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The Best Leadership Links to Close Out 2020

Today we dispatched the December 2020 edition of our Leadership That Works Newslettera curated digest of the best leadership links from around the web, sent at the end of each month. In this edition, we compiled the best leadership links to close out 2020—including the year in charts, how business changed forever in 2020, the secret to more successful teams, and more. As alwayswe’re sharing the articles from our newsletter here in case you’re not subscribed to our mailing list. If you find these links enriching, you can sign up to receive our newsletter here.

What Went Right

2020 undeniably wreaked havoc on the globe—rightfully bringing news of rising COVID-19 deaths, racial injustice, economic turmoil, and political rancor to the forefront of our collective consciousness. A lot went wrong (and we were called to face and re-confront some things that had already been going wrong for a long time). All the sorrow and chaos has required—and continues to demand—the bulk of our thoughtful attention and reflection. But as we close out one year and welcome a new one, what if we made some space for celebrating what went right this year? This heartening World Economic Forum post is designed to help us do just that, compiling the “bright spots amid the gloom.” Here, explore nine “good news stories that might have slipped your attention this year,” including cancer breakthroughs, gender equality advancements, and more.

Need more good news? Readers Digest Canada has rounded up “100 Good News Stories from Around the World.
The unforeseen events of 2020 and the continued uncertainty going into the new year might have some leaders balking at setting goals for 2021. But this inspiring Fast Company post, penned by a time management coach, argues “goal setting is actually more essential right now,” for anyone who wants to maintain “productivity but also your sanity.” Rather than slipping into hopelessness about what unknown calamity might upset your progress, focus on the power of trying—and trying again—in the face of adversity. To put your best foot forward, there are four types of goals that are achievable even in less-than-ideal circumstances, the first being “schedule goals,” which focus on things like when you will wake up and when you will go to sleep. Read about all four types of goals here.
In a blunt, if understated, summation, “A lot more than usual happened this year,” writes the author of this Harvard Business Review retrospective on the changing role of business in society in 2020.  In response to the almost unfathomable litany of events that unfolded over the past twelve months, the global business community rose to the challenge in some heroic and life-changing ways and in other ways that fell dismally short and revealed urgent opportunities for improvement. While no list could provide comprehensive coverage, the ten stories and themes covered here provide an illuminating overview of how world events intersected with business in this historic year. One of the bright spots? “The definition of corporate responsibility expanded,” revealing the lesson that “how a company treats stakeholders, such as communities and employees, is now core to how the C-suite is judged.” Explore all ten takeaways here.
One of the most helpful tools for understanding our rapidly changing world is data visualizationcharts, graphs, infographics, etc. can help categorize the ecosystem of information and organize complexity to make it more digestible to our brains. This year, McKinsey launched a series to highlight their best data visualizations which are compiled in this intriguing end-of-year roundupMcKinsey explains, “As we look back at the year that was, these daily charts tell a story about our changing world, from the early days of lockdowns and a tumultuous summer to ending the year on a hopeful note.” Engage with this thoughtful collection of charts—on topics from consumer behavior, to pandemic preparedness, to measuring resilience in companies—and get insight on the themes that defined a landmark year.
If charts can provide intellectual context helping us logically engage with the world, then photographs are their sentimental counterparts—facilitating our ability to make emotional sense of history. Charts speak to the brain; pictures find their resonance in the heart (and a leader needs both in equal measure). If ever a year demanded that we leverage every tool at our disposal to fully understand the events that unfolded—emotionally and intellectually—2020 was such a year. The New York Times in this interactive compendium of the best pictures of the year explains: “Certain years are so eventful they are regarded as pivotal in history, years when wars and slavery ended and deep generational fissures burst into the open — 1865, 1945, and 1968 among them. The year 2020 will certainly join this list.” Explore the entire visual compendium, conveniently organized by month, here.

The Secret to More Successful Teams

“There’s nothing like a crisis for bringing multi-disciplinary groups of people together,” writes the author of this practical Atlassian article, but the stakes don’t have to be high for cross-functional teams to work effectively, solve problems, and get important things done. The secret to teams that leverage many different skill sets to move things forward is “shared mental models.” Shared mental models are “internal representations that allow us to interact effectively with the world,” and even more importantly, they “help us interact with each other.” Essentially, “they’re about being on the same page,” and “revolve around the roles and responsibilities of team members, the flow of information,” and take into account each team member’s “skills and preferences.” Shared mental models don’t work their magic by accident; teams have to intentionally pursue and agree to them. If you’re looking to revamp your team dynamics in 2021 and solve increasingly complex conundrums, explore the three essential shared mental models explained here.

