AI and automation will change the very nature of work. It’s really important that leaders don’t ignore this AI- and data-driven revolution – what I call the “intelligence revolution” – or allow other leaders in the organization to ignore it. Working out how to use AI, dealing with people-related challenges, avoiding the ethical pitfalls of AI, making sure you have the right technology in place, and so on – all are key considerations for the business leaders of today and tomorrow.
This technology revolution will change what it means to be a good leader. It makes sense, then, that business leaders in the intelligence revolution will need to adapt. The way we run businesses will change, and the successful leaders of the future will need a slightly different skillset from the traditional skills associated with leaders.
What sort of skills are we talking about? I believe successful leaders in the intelligence revolution will need to cultivate the following 10 leadership skills:
1. Agility. The pace of change, particularly with AI, is astonishing. Leaders must therefore be able to embrace and celebrate change (including new technologies). And, importantly, they should not view change as a burden, but see it as an opportunity to grow and innovate, both at an individual and organizational level.
2. Emotional intelligence. As more and more workplace activities become automated, softer skills like emotional intelligence and empathy will become more critical for human workers. And if we expect the workplaces of the future to prioritize such human skills, it stands to reason that leaders must model these behaviors themselves.
3. Cultural intelligence. The workplaces of the future will be even more diverse, global and dispersed than they are today. Effective leaders will be able to appreciate and leverage the differences individuals bring to the table, and to respect and work well with people from all backgrounds – even when they share a different world view.
4. Humility. Confidence will still be an important trait in leaders, but the successful leaders of the future will be able to strike a balance between confidence and humility. They will see themselves as facilitators and collaborators, rather than critical cogs to success. In other words, they’ll encourage others to shine.
5. Accountability. Flatter organizational structures, more project-based teams, partnership working – all of these things will lead to organizations becoming more transparent and collaborative. Leaders will therefore need to be more transparent and hold themselves accountable. What’s more, their actions must be in clear alignment with the company’s goals.
6. Vision. To understand the impact of AI on the business and all of its stakeholders, leaders in the intelligence revolution will need that big-picture vision. How will AI transform the organization and lead to new business opportunities? It’s up to leaders to determine this, while managing stakeholders’ needs effectively.
7. Courage. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what AI can do, so leaders will need the courage to face the uncertain, the courage to fail fast, and the courage to change course when the situation calls for a new strategy. As part of this, they’ll need the courage to identify their own weaknesses and be open to coaching and learning. (In fact, as skills become outdated even more quickly in the future, successful leaders will need to cultivate a culture of learning right across the business.)
8. Intuition. There’s no doubt that data-driven decision making is the way forward, but that doesn’t mean intuition and instinct will become obsolete, far from it. Particularly as workplaces undergo rapid change, leaders will still require that uniquely human skill of intuition, of being able to “read” what’s not being said.
9. Authenticity. Any new technology brings with it issues around ethics and misuse, not to mention issues around change management. Leaders in the intelligence revolution will therefore need to be able to build trust with customers, employees, and other stakeholders – and that means exuding authenticity. This will become especially important in times of uncertainty, change, or failure.
10. Focus. Finally, with the incredible pace of change, and the continual need to adapt, future leaders will need to maintain a laser-like focus on the organization’s strategic objectives. They’ll need to be able to cut through the chaos and hype to identify what’s really important – especially the initiatives and technology that will help the organization deliver on its goals.
The key takeaway here is that human leadership skills will be just as important in the intelligence revolution, if not more so. People are, and will remain, the most important asset for any business. But what we prize as key leadership skills in the future may look very different to the traditional leadership skills that are valued today. I predict that these softer, more human skills – things like humility and emotional intelligence – will become much more important going forward.