Automate Leadership, Not Leaders

Artificial intelligence can't do the job of a leader, but it can help leaders do their jobs better.
David McCannMay 30, 2019
Automate Leadership, Not Leaders

Artificial intelligence: friend or foe? It depends on who you ask, really. While some people can’t wait to see what a technology-driven future will look like, others imagine there is no future — at least one with humans in it.

We fear what we don’t understand. Whether cultivated by our uncertainty or inspired by sci-fi flicks detailing an apocalyptic fate, it’s easy to believe that AI is a threat to our jobs, our intelligence, and even our survival.

Yes, technology — whose purpose is to automate, augment, and improve our lives — is getting smarter. But it still needs us just as much as we need it.

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AI has already begun to simplify and streamline our lives, especially in the workplace. That internal communication tool you use to collaborate and look up inquiries? Artificial intelligence. The chatbots your customers interact with before speaking to one of your customer service reps? Artificial intelligence.

AI enables us to not only do our jobs better, but to do them smarter. We’ve barely begun to pull back the curtain to reveal what a more autonomous workforce will look like. The promising future of AI, however, is manifest in the glimpses we’ve already seen. These innovations promise a radical transformation across many industries and businesses, all the way up to leadership.

As leaders, how can we use AI to complement our strategic vision? How can it support human intelligence? AI’s influence may be contingent upon your distinct leadership approach, but one thing is certain: adaptation in this increasingly digitized world is no longer a choice. It’s a necessity.

Data-driven Leaders

Let’s stop asking ourselves whether leaders are born or made. Great leaders know that leadership is a lifetime role informed by learning and transformation.

C-suite roles in the Smart Machine Age can’t be modeled after management styles from the Industrial Revolution.

Outdated leadership models are no longer effective in today’s workplace, which is why C-suite roles in the Smart Machine Age can’t be modeled after management styles from the Industrial Revolution. What derived from necessity in one era can’t support innovation in another.

As technology evolves, the day-to-day job responsibilities of C-suite executives evolve along with it. AI is powered by machine learning, which means leaders have more data at their fingertips than ever before. Leading in a data-driven industry may seem mundane, but AI isn’t stripping away your oversight; it’s leveraging accurate information against your intuition.

That isn’t a bad thing. We’re intuitive because we’re experienced, and intuition is often what separates the good from the great, the successful from the mediocre. Yet, relying too heavily on intuition can sometimes be the kiss of death for businesses. We aren’t perfect, and while AI isn’t quite there yet either, data allows us to make better (and smarter) business decisions.

Artificial intelligence can reveal inefficiencies in product design and workflow, help reduce customer churn rates, and increase collaboration across departments. It can sort through hundreds of résumés and establish top candidates to interview for open positions, assess cost-effectiveness, and predict probable outcomes based on an executive’s decision before it’s even made.

Amazon uses big data to learn everything it can about your shopping behavior. So, privacy issues aside, shouldn’t leaders utilize big data to run the most lean, efficient, profitable business they can?

Leaders Need More Time to Lead

From heading strategic initiatives to developing internal talent, leaders are tasked with balancing seemingly endless to-do lists. AI liberates leaders from inconsequential tasks that can easily be automated so they can focus on what’s important: big-picture efforts that enhance employee satisfaction and boost profits.

When senior executives are bogged down with an influx of tasks, other parts of the job get neglected. AI makes it possible to multitask, and because it eliminates the more routine parts of the job, leaders can prioritize the most pressing projects.

Yes, they’re still busy, but they’re working more effectively and efficiently. This is crucial, because prolonged periods of work (especially on tasks that could otherwise be handled autonomously) lead to higher levels of stress, which leads to a decrease in productivity, which leads to a higher number of mistakes, which will inevitably lead to burnout — you get the idea. Work and stress should never impede a leader’s ability to do the job well.

Reducing Decision Fatigue

Depleted energy levels, impulsive decisions, unexplained bouts of anger and frustration — it’s all in a hard day’s work, right? It’s easy to pass these symptoms off as consequences of a high-stress job, but what’s actually happening is decision fatigue.

Studies show that when people make decision after decision, they pay a biological price. And the more decisions you make throughout the day, the harder it is on your mental capacities. Eventually, your brain is forced to look for a shortcut: either become reckless or do nothing. But for leaders, decision-making is an inescapable part of the job. So, what can we do?

There are various ways to overcome decision fatigue — set priorities, make big decisions when your motivation is high, take a break — but artificial intelligence can also be a crutch.

Algorithms don’t suffer from decision fatigue. They can make an infinite number of decisions daily, faster and more accurately than we are biologically capable of. AI is our competitive advantage; it’s what will make us trailblazers in our industries.

Predictive analytics transforms data into meaningful intelligence, providing insight that can help in making decisions about marketing initiatives, sales forecasting, hiring initiatives, etc.

In Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” a character laments that he went bankrupt in “two ways: gradually and then suddenly.” I believe something similar applies to digitization.

AI isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to leadership. We need to understand our limitations and its advantages to sensibly amalgamate the two. Its adoption may be gradual at first, but realizing its influence and value will be sudden.

Freddie Achom is co-founder and chairman of Rosemont Group Capital Partners, a private equity firm specializing in the luxury consumer goods market.