There have been countless books written about the tenets and principles of effective leadership. The lives of everyone from Ghandi to a coyote have been mined for insights into how to manage people for success. But what of the new world where leaders will be required to manage both people and machines to thrive?
There’s no doubt that the breadth and depth of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic-process automation capabilities are growing fast. And, while there is some talk about the possibility of working for a robo-boss in the future, the reality is more likely to be a significant shift in the skills that leaders will require to succeed in this new digital workplace.
So, what does that mean?
A recent Avanade survey showed that 85 percent of executives agree that company leadership needs to be able to manage both humans and machines if they plan to successfully integrate artificial intelligence into their organizations. Indeed, more than half of the C-level executives surveyed believe that an understanding of new and emerging technologies will be more important for leaders than a deep specialization in strategy, sales and marketing. Accenture affirms the need for a balance of skills as it identifies three elements to an executive’s AIQ—technology, data and people.
Just like today, leaders will need to have a balance of intellectual (IQ) and emotional (EQ) intelligence to manage in the AI infused workplace. On the IQ side, leaders will need to have a vision for the AI-first world in their organizations and know where it can be used to free employees to spend more time on complex tasks and enhance productivity. But, even more important, EQ and people-centric skills will be critical to evangelize the positive impacts and keep people engaged, address anxiety around the changing workforce, and help them reskill to focus on new ways of working and thinking.
In fact, with advanced analytics producing insights far greater and faster than the human brain is capable of, the “softer” management skills will be more important than deep subject expertise or raw intelligence. Topics like digital ethics and trust will come to the forefront. According to Harvard Business Review, “Certain qualities, such as deep domain expertise, decisiveness, authority, and short-term task focus, are losing their cachet, while others, such as humility, adaptability, vision, and constant engagement, are likely to play a key role in more-agile types of leadership.”
Of course, this is not the first time that leaders have taken on new skills in response to technology advances. Executives of a certain age will recall when dictation machines and typing pools were replaced by personal computers and the gap between those who learned to type in school and those who didn’t became quickly apparent. We adjusted, and we adjusted again when typewritten memos gave way to emails, then blogs, then tweets.
Executives in all industries need to be open to expanding and pivoting their skillset along with the rest of their workforces. Understanding the capabilities of AI is important, but so is attending to the needs of people who are affected by changes to the workforce. Along with the wisdom of [insert-your-favorite-business-guru-here], learn about the technology that is changing the game within your organizations and on the larger competitive landscape.
With a solid understanding of the capabilities of humans and machines, leaders will be prepared to draw upon the strengths of each to grow and sustain a digital workplace.