What Work and Leadership Might Look Like in the Near Future, And How to Prepare for It
A series of technological milestones have marked the evolution of the digital age. From the early days of the internet and the proliferation of mobile devices to the rise of big data and cloud computing, each phase has altered how we live and work.
Yet, artificial intelligence (AI) emerges as a uniquely transformative force amidst these game-changers. Its algorithms and neural networks, inspired by human brain processes, empower machines to learn, adapt, and make decisions in ways previously thought exclusive to humans.
Today, as we find ourselves at the dawn of the ‘AI era,’ the implications are profound and far-reaching. It’s not just about technology or business models; it’s about a shift in the very fabric of our societies. This leads us to ask, “What roles will humans play when machines can think”? “What will work and value contribution mean when AI-driven processes become commonplace”?
When it comes to leadership, specifically about guidance, decision-making, and strategy, we can imagine ourselves on the cusp of a profound transformation. What remains for leaders as AI systems begin to shoulder some of the responsibilities? Where will our actual value lie?
For professionals and those at the helm of organizations, these aren’t just theoretical questions but urgent considerations for the future.
How AI is Changing the World of Work
To truly grasp AI's significance, we must first examine its current influence and contemplate its potential future implications.
The Disruptive Potential of AI on Work as We Know It
It's widely recognized that, beyond robots in manufacturing, AI’s impact now spans the spectrum from intricate data analysis to fields like customer service. However, incorporating AI into the workforce goes beyond just automating routine tasks. As noted in a report by the Council of Economic Advisers¹, “AI, being a prediction technology, has the potential to automate various non-routine tasks across a broad spectrum of occupations." In fact, a recent McKinsey paper states that as many as 30% of tasks in about 60% of jobs hold the potential for automation.2
These projections don't necessarily translate to a scary, jobless future. But they underscore a pivotal shift in our roles and responsibilities, where adaptability becomes paramount.
"Every job will be impacted by AI... Most of that will be more augmentation rather than replacing workers."3
— Pieter den Hamer, Vice President of Research at Gartner, as quoted in The Washington Post.
AI’s Impact on Teams and Collaboration
Regarding teams, it’s evident how massively AI has already influenced communication and workflows via integration within many existing collaboration platforms and as inspiration for many new ones.
As AI continues to evolve, a future vision swiftly emerges—one where interdisciplinary teams collaborate more frequently and, with AI-powered real-time translation tools, language barriers fall away. This will allow for more diverse global teams and enhance problem-solving from a broader cultural perspective. Furthermore, the lines between sectors and specialties will blur, allowing us to co-create in ways previously unimaginable.
What it Means for The Future of Corporate Culture
Integrating AI into the modern workspace has profound implications for organizational culture. As companies increasingly harness AI to drive decisions, workplace dynamics will evolve, and more organizations may begin shaping their ethos around principles like innovation, agility, and continuous learning.
Such a shift underscores the importance of an adaptive culture that recognizes and balances the strengths of humans and machines. For more on how leaders can cultivate this balance, check out our article: Beyond Algorithms: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence and Human-Centered Leadership in the Age of AI.
AI and Leadership
In the context of leadership in the AI era, numerous uncertainties remain. However, giving special attention to several areas that should remain strategically significant would be prudent.
For one, even as AI introduces ever-increasing complexities and responsibilities into leadership roles, the intrinsic value of visionary thinking becomes paramount. Despite the advancements in AI, it cannot, as of yet, replace the human capability for imagination and a moving vision rooted in meaning and purpose. Equally, leaders maintain the advantage in strategic planning, navigating uncertainty, and motivating teams.
As AI systems grow in influence, an imperative has arisen for leaders to ensure the ethical deployment of AI. It is essential to ensure fairness and prevent harm. However, this is not just a question of ethics; it’s also good business, as a substantial 62% of consumers grant more trust to companies seen as adopting ethical AI interactions.4
Additionally, it will become increasingly important for leaders to successfully manage a blended workforce of human talent and AI capabilities. This combined workforce is another strategic win, with studies indicating that a balanced human-machine relationship can lead to a threefold improvement in AI’s return on investment.5
Of course, given the many unknown impacts that AI will have on several fronts, we anticipate a continued need for leaders to adapt and grow. This calls for an accelerated learning trajectory for individuals and their teams, requiring significant upskilling to keep up with technological advances and to navigate new challenges.
