How AI will change leadership

Leaders can utilise artificial intelligence alongside current management strategies without leaving workers feeling their jobs are at risk, says Alison Watson

Credit: SM/AIUEO

The late Professor Stephen Hawking once told the BBC that "the development of full artificial intelligence (AI) could spell the end of the human race”. Now, while I don’t want to question the prediction of one of the world’s greatest minds, I would argue he was thinking of the ultimate worst-case scenario; the scenario in which we’ve lost human control over AI – one that we are far from experiencing as of yet.

On a lighter, more current, note, Hawking also explored a happier ending if we utilise AI effectively, that there is faith that human intelligence will thwart our own AI-generated destruction. This aspect – the power of human wisdom and innovation – remains key to ensuring we gain the best advantages from AI when incorporating it into our everyday world.

Even going back five years, before the discussions of ChatGPT and Bard, the Leadership in the Age of AI report unveiled that 45 per cent of organisations across the globe felt their AI deployments were already greatly outpacing the accuracy and productivity of comparable human activity. The adoption of AI has occurred at a rapid pace, leaving human power in desperate need to catch up to efficiently integrate AI in a process-driven and cost-effective way.

Nonetheless, it remains clear that AI has the potential to fix humanity’s greatest problems; it can quicken mundane processes, analyse masses of data with ease and flag potential issues before our brains notice them. As we have already noticed, AI can and will have a major influence on the working environment in companies, pushing leadership in a new direction. This means management teams will be key shapers during the process of adopting AI, creating a strategic process in developing strong objectives and visions into how AI will enhance their workforce alongside human power. 

Research has shown that the participation of stakeholders and the creation of transparency are not only of great importance here, but that adopting AI also comes with a shift in what their role will require. This may mean further qualifications to expand skills may be necessary and for leaders and management especially, the focus will shift more toward social competencies. As it is likely that AI will replace the ‘technical’ elements of leadership, including the cognition required to process hard facts, data and information, AI will create a demand for leaders to hone in on their soft, interpersonal skills – something AI can’t match. This includes our personality traits, attitudes, values and behaviours that allow individuals to help others to stick to a goal or achieve a shared purpose.

Despite worries that certain jobs will become obsolete, many future roles will be created by, and revolve around, the fifth industrial revolution and the digitisation of the workplace. In Arden University’s 2030 Workforce report, we found that 30 per cent of jobs are set to be eradicated as a result of automation. We found that this means business leaders will need a set of foundation skills: cognitive, digital, interpersonal and self leadership, including self awareness, self management and entrepreneurship skills. With AI, tech developments and automation assisting the labour market, the talents employees bring to the table need to complement digital advancements.

We are already seeing the benefits technology brings. Being able to work remotely has changed the way people view the working day; rightly so, there is now more importance on maintaining a good work-life balance and more freedom to apply for jobs that were once out of reach simply down to location and inability to commute. It has given those with disabilities more options and has allowed parents to progress in their careers without having to sacrifice precious time with their children. 

To complement this, the implementation and use of AI must be human centred and, to do this, a supportive, collaborative workplace culture is needed – one that leadership and management are responsible for creating. To do this, developing a holistic mindset is vital. Technology, among many other things, will allow businesses to welcome a more diverse team. It will allow leaders to engage with people from a range of specialisms and sectors, allowing them to broaden their horizons and continually inform their developing worldview. Such interaction will help to adjust their perspectives, enable them to build strong, long-lasting relationships with key stakeholders and reinforce an understanding of people across various cultures and backgrounds, allowing them to become a keen advocate of diversity and flexibility.

At the heart of this, therefore, the businesspeople of the future must have a deep understanding of people – they need to know how to empower and get the best from their teams and have a deep emotional and social intelligence that enables them to understand and gauge the impact of the decisions they make on the people around them.

Alison Watson is head of school leadership and management at Arden University