Is AI the next step in the future of leadership?

Artificial intelligence is not only changing the products and services we provide nor the way we create these products. It has become quite clear that it is also completely reshaping human behaviour and leadership.

Whether we realise it or not, some of the high-level decisions that are being taken by people in key positions, be them organization or nation leaders, are already influenced by the evolution of AI, machine learning, NLP, etc. In 2020, artificial intelligence is expected to create 2.3 million jobs and eliminate 1.8 million ones, according to Gartner. Hence, there is no doubt that we need to rethink the way we lead and evaluate people.

What is the extent of AI's influence on leadership? How are we all going to cope with these technological and functional changes? Who will lead in the robots era? These are only some of the questions researchers are struggling to find the answer to. At this moment, we have too little evidence to paint a clear picture on this, however, we have some opinions we'd like to share with our readers.

Can a robot be a good leader?

The correct and obvious, at least for us, response is no. We are still trying to deal with people that are not good leaders, and, theoretically, they can achieve the "prerequisites". A leader needs to be emphatic, creative and really good at reading people, qualities that it is said AI systems cannot acquire. And these are only some of the many skills a leader needs to have, that no machine learning or NLP algorithm could reproduce. So, a robot cannot even be a leader, be it a good one or a bad one.

But it could be a good manager. Apart from a leader that can inspire and share a vision, employees also need someone to assist them, give them clear directions and be there when they have questions. When artificial intelligence is integrated into the management role of a business, it helps speed up the processes, saves time for leaders and even eliminates the middle-management positions that sometimes, instead of making things easier, only add to the existing burden and bureaucracy.

Being able to process large amounts of data in a relatively short interval, a machine can multi-task and do so accurately, without getting tired or listing fragmentation as an impediment for the quality of work. Of course, this can only be applied to routine, predictive and repetitive tasks. But this way, employees can actually invest their time and knowledge into something that will bring more business value and more personal satisfaction. Productivity is also bound to increase because people know that much of the mundane activities they need to do on a daily basis have been automated.

What about the decision-making process?

We've already established that a robot cannot be a leader, but it doesn't mean it cannot contribute to the development of human leaders.

Courtesy of LTEC Lab

We know that leaders need to take a lot of decisions, and some of them during "war" time, when the company is in serious trouble. Not all the decision-making processes run smoothly and several psychological studies have indicated that when business leaders have to make multiple decisions across the day, there is an inevitable dip in energy which increases the likelihood for wrong choices. With an AI system, such risks can be mitigated. If fed with the right data and trained correctly, a machine learning algorithm, for instance, can make an infinite number of accurate decisions.

Fully adopting AI technology for the management department is still in the debating phase. Most companies are currently just trying different solutions that might help them with a small set of tasks. For example, in 2018, an independent workforce solutions provider launched a decision analytics platform which uses machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics to help people understand and interpret data scenarios better. Machine learning cannot replace the pragmatic way that humans think and it cannot make logical correlations, but it can help them make more informed, data-driven decisions.

How do we prepare leaders for the AI era?

Since its inception, technology has simultaneously been a great source of progress, and a Pandora's box that sometimes divided people instead of uniting them. It is clear that artificial intelligence and its sub-domains have numerous beneficial applications, however, one cannot stop to wonder if there is a price to pay and what humans need to do in order to deal with all these changes.

When it comes to leadership, we first need to prepare people for the digital era. Sadly, in many countries, the educational system is still far from ready to support the new, technology-driven society. We continue to train young people to do jobs that will shortly be taken over by machines and we fail to integrate new disciplines and practices that can better prepare them for the future. We also need to start paying more attention to skills and abilities that so far have been treated as second-class citizens, such as empathy and emotional intelligence. Data from McKinsey shows that by 2030, people from the US and Europe will mostly use their social and emotional skills to succeed at work.

AI moves towards empowering people and providing them with the tools they need to automate redundant tasks, identify and analyze hidden patterns in data and find revolutionary insights that will make our lives better. Yet, in order for that to actually happen we need people, leaders, that are capable of understanding how machine learning algorithms work, how to interpret data and use it to make better decisions. Leaders need to learn how to cooperate with AI, and for this it is important to make sure they understand AI and do not fear that it will soon make them redundant.

According to the Infosys AI Report, 2018, 90% of executives believe that their businesses are being disrupted or reinvented by digital business models, but only 30% believe they have the right skills to deal with it. Another report by PwC reveals that 39% of CEOs are thinking about the effect automation will have on their workforce, while half of them are already exploring how humans and machine can work together. But this is a small percentage. At the moment, there are people who don’t even know they are working with AI solutions. For instance, in the Hospitality and Transport industry, not even half of the employees who used AI (47%), realized that they were actually using it.

We've entered a transformation path that we do not know for sure how much it will take. The digital revolution will demand a lot from future leaders and in order to cope with everything that is happening, they need to learn as much as they can and experiment twice as much. We already know the machines are coming, the best thing to do is start preparing the field. Adaptability, the ability to define a clear vision and be constantly engaged can be a great asset in becoming a great leader during and after the 4th revolution.

If you're interested to learn more about what current leaders think of the topic, we leave you with this book recommendation: The Future of Leadership: Rise of Automation, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, by Brigette Tasha Hyacinth.