Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

What does leadership mean in the age of AI? The PwC publication strategy+business answers this question by looking at the current digital era, which heavily features AI: “leaders primarily act as organizational midwives who use their own experience and expertise to help others trust themselves — and one another — to do a job none of them could do alone.” Rather than demonstrating or creating conditions, these leaders are nurturing others to do things like learn from colleagues and share their own experience, knowledge, and skills.

Unlike other business areas that can benefit from AI, this nurturing role is not one in which AI can help. The more technology advances, the more human business and technology leaders need to excel in “soft” qualities like adaptability, creativity, curiosity, and comfort with ambiguity. But, while technology can’t improve leadership, leaders — in their supportive roles — can help others to use it in the most productive ways.

tech-leader

In the following sections, we explore specific ways in which companies can develop leaders who are capable of supporting teams in the age of AI.

Demonstrate a Human-First Approach

While AI is powerful, business leaders and those coaching them should remember its purpose — to serve as a tool for humans. That’s why a human-first approach is essential in three critical areas:

  1. Ethics. AI-driven processes have the potential to introduce ethical problems. For example, an automated resume reviewing system may consistently identify particular demographic groups as unqualified for company positions. Systems that analyze personal data may collect, store, and use that data without the explicit consent of those it belongs to. And black box decision-making can lead to an inability to determine accountability in critical situations.
    Teams that deal with such issues require leaders who can tackle them in thoughtful and appropriate ways. Doing so may require the need for transparency, difficult conversations, or challenging decisions. Those leading the leaders must instill skills that will help in such circumstances, such as integrity, forthrightness, and strong communication.
  2. Job decisions. According to a recent Forbes Coaches Council post, “AI can automate many tasks, but it can’t replace human creativity, empathy and judgment.” Therefore, when leaders are making decisions about whether to use a human or a machine for a particular task, they should consider whether these human-only behaviors are needed.
    For example, jobs requiring a high level of creativity, such as writer, visual artist, and musician, require abilities like expressing emotion and communicating unique perspectives. Professions like counselor, therapist, and minister entail high degrees of empathy and compassion. Careers in education involve the ability to discern student needs beyond simply their educational performance.
    When leaders make such choices carefully, they can help the companies they work for to assuage employee fears of being replaced by machines.
  3. Ease of use. In today’s virtual world, companies can lose employees and customers if their technology is out of date or hard to use. So, when building or purchasing AI-based systems, leaders must consider end users. First, systems should reflect user-centered design that is intuitive and convenient and includes user-friendly interfaces.

Further, AI systems should provide information about how they make decisions and when humans could become involved in the process. In particular, companies should be able to inform users — whether they are employees or customers — what AI systems are doing and why.

Users should be able to customize AI-based systems to suit their preferences and needs, including individuals with disabilities. Features may include screen readers, voice commands, and other assistive technologies.

AI-based-systems

Encourage Innovation

According to the Forbes Coaches Council post, “AI is constantly evolving, so leaders need to be open to learning new things and experimenting with new approaches. This means creating a culture where it’s safe to fail and where people are encouraged to take risks.” Those coaching leaders must train them in innovation and encourage them to convey these ideas to their teams.

Entrepreneur recommends the following steps for creating a culture of innovation:

  1. Empower employees. “In an innovative culture, employees believe that all ideas matter and will be seriously considered by leadership.” This item is first on the list because, without feeling empowered to take risks, team members are unlikely to do so.
  2. Embrace a culture of upskilling. “The concept of upskilling describes a culture that develops employee capabilities and employability by instilling the knowledge, skills and attitude workers need to improve job performance.” Understanding that, in the age of AI, technology and business practices are quickly changing, employers and leaders must train all employees on skills that will help them move the company forward.

upskilling-tech-talent

  1. Adapt quickly to lead change. “Though following policies and procedures remain key to company values, leaders should react thoughtfully but act quickly in response to changing conditions.” So many factors can require change, including shifting economic circumstances, climate emergencies, and supply chain interruption. Often, as during the COVID-19 pandemic, such disruption can lead to positive improvements. 
  2. Provide constructive feedback. “A culture of innovation begins with a growth mindset at all levels of an organization.” Such a backdrop sets the stage for creative ideas by providing feedback that is consistent, specific, and idea-focused. Indeed, according to a LinkedIn survey, “69% of employees say they would work harder if their efforts were better recognized.”
  3. Encourage open communication. “Both internal and external communication should strike a consistent tone that celebrates initiative and innovation.” Companies and teams should use open communication to support all the actions listed above. While not every innovation will end up being helpful or even usable, discussing what works and what doesn’t keeps the ideas flowing.

 


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Today’s Effective Leaders Drive Progress and Improve the World

In the developing world of AI-focused business, the need for effective leadership is more important than ever. As discussed in the sections above, leadership requires a multifaceted approach that incorporates the capabilities of AI and its potential for making life easier, safer, and healthier, while minimizing the risks, such as ethics and privacy violations.

Leaders in the age of AI possess extensive technical knowledge, demonstrate emotional intelligence, are capable of clear and honest communication, and are willing to change when needed. With a human-first approach, these leaders can inspire their teams while driving innovation and value for their companies in ways AI cannot replicate.

At their best, such leaders are harnessing the potential of artificial intelligence while recognizing the value of human skills. The most successful among them are striking a balance between technological and human capabilities, arriving at conditions that drive progress and improve the world.

 

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