Leadership’s Next Chapter: The Age of AI

In 2023, generative AI emerged as a transformative force, captivating industries with its ability to innovate and create. Its impact reached unprecedented levels, reshaping the way we work and interact. Despite the strides made by AI, one crucial aspect remains beyond its reach — the irreplaceable role of human leaders.

While generative AI excels in tasks requiring logic and data processing, the nuanced realm of emotional intelligence integral to effective leadership remains a distinctly human trait. Leaders navigate complex interpersonal dynamics, inspire teams, and make decisions influenced by empathy and intuition. In this rapidly evolving technological landscape, it becomes evident that the symbiotic relationship between generative AI and human leadership, where each leverages its unique strengths, is the key to unlocking unprecedented advancements in the professional realm.

Confession: Generative AI–specifically, ChatGPT–wrote that last paragraph. (Can you tell?)

I gave ChatGPT these instructions: “Write about how generative AI became a big deal in 2023, but leaders can’t be replaced by AI because they need their emotional intelligence to lead.”

I’ll give it credit: ChatGPT did a pretty good job. Yet if you read closely, you’ll discern what ChatGPT’s work is missing: voice. It’s written at a level slightly removed from human experience–elevated, grand, and for my tastes, a little wordy and with an excessive reliance on commas. The paragraph sounds human but lacks warmth. It lacks…humanity.

Yet ChatGPT served a useful function in my drafting of this piece. Here’s how: to distill my thinking around the GenAI sea-change that 2023 brought about, I wrote an opening paragraph. That paragraph allowed me to come away with a main idea, which is what I fed to ChatGPT. ChatGPT spit out the opening paragraph to this piece, which helped me to clarify my thinking again, and served as a useful “jumping off place” from which I wrote the rest of this article.

I used AI to assist me, to help me hone my thinking. Yet it was my thinking I relied on in the beginning, and my thinking that enabled me to continue writing after the GenAI “boost.” And that, in essence, is how leaders can best utilize AI going forward–as an assistant, not a replacement. As noted by Pieter den Hamer, Vice President of Research at Gartner, “Every job will be impacted by AI…most of that will be more augmentation than replacing workers.”

There’s always hype around (and fear of) new technology. Yet Sundar Pichai famously compared AI to fire, the internet, and electricity–that is to say, ubiquitous and used by all of society. (No one is arguing the merits and demerits of electricity anymore). Just as it’s unthinkable for an organization to operate without the internet, so will it be unthinkable for a company to operate without GenAI. And why would you want to? Why not decrease your time spent on less meaningful tasks and spend more on the strategic, high-level thinking that will drive your company forward?

I asked Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Chief Innovation Officer at Manpower and author of I, Human, how leaders can embrace AI without fear of replacement in 2024, and what skills they should sharpen to improve their leadership:

“There’s no doubt that AI will win the IQ battle, if it hasn’t done so already. However, EQ may remain quintessentially human, and with that, the foundational attributes for leadership talent will shift from expertise, experience, and knowledge, to empathy, kindness, and people skills. In an age in which much of our work is dictated by our interactions with AI, people will crave inspiration, affection, and understanding, and it’s up to leaders to provide this.”

Here’s what other leaders had to say about how they’re utilizing AI to improve their operations and assist their leadership in 2024:

On How AI Removes the Administrative Workload of Sales Teams:

“There are 2080 hours in a business year. Take out our vacations and holidays, after all of that, [the] sellers get at most about 30% of that time engaging with their prospects and customers. That’s it! The rest is spent on administrative work, internal meetings, etc. Generative AI in general comes into play in platforms, like Salesloft, to help you in two key areas. One, it helps you massively reduce that administrative overhead, generates emails for you, and generates follow-ups for you–so you can find your voice in it, cobble [an email] together, and send it out. That’s huge. And then the other is it captures and scores and weights all of these signals that you’re not aware of, and it actually converts them into very discreet action, so you’ll know exactly what to do at any given point in time.”

David Obrand, Salesloft CEO

On How AI Will Change What Skills Hiring Managers Look For:

“I think in the next five to 10 years, the whole nature of work is going to change. I think about the workflow as an Excel spreadsheet. When you hire a finance person today, you don’t test a person for if they can add, subtract, multiply, and divide. You also assume that they will be able to use Excel. I’m not even going to ask them the question. There’s going to come a time when you don’t test the person. Are you comfortable using these kinds of AI solutions? And then the real power is how capable am I of using it? How much do I learn? How much do I experiment, and how do I drive end-to-end value for the customer?”

Tiger Tygarajan, Genpact LLC President and CEO

On The Efficiency AI Enables:

“Some of the developments in AI, especially Gen AI, are extremely promising in two dimensions. One is the efficiency impact it can have in everything that we do, whether it is operations, performance, or development—all of that can get significantly more efficient. For example, the simple software development process. I think right now what we’re focused on is enabling every part of our organization to be tools and trained on Gen AI so that they can start looking at how it can be deployed in several projects that we are working on.”

C. Vijayakumar, HCLTech CEO

On How AI Assists Decision-Making:

“AI is only as good as the data. We all know that. At Splunk, we’re ingesting massive amounts of data and we use AI to help prioritize insights to correlate and see patterns and trends to help cut through the noise because the signaling can be massive. For example, I have a customer that has 20 million attacks a day on their website. The only way you can actually pattern match and cut through those events and figure out what things should their analysts pay attention to is with artificial intelligence. So purpose built around the use cases is absolutely what we focus on. With humans at the center of everything, because at the end of the day, what you have to do is help the human being make a better decision by giving them better pattern matching and correlations.”

Christian Smith, Splunk CRO

How can you as a leader improve your processes with the assistance of GenAI?

To begin, experiment with AI by employing it in low-risk scenarios. Iterate, then experiment further. Become comfortable with ambiguity and approach the technology with curiosity rather than fear. Finally, sharpen your EQ skills and double down on your humanity: how you lead, connect, care for, and inspire your teams. As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic said, those ineffable traits are what your teams want–and what no algorithm can hack.

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