How artificial intelligence is transforming business leadership

We’re entering an era in which artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly important – also at executive leadership level – and heading towards a future of collaborative intelligence.
Industries: Work
  • How can artificial intelligence transform business leadership?
  • AI can even take care of coaching tomorrow’s business leaders
  • With AI taking over more tasks, EQ becomes increasingly important
  • Collaborative intelligence: business leaders and AI working side by side

Changes and developments (in technology) are unavoidable. This also means that the skills needed in today’s and tomorrow’s job market are continuously changing as well, especially now that artificial intelligence is becoming ubiquitous in the workplace. And as a result of these constant changes in technology, organisational leadership is also evolving. In fact, with AI increasingly improving decision making and taking care of cognitive processes, the very nature of leadership is changing as well. This means that leaders will have the opportunity to become more involved with the human aspects of leadership. Which, in turn, means that leaders of the future will (have to) focus more on emotional intelligence, human connections, and developing their personal characteristics and capabilities. This will not only enhance interpersonal relationships, but also optimise operational efficiency, which will have a positive impact on the organisation’s overall performance.

How can artificial intelligence transform business leadership?

Any decision made by a leader is ultimately a question of experience and the right call at the right time, at the right place, but artificial intelligence can certainly make decision making a lot more efficient. For instance, AI enables predictive analytics, which allows the studying of historical data in order to predict or anticipate future trends and events. This can help analyse customer behaviour, optimise buyers’ journeys, and assess ROI potential and cost effectiveness. 

Artificial intelligence can also help reduce ‘decision fatigue’. Business leaders often need to make calls on multiple decisions throughout the day, which can lead to decreased judgement and wrong choices. Smart algorithms can take care of many of the more routine decisions – in fact, they can make an infinite number of decisions without any errors. This can free up a lot of a senior leader’s time, which helps them be more creative and action-oriented and able to spend more time and energy on important strategic decisions. Eliminating mundane, routine tasks will also result in greater productivity and increased job satisfaction. By providing predictions, hard evidence, and potential outcomes, artificial intelligence can also help leaders be more effective when it comes to pragmatic and logical decision making and fine tuning human judgement.

Consider the fact that recruiters spend more or less 35 seconds on going over a resume, and you can imagine what artificial intelligence could accomplish in the same time. AI can play a significant role in the improvement of the recruitment process, enabling leaders to focus more on people and less on tasks. AI-based solutions for hiring talent can lead to significant time and cost savings and more accurate hiring decisions. And while it will still be a while before AI-based systems will autonomously handle recruitment – if ever – they can help save a lot of time and money by doing the groundwork, such as weeding out large numbers of CVs, and selecting the most suitable candidates. According to the Leadership in the Age of AI study by Infosys, AI deployments at 45 per cent of organisations worldwide are already greatly outperforming the productivity and accuracy of comparable human activity.

AI can even take care of coaching tomorrow’s business leaders

Coaching is and will always be an important part of leadership development, and even in this area AI is playing an increasingly critical role. AI-based coaching is based on the same principle as human coaching, which is to help leaders become more effective at their jobs by improving their communication and leadership skills and becoming more self-aware. This means building skills for leading in a hybrid or fully remote workplace, increasing behaviours like asking for and providing feedback, but also giving recognition and improving communication, collaboration, and responsiveness. It also encompasses becoming better coaches themselves, and to be less directive and authoritative in the way they lead. 

AI-based coaching platforms typically make use of natural language processing technology to monitor and assess people’s digital behaviours. AI coaching solutions provide many benefits; they are easy to scale at a very low cost per coachee, and can be used to determine someone’s learning style and preferences and to carry out smart assessments to identify areas that need improvement. AI coaches can measure digital interactions – such as chat messages and email correspondence – which generates data around ‘measured behaviour’ and helps avoid bias in feedback. AI coaching can improve coachees’ self awareness by creating a consistent programme that provides every participant with coaching based on the same metrics but is, at the same time, fully customised to meet the needs and learning style of each coachee.

The results of AI coaching can be measured in much greater detail than human coaching and provide valuable metrics to the organisation as well as the coachees. AI-based coaching platforms typically provide dashboards and regular reports that indicate changes in digital communication behaviours, how the coachee responds to certain members of their team, and shows any changes compared to their standard communication behaviours. This information can be correlated with other metrics, such as manager reviews, to discover patterns or trends and determine if and how they contribute to company initiatives or sales, revenue, and retention goals. It also helps to pinpoint which behaviours are unhelpful and should be discouraged, and which ones are beneficial and should be encouraged. 

According to Josh Bersin, educator, author, HR industry analyst and founder and CEO of the Josh Bersin Academy, “AI-based coaching is the best-kept secret to help increase leadership and professional capabilities with micro interactions and suggestions. It is quite easy to do, people really enjoy working with it, and the value it creates immediately is substantial.” In his publication Coaching at scale Bersin writes: “AI-based platforms like Cultivate remove the need to prioritise who gets coaching. All employees can get their own digital buddy that ‘sits on their shoulder’ and helps them along, suggesting how to better communicate, collaborate, and work with others. The AI syncs to the employee’s everyday behaviour as it provides continuous feedback. Think of it as the smartwatch for business relationships.”

