What 2020 looked like and how we got through it

Our most-read thought leadership content this year reflects what mattered to you most


Well, what an interesting year. We’ll be talking about this one for decades. It might even come to define us. We lost a lot, we learned a lot more. Thank goodness we had some help to get through it. From each other. From friends, family and strangers. And from the brilliant minds here at London Business School. These are just 10 of the articles that resonated most with our global audience in 2020. Thank you for reading them.



 1 Businesses must adapt to manage through the pandemic and beyond

As the UK went into lockdown in March, some companies seemed to go into shock. Professor Julian Birkinshaw urged business leaders to seize the moment and use it as an opportunity to become more agile. Even before Covid-19 hit, he pointed out, the rate of change in the world was increasing. Many established businesses were unable to keep up with shifts in demand and customer expectations. Now firms would need to develop the capacity to adapt – fast.


 2 Time to reinvent your career?

As everything changed around us and we adjusted to working from home – or not working at all, if we’d been furloughed or laid off – the preciousness of life and our time here came the fore. Many of us started wondering if it was time to find a new job. This article drew on one of the London Business School (LBS) webinars created to help leaders steer a steady course through the strange new reality. Professor Herminia Ibarra’s advice was to consider new paths and directions, think about redefining their identity and to think about the options you have. An empowering message at a time when so much was beyond our control.


 3 Changemakers: Allie Fleder

In the most popular interview in our Changemakers series, which celebrates LBS alumni and their impact on the world, alumna Allie Fleder – a graduate of the MBA programme – talked about her experience of being LGBTQ+ as a student and now as a business person in New York. She recalled planning EUROUT, Europe’s leading annual LGBTQ+ conference that attracts around 400 participants – and recruiters looking to hire them. “I walked into this fair and immediately started tearing up,” she recalled. “I could not believe that there were companies that would be interested in you because of your identity. It was amazing to me.”


 4  Innovation icons

The Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) at LBS is a hotbed of ideas and inspiration for entrepreneurs, investors and leaders who build the ecosystems in which they can thrive. There’s nothing more encouraging than seeing how other people did it – including how they learnt from their mistakes. No wonder so many of you came to have a look at these stories of successful startups and their founders – many of whom were winners of the IIE’s Real Innovation Awards.


 5 What will happen to the economy?

It was – and is – the big question. Andrew Scott, Professor of Economics, advised caution when it came to making any predictions, before delving into possible scenarios. Recession, depression, even “cessation” was not out of the question. Job losses were of course inevitable. But there were notes of hope, as he noted, “The downturn will contain the seeds of its own recovery as people return to work and catch up on spending.” And, food for thought: perhaps leaders would realise that the economy serves the people and we might need to rethink capitalism itself.


 6 How to lead for good when times are bad

It wasn’t always obvious who was in charge this year. Business leaders found themselves having to respond fast to unexpected, almost impossible changes in demand and customer behaviour – and having to have something sensible to say to their employees when they were often feeling anxious themselves. So it’s no surprise that you turned to the LBS Leadership Institute’s experts for guidance. In this article, LBS faculty Randall S Peterson, Tammy Erickson, Ioannis Ioannou, Freek Vermeulen, Dan Cable and Selin Kesebir all offered their thoughts on how to lead effectively, authentically and with impact. At any time.


 7 Wake up to the new workplace revolution

Change isn’t always easy and it’s to be embraced, not feared – both by individuals and organisations. Gary Hamel, a visiting professor who teaches on LBS’s Executive Education programmes, has identified one change that’s long overdue: bureaucracy needs to go. Quoting the dispiriting statistic that only one in five employees believes their opinions are listened to at work, Hamel pointed out that bureaucracy – “a mash-up of military command structures and the disciplines of industrial engeineering” – has little time for courage, intuition, artistry, playfulness and love – those things that make us human. He advocated a new system – humanocracy – which, judging by your response to the article, has a bright future.


 8 Three reasons why your strategy could fail

Strategy: nice word, often meaningless in practice. Only a third of employees apparently have a clue what their company’s strategy is. What goes wrong? Professor Costas Markides pulled no punches in this article. Strategy means making tough choices, there’s no getting away from that. Then, you have to spell it out clearly, in language your people understand. Finally, strategies may evolve, leaving people confused. Crucially: “Developing the correct strategy is not intellectually difficult – but it still requires strong leaders willing to make the difficult choices and willing to say ‘no’.”


 9 Working virtually? You’re not alone

For most people, pre-Covid, working from home used to be a nice perk, or an occasional change to the routine. Suddenly: it was the routine. As we fought back panic and the walls closed in, Professor Lynda Gratton urged leaders to be brave when it came to figuring out how to make things work in the new, rapidly changing world of work. Key to this would be communication and collaboration – taking advantage of all the available technology while capitalising on our human strengths and energies. The pandemic reset work overnight. If we handle it properly, “We could come out of this in a better place, more resilient.” Let’s hope.


10 15 Black movers and shakers

2020 was also remarkable for a real shift in how individuals and organisations thought and talked about diversity. For Black History Month we ran a series of articles both highlighting the challenges Black business people face and celebrating their achievements – from LBS alumni to others in the wider business world who have defied the odds to reach the top. For this article, the co-founders of LBS’s new Black in Business Club nominated 15 Black business leaders who inspired them. As we approach the end of the year, it’s good to note that some things are slowly but surely changing for the better.