Written by Holtby Turner
In 2017, McKinsey predicted 35% of management tasks could be automated with artificial intelligence – including leadership. Assuming AI will supplant the way we process facts and information, a greater emphasis on the human side of leadership will emerge by necessity. In fact, research has shown that curiosity, extraversion, and emotional stability are central to predicting leadership effectiveness, which the age of AI only enhances.
The digital transformation is reshaping the skills and behaviours that make leaders effective. Qualities such as domain expertise, decision making skills and managerial authority are falling from grace, or overtaken by AI. Humility, vision, curiosity, connection and adaptability will be key in leading transformation tomorrow.
Humility, really? Yes, humility. With today’s rapid change, leaders simply can’t keep up to speed about all new developments across innovation, technology and cultural changes. CEOs navigating transformation and innovation create small, empowered teams and trust them to perform, carrying accountability for customer impact. They expect these teams to start small, iterate, experiment, and adapt which complements the way they see their businesses as adaptive platforms, not just products and services.
These modern leaders understand the potential of technology and embrace it, in order to streamline, empower and ramp their status in the market. Transformational leaders manage risks, they don’t ignore them and to do this, they must trust those who know more than they do – even if that comes from someone four levels down an org chart, or out of college. Neither status nor age prevent being a contributor today, now technology has essentially flat lined information. Enlightened leaders understand this and focus on trust and accountability in their teams, whilst also building real-time information systems to support decision making.
Whilst being humble may go against the more archetypal view of a charismatic and confident, leader, the relationship between confidence and competence is pretty flimsy (in fact, research has shown true ‘experts’ often show more humility than people with little or no expertise). Humility allows the modern leader’s teams to start small, iterate, experiment, and go with their gut to adapt – basically taking the initiative to show curiosity and learn. Keeping their skill-set and knowledge base current gives contemporary leaders the competitive edge they need to lead effectively, as well as stimulating those around them to think differently.
As high-impact individuals, they are unafraid of causing a ruckus in order to remain true to their vision and their undying sense of curiosity. Indeed, curiosity for new ideas means changing opinions even if it bruises your ego, as well as communicating your new views, be it to customers, stakeholders or the board.
Implicit to curiosity is organisational adaptability, as it underpins responsiveness to opportunities and new ways of working. With AI, businesses become adaptive platforms that learn and change, not just products and services that we push out and into the market. In fact, AI driven machine learning makes changing your mind a strength if it improves the decision making process, and the focus is on learning, rather than being right.
Vision is central to great leadership, we all know this, but today’s technologically disruptive times demand an ultra-clear vision. Visionary leaders are passionate about understanding industry trends and what they may mean to their organization: they’re on the ball and surround themselves with smart people. If a visionary leader doesn’t know the smartest person in the room, then they’ve basically failed in their own recruitment, which takes us to our last point – engagement.
Contemporary leaders and their teams find ways to stay engaged, particularly when the going gets tough. Fortunately this is pretty easy these days with digital tools like chat or forums, making exec level communication two way, by responding to topics employees ask about.
Whilst hardly radically different to leadership over the last twenty or so years, a couple of major shifts are worth noting. Of prime importance is for leaders to acknowledge that smart machines will be out-performing them in the next fifteen to twenty years (if not sooner), which thus make soft skills far more important. Next, transformational leaders need to be humble about others’ contributions and remain adaptable to whatever is thrown their way, all the while remaining glued to their vision and engaged with the world around them.