Top 3 Leadership Skills for the Age of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Definition of artificial intelligence
1: a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers
2: the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior
Articles on AI tend to be quite technical or broadly strategic. Although the topic of leadership in the age of artificial intelligence receives plenty of attention, it’s not yet a topic that commands widespread coverage. That will change as companies continue to place even more emphasis on hiring executives based on their ability to understand how advanced technologies help their organizations thrive in the new technology-driven economy.
Let’s get a jump start on this topic then, and consider what it will take to be an effective leader in the AI-driven world.
We find that about 30 percent of the activities in 60 percent of all occupations could be automated. This means that most workers - from welders to mortgage brokers to CEOs - will work alongside rapidly evolving machines. – McKinsey
To remain competitive in the future, businesses of all sizes and in all phases of growth will need to embrace the technologies that are shifting our modus operandi. As reported by NewVantage Partners, the percentage of firms investing more than $50 million in artificial intelligence was up from 39.7% in 2018 to 64.8% in 2020.
Examples: Two Spectrums of Artificial Intelligence
The term “artificial intelligence” refers to a wide range of processes and activities. The line between its many applications is easily blurred, as advanced technologies continue to converge into one big mishmash of incredible complexity. Let’s take a brief look at two examples of the use of AI on two sides of a complexity spectrum.
Hybrid Working Environments
Although robots currently engage primarily in minimalist tasks, they’re on track to take over many employee activities, and this trend is only going to accelerate. Fortune refers to an estimate by the Bank of England that 48% of human workers will eventually be replaced by robotics and software automation. Why? Robots require no salaries, no training, no insurance, carry out tasks in less time than their human counterparts, and do them with little to no error. They don’t require sick days, vacation days, and don’t cause any interpersonal conflicts. For now, workforce automation and robots are additive to our human efforts, which is why the hybrid work method is a natural way to introduce robots into the workforce. Machines currently handle the automatable and repetitive tasks; humans, on the other hand, continue to dominate on the creative side. That will change, however, as artificial intelligence becomes even more advanced and creativity is added to its repertoire of human-like abilities (which is already well underway).
Direct interactions with AI are already very widespread. Our daily communications with Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant are our best-known examples. These digital assistants ushered in a new era of seamless connection between humans and machines. According to TechCrunch, the number of smart speaker users will reach 83 million in 2020. Although Amazon’s Alexa currently enjoys 70% market share in the voice assistance industry, Google recently announced that its Google Assistant is being used by more than 500 million people worldwide each month. At the 2020 CES show, CNET reported that Amazon announced that there are now hundreds of millions of Alexa-enabled devices worldwide, and that customers use Alexa for their smart home controls hundreds of millions of times per week. Such brain power requires tremendous amounts of smart technology.
AI Enables Stronger Leadership
The massive amounts of data mined through AI, and the AI that in turn transforms that into meaningful information for its audience, is incredibly valuable for many business leaders. Before we look at the three skills that leaders will need to exhibit in the AI-driven economy, let’s look briefly at two of the many ways in which AI will enable stronger leadership.
AI Helps Leaders Make Better Decisions
In the past, there wasn’t as much access to large amounts of reliable data. Organizational success was previously dependent on the informed judgement of its leaders. We all know that good leadership decisions can catapult organizations to the top of their industries, and that bad decisions can destroy companies in the blink of an eye. That’s why a primary advantage of the partnership between artificial intelligence and leadership is optimized decision-making.
Since AI has the computational ability to extract data from massive amounts of information, it will be able to scrutinize past business decisions, pick the best course of action for any given situation, and help the company prevent potential pitfalls.
AI Helps Leaders Increase Organizational Productivity
According to Accenture, about 40% of business leaders believe that AI will increase employee productivity. One of the primary objectives of AI is to advance computer capabilities related to human knowledge such as reasoning, learning, and problem-solving. A by-product of AI taking on that heavy lifting is enhanced productivity for employees and leaders, resulting in more time availability focus on strategic decision-making.