For more on teams, read our post “The Best Teams Have These 3 Things.”
How we show up during the difficult times in life determines whether or not we become stronger, wiser, kinder, and better people,” writes a clinical psychologist in this introspective Medium post that urges us not to “waste” the struggles that 2020 presented. Rather, we can “use” our experiences to inform our thinking and propel ourselves onward. One of her tips for using the adversity of the past year to bid farewell to 2020 is to “mine your mess,” or look back at the past twelve months with a view towards learning and transformation. This mining process helps you “leave the mess in 2020,” but without leaving the “insights and wisdom behind.” Recommended questions to ask yourself  include “What have you learned about yourself?,” “what’s important to you?” and more. Read the full post here.
Every year, a team of writers and editors at Soundview Executive Book Summaries scours through “thousands of business books,” and selects the titles they believe have “ideas and concepts that are instrumental to the professional development” of their subscribers. Compiled in this Soundview Magazine roundup are the thirty books they selected in 2020. The chosen titles cover a wide range of topics from innovation to leadership to negotiation, and more. (And, full disclosure, our book The Blueprint made the list!) Explore all thirty of the best books of the year here.

Top Posts & Insights from ConantLeadership in 2020

Lead Like Only You Can

In this February ‘Ask the Board” feature by The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Doug Conant answered the evergreen question: “How can I be myself and be a great boss?” The answer might surprise you. Read the full post here.

3 Guiding Principles for Leading Remote Teams

As the COVID-19 crisis swept across the globe, teams everywhere pivoted to remote work and collaboration. In this ConantLeadership post, we shared our top tips for managing complexity, preserving camaraderie, and continuing to operate effectively.

CEOs Must Find Their Courage

“True leadership competence is contingent upon your ability to develop courage,” wrote Doug Conant in this Chief Executive excerpt from The Blueprint that challenges leaders to find their strength and bravely answer the unique call of leadership in 2021 and beyond.

How to Go from Fired to CEO

In this energetic and fascinating GaryVee Audio Experience podcast episode, Gary Vaynerchuk sits down with Doug Conant to talk about Doug’s fascinating leadership story—a journey that took him from being unexpectedly fired to ultimately becoming a Fortune 500 CEO. Watch here.

How to Lead Change No Matter Your Job Title

In times of chaos and complexity, people naturally look to leaders to inspire action and chart the course forward. What if that leader—the person making a difference—could be you? In this popular 2020 post, we share three guiding thoughts and a simple framework that will help you roll up your sleeves and get started.

Leadership Lessons from a Doctor on the Frontlines

In a recent virtual town hall on leadership lessons from the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Mark Pochapin of NYU Langone Health—in conversation with Doug Conant—shared illuminating insights that can help us all show up more fully for the people in our lives, no matter our vocation. If you’re working to rally a team and keep people energized, consider these four actionable leadership lessons for persevering through crises.

Growth Starts with You

In this excerpted passage from The Blueprint in Training Magazine, Doug shares a story from graduate school where a revered professor challenged him to do better after he showed up to class not having completed the required homework. In that moment, Doug understood the power of challenging yourself and others to continuously improve and to embody a growth mindset. And he held that lesson with him throughout his leadership journey. Learn how to spread an improvement mindset outwards from within in the full article here.

November’s Leadership That Works Newsletter

In last month’s newsletter: Manage emotions, find ‘joyful escape,’ be nimble but not chaotic, and more. Dig into the full link roundup here.

Enjoyed these links? Explore our suite of leadership resources here, sign up for one of our 2021 virtual BLUEPRINT Boot Camps here, or join our mailing list here.


An essential book on leadership.”

– DAN PINK, author of WHEN and DRIVE

Announcing our new bookstore just in time for 2021.

Our exclusive bookstore is now live. We’re offering signed books at a special price for the new year: just $15 including free shipping through January 31, 2021. As we rejoice in bringing a close to 2020 and welcome a new season of life and leadership in 2021, this is a celebratory offer just for you—our valued members of the ConantLeadership community.

(Cover photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash)

Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

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