Following below are some examples of AI-based coaching platforms:

Cultivate

The UK-based company Cultivate Coaching and Tutoring has deployed its AI-powered coaching platforms at PwC, BASF, and various other companies. The platforms are built to scale and are hyper-personalised. They make use of AI to monitor interactions and communications, and provide culture analytics, leadership insights, and coaching based on real-world interactions to help users become more self-aware and effective in their leadership roles. The platforms are tailor-made for each leader, offer tools for improving workplace relationships and collaboration, are adjusted to team dynamics and goals, and offer personalised growth opportunities that get smarter over time.  

BetterUp

The San Francisco-based company BetterUp, inventor of virtual coaching and leader in the AI-based coaching market, recently acquired two advanced technology software companies – Amsterdam-based Impraise and San Francisco-based Motive – to enable the powerful combination of technology and human insight to help people maximise their potential. Impraise develops software for organisations that want to empower their leaders, cultivate a company culture of feedback and recognition, gain a better understanding of their staff members, and develop high-performing and engaged teams. Impraise’s tools track, record, and monitor feedback and generate touch points for learning and insights. And Motive’s proprietary Emotion API technology, which uses machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP), identifies emotions in language and enables organisations to ‘attain empathy at scale’. Motive’s expertise will contribute to BetterUp’s work in terms of helping to improve self-actualisation, wellbeing, and performance in teams. With the acquisition of these two companies, BetterUp is now able to combine world-class coaching with behavioural science and artificial intelligence, in order to provide platforms that help deliver personalised behavioural change and improve the effectiveness, adaptability, and wellbeing of leaders and their teams. BetterUp offers coaching across 90 countries and in 46 languages, driving lasting, transformational behaviour change, which leads to improved business performance.

With AI taking over more tasks, EQ becomes increasingly important

Now that artificial intelligence is taking over more and more tasks, it’s understandable that people feel increasingly threatened by the prospect of their jobs being taken over by technology. This makes it all the more critical for leaders to focus on human-centred skills and emotional intelligence (EQ) to manage their employees and their business. “The most-needed skills for rising leaders are the truly human skills that can’t be readily duplicated by machines, such as critical thinking, curiosity, creativity, entrepreneurial thinking, collaborating, and complex problem solving,” says Raj Echambadi of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.

Leaders will need to take up more responsibilities that involve human aspects of decision making, such as employee development and training, innovative thinking, and bridging the divide between people and technology. Leaders will be tasked with spearheading their employees’ transition to an increasingly digital workplace and they will need to either possess or acquire leadership skills for the 21st century. Emotional intelligence – which encompasses traits like empathy, humility, accountability, agility, creative and critical thinking, intuition, ethical judgement, and cultural intelligence – is becoming increasingly critical.

“We cannot underestimate the power of empathy and increased emotional intelligence in today’s world. More than ever, we need to connect hearts and minds in prioritising skills and capabilities to equip the workforce of the future,” says Leah Houde, chief learning officer at PwC.

62 percent of executives anticipate predictive analytics will augment their business decisions, leading to greater efficacy in the years to come.”

Source: PwC

Collaborative intelligence: business leaders and AI working side by side

As many repetitive tasks in most sectors will eventually become automated and streamlined by AI, the importance of human, interpersonal, and empathetic roles is becoming increasingly clear. And while AI might take over a significant portion of the jobs now done by humans, or at the very least radically change who does the work and how it gets done, technology is much more likely to complement and augment human work and help employees transition to new roles – rather than fully replace humans. 

According to a research study by Harvard Business Review, in which 1,500 companies were surveyed, “firms achieve the most significant performance improvements when humans and machines work together. Through such collaborative intelligence, humans and AI actively enhance each other’s complementary strengths: the leadership, teamwork, creativity, and social skills of the former, and the speed, scalability, and quantitative capabilities of the latter.”

And according to PwC’s AI predictions report, “62 percent of executives anticipate predictive analytics will augment their business decisions, leading to greater efficacy in the years to come. Although such change brings inevitable concerns for leaders, it is important to focus on the possibilities, and understand how AI might be used to empower human decision making in the future.”

AI can help leaders free up a lot of time that can be devoted to one-on-one interaction with their team members, focussing on strategic planning, or improving the organisation’s resilience. When leaders can delegate repetitive and automatable tasks to AI, they become more visible and accessible, which is not only beneficial for working relationships, but for the overall health of the company as well. And when leaders can show their staff members that adopting new technology doesn’t have to mean losing one’s job, but that it can actually help people through upskilling or reskilling and improve many aspects of their work, they can mitigate some of this perceived threat of being replaced by technology.

Closing thoughts

These are exciting times for companies and their leaders. We’re entering an era in which artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly important, also at executive leadership level, and heading towards a future of collaborative intelligence, in which humans and machines work together. Although it is too early to now exactly what impact AI leadership will have on organisations, what we do know is that AI offers valuable tools and provides a resilient support structure to help leaders enhance interpersonal communication, improve leadership skills, and augment human decision making.

We’re in the midst of a technological revolution and the trends, technologies, and innovations to look out for in 2022 are all game-changers. They bring comp…

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