Technology, AI, and Leadership – The Shift

Technology, AI, and Leadership – The Shift

While talking about leadership and its evolving role, the three styles – old dictatorship, mid 70s empowerment, and modern lean style – sum up the scenario quite perfectly. Modern leadership revolves around agility, collaboration, lateral management, collective learning, and shared sense-making.

modern leadership

Technology, disruptive more importantly, is not only paving a path for such new leadership styles but also birthing newer concepts rapidly. The Kanban method is just one example of technology aiding leadership and management. The end result is a more control yet increased flexibility, more empowerment yet increased productivity, and thus a higher ROI.

This is in sharp contrast to what Mcgregor’s theory X has to say about people management – if left to themselves, employees will do anything to avoid work. Unaided by technology, perhaps, it would be true. And what a mess would leaders be in the absence of such systems.

On one hand technology is aiding leaders in people, process, and project management; on the other, advancements like artificial intelligence are posing serious questions about the future leadership – why do we need leaders when machines and artificial intelligence are omnicapable?

Technology Takes Over Leadership Capabilities

There is a lingering threat, a sort of existential crisis, facing leaders. It’s a question I ask myself almost everyday – whether to rely on experts with decades on experience on their resume, who can sniff and tell profit from loss, or to simply place my trust on the calculations of a machine that can unfalteringly process every bit of data I feed into it.

From fetching invaluable insights on user behavior to making complex predictions on customer lifetime value, AI is adept. Leave business aside for a moment, even in day-to-day decision making AI has taken charge. The other day, a friend’s daughter and I were discussing how Google Maps calculate time to location by analyzing traffic, and just how simple it has become for Maps to find quickest routes to your destination, with access to big amounts of data. To my surprise, she quickly pointed out Waze, a smarter way to navigate.

While there’d be uncountable more, the following are some examples that I find absolutely crisp and stark proof of AI being the game changer in decision-making – the prime role of leaders:

  1. Robo Readers and Robo Graders – Here’s an example, where machines have replaced a very human function – reading. Not just that, robots have also reduced intensively laborious task of essay grading. Automated essay scoring systems evaluate students’ essay writing just as any human would do, or even better. Teachers – yay or nay?
  2. Robo Financial Advisors – In a sphere that has till now been largely run on expert advice, the reign of robots seems quite a tremendous change. Robo financial advisors such as Wealthfront are promising relevant and personalized financial advice aided by artificial intelligence and machine learning.
  3. FICO for Credit Decisions – Critical credit decisions are too being taken efficiently proficiently with the help of smart service providers such as FICO. Using AI and machine learning, FICO can calculate a FICO score to assess credit risk, manage debt, and predict fraud. This is revolutionary for financial institutions, and for masses as well.

Anywhere you look, you’ll see examples of AI taking charge! In fact, the very idea behind creating such expert systems is to emulate human decision-making.

Boss at the Workplace, or Bots at the Workplace?

Workplaces have been quick and smart to embed AI into every almost aspect, that too with bots!

Every organization has a unique set of challenges that leaders can solve now chat bots are deployed for solving. With an efficient bot strategy in place it is possible to automate internal tasks, provide unmatched customer service, and also offer smart digital assistance to people at work. This covers virtually everything that leaders are were required to do.

For example, chat bots can understand customer queries and provide relevant answers using fed data. Business Insider states that 44% consumers in US prefer chatbots instead of humans for customer service.

Let’s look at a real life scenario where bots at the workplace are taking up the job of managers. At B12, a new-age startup, robots and software coordinate all the work performed by copywriters, designers, etc. The software is named Orchestra (considering that it orchestrates all the tasks). The job description for Orchestra – generate a new Slack group, identify team members who are appropriate to work on a given task, and assign work to available humans. The JD closely matches that of a team lead or manager. Clearly, what managers can do technology has been trained to do better.

Where is Leadership Headed?

But the question that remains, or rather the concern that faces managers is that in the age of AI how their roles need to evolve? Radically, leadership is no different in the wake of AI. The nature of leadership is however, up for a change.

The focus will shift from authority and decision-making to empathy, team-building, adaptability, communication, and humility. The creative and emotional side of intelligence will reign over. Such softer skills will see dominance in an age where robots and AI line-up at the analytical and decision-making front.

Rohit Raina
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