How to Lead in an Era of Artificial Intelligence

leading and artificial intelligence
Photo by cottonbro studio:

How will AI impact leadership and how should leaders lead in the future?

What does it mean to be a leader in the age of artificial intelligence?

Which leadership models best apply to the context of AI? Will leaders still need to exist in the future or are these roles also at risk due to technological disruption?

These are questions that I (along with many others) am pondering. My questions, funnily enough, were prompted by other questions. The first big mental nudge came when I was reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. At the end of the book, he poses three important questions, that we need to grapple with:

Are organisms really just algorithms and is life just data processing?

What’s more valuable? Intelligence or consciousness?

What will happen to society, politics, and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?

All three questions, and their answers, impact the realm of leadership and it was thinking through how these questions impact leaders that I started to consider supplementary questions that relate to my specific context, i.e.:

  1. What does it mean to be a leader in the age of artificial intelligence?
  2. Which leadership models best apply to the context of AI?
  3. Will leaders still need to exist in the future or are these roles also at risk due to technological disruption?

The deluge of questions relating to AI

These are certainly not the only questions, they may not even be the best questions, but I wanted to start thinking about things where I could bring some practical application, even if it was just in my own small sphere of existence.

There are of course many other questions relating to AI (many of which may ironically be machine-generated) but as a leader of an organisation that is facing significant change, and a professional in the leadership development arena, these three questions are of specific interest to me. 

Having mulled over these questions for some time I thought I would share some thoughts. My hope is to generate conversation around how the fields of leadership and artificial intelligence interplay.

I think I should also state my biases up front. Although my wife would say that I generally have a negative bias (I just say that I am a realist), when it comes to AI I am not a prophet of doom. I think there are significant challenges that we need to address. It does feel like a key juncture in our journey as humans, but I don’t think we are just about to lose the human race (excuse the pun) to super-fast computers. You will see why I conclude that in the following reflections.

What does it mean to be a leader in the age of artificial intelligence?

To answer this question, we must ask ourselves, what does it mean to be a leader in any context? What does it actually mean to be a leader and does AI change that?

What is leadership? There are of course many definitions. One of my favourites is from the leadership expert John C. Maxwell who says that leadership, at its most fundamental level, is influence

Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” John C Maxwell

I like this definition as firstly it is simple. Secondly, it highlights that leadership comes in many forms, not just in the direct management of other people. For example, there is self-leadership, thought leadership, leading-up and other types of leadership outside the stereotypical idea of a command relationship. 

And that is why I also prefer the term influence to power. They are similar but power tends to have negative connotations and I believe that the idea of power does not translate as well to all types of leadership, for example, those I have just highlighted (self-leadership, thought leadership and leading-up). 

Yes, AI will also have influence (or power) in these same realms, but as per this definition, leadership will continue to exist as long as humans choose to influence themselves and others. Let’s hope we are all around to influence each other – in positive ways – for many years to come.

Which leadership models best apply to the context of AI?

I have studied, taught, and written about many leadership models. I apply many of these theoretical frameworks in my everyday practice as a leader. Therefore, I don’t believe that suddenly, in the light of technological advances, these tools have (or will soon) become redundant. As long as we have any sort of human-to-human interaction then ideas such as transformational leadershipauthentic leadership or situational leadership all have their place.

However, these models do not directly address the context of AI. The best thinking that I have come across to date, that does confront the issues of AI, is The Threshold by Dr.Nick Chatrath. In his book, Nick does a great job of exploring the second question set by Harari, namely, “What’s more valuable? Intelligence or consciousness?” In applying this to leaders he introduces four paths for evolving our leadership. These are:

Cultivating Stillness

Thinking independently

Embodying intelligence

Maturing consciousness

But it is not merely theory. What I particularly love about Nick’s book is that each section has resources – including questions, exercises, and processes – for the practical application of each path. 

  • Cultivating Stillness involves stopping to ask questions and taking time to reflect. It is the discipline of not getting swept away by busyness, change and chaos.
  • Thinking independently means embracing our unique cognitive powers, utilising the cognitive diversity of teams and creating thinking environments.
  • Embodying intelligence consists of embracing all the types of intelligence that humans have, such as emotional intelligence where we connect with our feelings, or kinaesthetic intelligence, where we utilise senses for thinking and communicating.
  • Maturing consciousness is a continual process of embracing change and complexity, being humble (and not threatened) by our limitations and serving others with love and wisdom.

I am attracted to the idea of the paths in this model as it does not set up a framework that seeks to solve ‘the problem’ of leading with AI. Instead, it is a map, indicating the journey that we can embark on, alongside those we lead and the artificial intelligence that we interact with.

Will leaders still need to exist in the future or are these roles also at risk due to technological disruption?

Much of the discussion around AI has centred on who is going to lose their jobs to machines and how soon.

For many workers, machine intelligence will force an evolution of skills and approaches. There are many subtle but important shifts that we need to make.

Such a shift needs to take place for leaders too. Here we come back to the question “What is leadership?” If our answer relates to leadership as a role or position then yes, it is likely that some jobs will be at risk. But as per the earlier definition of leadership, if leadership is about influence, then this will take place as long as humans exist. 

And the emergence of new intelligence opens novel leadership opportunities. Burgeoning machine minds need influencing too. This might spawn a whole new field of leadership. There are new leadership books to be written for sure! How about:

  • Start With WhAI
  • Thinking Fast (machines) and Slow (Humans)
  • Good to GreA.I.t
  • How to win friendly algorithms and influence highly intelligent, rapidly developing non-biological self-learning entities

Well, maybe not those exactly, but something for sure. And, in this arena, I expect that the concept of values-based leadership will be increasingly important, as how we want to influence the machines that influence us will involve an ethical approach to decision-making. Therefore, leaders are likely to need to study more philosophy and less management. It is a shift that I have already made in my reading and personal development.

What is the future for leaders in a world of artificial intelligence?

So, dear conscious readers, (no, not you, ChatBot, or at least, not yet). Leadership certainly does have a place in the world of AI. The idea of leadership, the exerting of influence will remain.

Leadership will evolve, as with many other roles and professions. New models (such as the 4 paths of The Threshold) will emerge to cover how we better lead humans and machines.

I also believe that we leaders need to broaden our own minds and be more philosophical if we are to grapple effectively with the ethical issues concerning AI, business, work, and life in the future.

And one of the most important things we can do is to talk about this stuff. It is through the sharing of thoughts and ideas that we shape our future. As we engage in dialogue we influence each other. In other words, we lead. If we keep doing that, then there is hope for humans, AI or no.

So, I look forward to the continuing conversation on artificial intelligence and leadership (in all their various forms). 

Yours ever, humanly (or at least until I get an upgrade),

Simon (1.0)

Would you like a free e-book to help you set goals and create a personal action plan? Then just subscribe to my newsletter. Don’t miss out; sign up here!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.