topics in the past, but this year saw even more mention of how companies leverage analytics to enhance their talent strategies.

The most sophisticated and high-impact talent programs provide leaders with the tools to make more data-driven and objective decisions. This will help organizations maintain a more bias-free and up-to-date view of the talent they will need for the future through ongoing diagnostics.

7. Diversity

Workplace diversity continues to be one of the hot leadership topics increasingly tied to corporate strategy and sustainability initiatives. In hand with the focus on diversity this year, is a focus on inclusion.

A new study by Great Place to Work suggests that having a more diverse and inclusive workforce contributes to how well companies thrive, and even survive a recession. Organizations have become increasingly aware that diversity without also taking steps to promote inclusion fails to create or sustain meaningful change in this critical area.

8. Productivity

Given the speed at which work is changing, expectations continue to increase for how much gets produced, and how quickly. This year influencers recognized how this leadership topic is being shaped through technology tools designed to drive new efficiencies and speed while also enhancing human productivity.

The emergence of mixed model, AI-driven technologies show the greatest promise to boost employee performance and help leaders make quicker decisions by providing timely information and recommendations.

9. Automation

Automation has surged across industries. But it still hasn’t replaced human jobs that are more creative, and not narrow in scope. The application of advanced technologies, including AI and ML, to increasingly automate processes and augment humans is what Gartner refers to as Hyperautomation in their Strategic Technology Trends for 2020. This shift will continue to have implications for upskilling the workforce in 2020 and beyond.

10. Well-Being

For the first time in five years, the topic of employee well-being lept onto our hot topics list. It’s no surprise to see this topic emerge given an increased focus by companies on how to manage employee stress and burnout in a highly collaborative and always-on work environment. Forward-thinking organizations are encouraging employee well-being through programs that promote flexibility. We expect this trend will continue to encourage flexibility in schedules and workspaces to help promote a better and healthier workplace in the decade ahead.

We’re in the digital now

For the first time in five years, the word “digital” did not land within the top 20 hot leadership topics on our list. Why? The answer seems obvious: Everything has become digital.

What does all this mean for the year ahead and how the nature of a leader’s work or business will further transform? No one can foresee the future with certainty, but there are clear indications that success in the decade ahead will require an earnest focus on delivering positive experiences for all who engage with your business—from consumer to employee, across generations and geographies.

Leaders who work proactively to consider the implications of these trends for their companies will not only be better prepared, but better poised to meet these challenges and to create a successful future.

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For more information on leadership development, contact IMEC at info@imec.org or call 888.806.4632


Written by IMEC

Topics: leadership, manufacturing, technology, trends, Industry 4.0, third party resources, Leadership Development

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