Article: Humanizing leadership in the AI world

Learning & Development

Humanizing leadership in the AI world

Adding the human element is essential to navigate the future of business, by playing to strengths, aiming for absorption, taking responsibility for health, building relationships, and finding purpose.
Humanizing leadership in the AI world

Organizations have changed tremendously over the past few decades. Reflecting back 20-30 years reminds us of structured, clear definitions, and a predictable and stable business world. That world is gone now because of technological advancements, regulations, and globalization, today we have a strikingly different organization with new assets. Having the right people is amongst the greatest assets. If you have an organization full of on-fire people, then you have leadership organization for today. The changing world of work thus, has immense implications on leadership, especially in a scenario when we are transitioning to Artificial Intelligence. 

How Leadership Expectations are Changing

The modern-day organization needs people who are empowered, trusted, collaborative, authentic, people who have found their Mojo, purpose, self-regulated, smart, risk-taking…a whole different set of attributes are needed. At the core, what is required is an attitudinal shift to navigate a world systematically driving through change. We need to shift our thinking from “leaders of change” to “leaders in change”. There is a huge difference, the latter places the centre of gravity back on the individual. It raises questions of not, “what are you driving”, but questions of “how are you operating”. We must realize that this shift is a part of a larger transition.

For example, the Henn-na hotel in Japan is a hotel where they have replaced 95% of staff by robots or robotic experiences. When you check-in, you are greeted by a hologram that does the check-in and you are accompanied to your room by a robot. This is the intense scale of transition. We must reflect on what this means for us humans, as any work task that is repeatable or codifiable will ultimately be taken over by robots. 

What will be the nature of work that will be left for us, if there is any work left for us at all?

This is an emerging concern as AI discussions abound. Work that will be left for us will be the difficult stuff- involving a lot of judgment, creativity, etc. As we transition, we are going from a world where the human-element was a nice-to-have add-on to work tasks, to a world where the human element becomes the very essence of work. 

How can you build the human element? 

We can establish a connection between leadership and flourishing, based on five domain areas: 

Play to Strengths: We must ask ourselves a simple question- “What will help us prove ourselves more, knowing our strengths, or our weaknesses?” To do something special in life in whichever way we define it, one has to play to strengths some of the times. Identify what you are good at and what you like doing. This is a real journey to start upon, one of enhancing experiences and self-confidence. Much research has indicated that organizations that help people play to their strengths perform substantially better. Leading self is about playing to your strengths and passions, whereas leading others is about tapping into complimentary power-strings in teams. 

Take Responsibility for Health: Stress is everywhere. Everyone is talking about it. And it is a big problem. However, science tells us that stress is good, just that we need a different frame of reference. Stress in the organization is indeed good, the real problem is lack of recovery. We need a positive frame to drain out stress. In fact, we need to get rid of this terminology called work-life balance because work-life balance demonizes work, it suggests that we do less of work, whereas, in reality, there may be just as much stress at home!

It is high time we embrace recovery and take responsibility to manage our energy levels. We must be able to anticipate and manage our stress well- our energy profile would be very different, and we would be able to embrace stress as positive. We not only have to take responsibility for our energy levels but when we think about teams and brands- we must positively inject energy into them. 

Aim for Absorption: We all have a choice to mindfully engage with every single second of our lives. One antithesis example is that of conference calls, where the mute button sets us into snooze mode, and then we get caught for not listening and then request that the question be repeated. Full absorption is a great driver of personal productivity and life experiences and is most important for leadership. Someone may be talking to you while looking in your eyes, but his or her mind may be elsewhere, not a nice thing to experience. Unfortunately, in today’s world of distractions, absorption is something we have lost- we no longer know how to sit and read a book totally interrupted. Absorption in terms of self is about being engaged and mindful in what we are doing, while in terms of others, it’s about how we are listening. 

Build Relationships: We engage in multiple, fast-moving networks, actively participating both online and offline. What is it that distinguishes people who are good at this game? These are: 

  1. Positivity: How much positive energy are you leaving behind on your network? 
  2. Authenticity:  How true to yourself are you, and how much of a façade?


Popular perception says that there is a trade-off between these two. For example, if you are in a face-saving culture, there is an assumption that if you were to be positive, you need to do it at the expense of being authentic. Some cultures are passive-aggressive (neither positive nor authentic), driver-cultures (strong on authenticity). However, we must understand that we all have an opportunity and must keep learning and practicing both these elements parallelly. Both are essential for psychological safety i.e. making people feel safe. The remedy to create a sense of psychological safety is not in forgiveness, but in creating such boundaries that encourage people to feel safe. 

Find a Purpose: When we get home from work, we may often think about why we bothered to go to work today? Many answers crop up, ranging from “this is what I was meant to be doing” on some days, to those days where “paycheck” is the first thought. Whatever the answers, we must acknowledge that we have a real influence in finding meaning in our lives in general, and in our work in particular. The idea is to reframe our thoughts and not wait for meaningful things to land in your lap. In short, do not wait for activities with meaning, rather look for meaning in your activities. For example, we can try taking the 5 most utterly meaningless things done at work, and look for meaning. Take this a step ahead and think of how you would take the team through finding a meaning of purpose? Most organizations have a Statement of Purpose about why they do they we do. However, employees may not inherently connect with it, so leaders must help them connect. Find meaning at an individual level, and as a team build up the building blocks of meaning and purpose further. 

These 5 domain areas explain most of what flourishing people do differently. Based on these, leaders should take steps to change the culture, not through directive “teaching”, but through behavioural experiments. Apply a distinct change methodology based on Positive Psychology, which says that happiness is not the absence of sadness, but there is a different science to happiness. Happiness has degrees, it can be codified. And happiness is in our hands. In this fast-moving and chaotic world, each one of us has a choice to be a different version of ourselves in each aspect of our lives. So which version do we bring? And which version of your people- happy and flourishing, or sad and unenthused would you build? 

(This article has been curated from the session: Humanizing in the AI World by Angus Ridgway, Co-Founder & CEO, Potentialife at the L&D League Annual Conference 2017.)

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Topics: Learning & Development, HR Technology, #LAndDLeague

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