Imagine, for instance, that an organization uses AI to detect fraud. If that detection is automated by artificial intelligence, the workforce wouldn’t need to focus on those low-leverage and time-consuming activities, increasing availability to focus on other higher-value work.
Top 3 Skills Required by Leaders in the Age of AI
According to Infosys, 90% of C-level executives reported measurable benefits from deploying AI technologies within their organization, while 73% of them agreed or strongly agreed that AI has already transformed the way they do business.
At least for now, the benefits of AI to an organization are directly proportionate to the leader’s ability to leverage it to grow the business. But it will take more than data interpretation and savvy strategic planning skills for executives to successfully guide their companies in the age of AI. The types of impact that artificial intelligence will have on their businesses will require leaders to bring a unique set of skills to the table.
Leaders of the past and to some degree the present operated in business environments that allowed for consensus building and had the luxury of time to consider possible long-term strategies in a somewhat linear, structured fashion. Leaders of the future will need to thrive in a non-linear, multi-faceted, complex, and incredibly fast-paced environments that embrace change.
The skills required to accomplish that aren’t new, and indeed they’re ones that anyone aspiring to a seat at the C-suite table must already possess to some degree. The AI environment simply raises them to a new level of criticality. In brief, our trailblazing AI leaders will need to be:
1. Change Champions
As much as we hear about AI already taking over the world, we’re just getting started on our global artificial intelligence journey. What we’ve seen so far doesn’t scratch the surface of what’s being developed behind the scenes. Rapid advances in technology will translate into more organizational changes being implemented more frequently. Successful leaders will need to be proactive and visible advocates of the internal change initiatives that enable their companies to remain competitive – not as an afterthought once all of the strategic work has been completed, but as an integral, embedded component of the company’s overall strategy.
2. Adaptable Visionaries
That’s right. Not just adaptable, but visionaries as well. These leaders will need to have the knack of understanding the scope and capabilities of upcoming trends and technologies, and then adopting them quickly when relevant. They’ll also need to be flexible enough to pivot and change course as new technologies arise that are worth the expense and effort of implementing. Those are complex decisions that require quick decision-making, rapid cost/benefit analysis, and long-term strategic considerations. So, like executive-level decision making today…only a lot faster and more complex.
3. Inspirational Empathizers
Leaders in the age of AI will have more to deal with than just advanced technology. They’ll also have an entirely different workforce to develop. The majority of their workers may be contingent, spread across the globe, and hail from four or even five different generations. In addition to managing the rapid pace of technological change, they’ll also need to be highly adept at demonstrating that they understand the diverse and ever-changing needs of their workforce. They’ll need to build employee trust in an era of constant change, uncertainty, and shifting global economics.
Successful leaders in the age of AI clearly bring a lot more to the table than these three skills, but these must be core strengths that represent their authentic leadership styles. Their businesses will otherwise quickly lose a competitive advantage, and they’ll be edged out by others that adapt more successfully to the new techno-economy.
Businesses that consider themselves exempt from needing to embed AI into their operations because they don’t fall into certain industry segments will eventually face a harsh reality that may result in their downfall. Strong words, I know. Will every single company need to be run by AI? Of course not. But artificial intelligence isn’t just here to stay. It’s going to increasingly analyze and control everything we do in every sphere of our lives. The only real open question at this point is around the speed of adoption. Leaders need to not only guide their organizations towards sustainable innovation and growth, but do so while proactively adopting AI in ways that enable to them to thrive in the future economy without neglecting human creativity and value in the workplace.
About the Author: Marina von Bergen, MAM, ACC
I’m a leadership coach and consultant focusing on effective change management, communications, emotional intelligence in the global workforce. I help leaders of small and medium-sized businesses better understand and leverage the trends and technologies that will impact their businesses, if they haven’t already.
To learn more, visit my About page, or reach out via social media.