One leadership skill area to pay particular attention to is soft skills. While AI can provide insights and analyses, it lacks the intrinsic human ability to understand emotion, culture, and nuance. Thus, the premium on soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and active listening, will rise and become even more invaluable. This dynamic also underscores an earlier point regarding leaders' essential role in understanding human needs and motivations and effectively bridging the gap between machine-driven insights and human understanding.
Navigating Uncertainties and Promoting AI-Augmented Success
With AI, we're not merely integrating a novel technology but entering an entirely new paradigm of human advancement. Successfully navigating this era demands profound shifts in perspective and a renewed mindset.
Here are a few helpful perspective shifts for leaders:
- Be Curious and Seek to Understand AI: By fostering a questioning spirit and staying abreast of the latest developments, we position ourselves at the forefront of technological innovation, which can better safeguard our roles and relevance in an AI-dominated future.
- View AI as a Collaborator, Not a Competitor: Seeing AI as a rival may limit our growth opportunities. By embracing AI as a partner, we have a better chance of amplifying productivity and catalyzing groundbreaking innovations while positioning businesses and professionals for success.
- Embrace The Idea of Change: Remember, in this dynamic time, adaptability is imperative. Welcoming and anticipating shifts will ease challenges and lead to more agile decision-making.
- Think Globally: With AI bridging distances in new ways, it's essential for leaders to think beyond local contexts. Embracing a worldwide perspective can lead to more comprehensive strategies and a broader impact.
- Emphasize Human Connection: While machines excel at tasks, they lack emotional intelligence. Cherishing and nurturing human relationships will remain at the core of effective leadership.
- Focus on Value Creation: Leaders should reflect on their unique contributions as tasks become automated. Identifying what distinct value we can each bring to the table will help to ensure continued significance in the workplace.
Here are some practical tips:
- Invest in AI: The digital landscape evolves rapidly. By being an early adopter, an organization can seize opportunities and gain a competitive edge before AI integration becomes mainstream.
- Engage in AI Education and Training: One must comprehend its capabilities and limitations to utilize AI effectively. By understanding the tools and systems you're working with, you can leverage them to their fullest potential.
- Prepare for Change Management: The introduction of AI will inevitably reshape job roles. Proactively preparing for these shifts ensures a smoother transition, reducing disruptions and maintaining employee morale.
- Collaborate with AI Experts: Mastery of every AI nuance is daunting. Forming alliances and working with specialists allows leaders to tap into deep expertise, ensuring optimal outcomes without needing to be the expert in every area.
- Develop AI Strategies: As AI permeates business operations, leaders must intertwine AI insights with their strategic planning, ensuring alignment with long-term goals and responsiveness to AI's evolving landscape.
- Promote the Ethical Use of AI: AI's power comes with responsibility. Championing ethical guidelines ensures that AI implementations respect privacy, fairness, and transparency, safeguarding both organizational reputation and trust.
- Rethink Job Design and Workflows: With AI's potential to optimize processes, leaders should reevaluate job roles and tasks. Identifying areas where AI can enhance efficiency can revolutionize operational dynamics.
- Create an Inclusive AI Culture: AI's implications touch all facets of an organization. Ensuring diverse perspectives in AI discussions fosters comprehensive strategies, mitigating biases and enhancing overall decision-making.
For more information on evaluating and implementing AI, read our article: Maximizing Leadership Potential with AI Tools: Investing in, and Harnessing, AI Tools for Greater Productivity, Creativity, and Impact
Drawing from our earlier points, AI presents both immense potential and significant challenges. While it promises greater efficiency, innovation, precision, and personalized experiences, it also poses many unknowns and underscores the need for careful and thoughtful implementation.
This calls for the often tricky but imperative responsibility of taking a long view even as we try to adapt to rapid and immediate change.
As UC Berkeley faculty Stuart Russell posits in a recent publication, “Success is to be measured not by the accuracy of the AI system’s predictions and decisions, but by the real-world consequences of deploying the system.” 6
As leaders, we must navigate these transformative times with an open and rational mind. Therefore, it's crucial for us to continually evolve and refine our own perspectives, ensuring that while we work to harness AI's capabilities, we understand its implications and prioritize the fundamental essence of human contribution and human values.
- Soltas, Evan J. EOP/CEA. (2022). The Impact Of Artificial Intelligence On The Future Of Workforces In The European Union And The United States Of America.
- McKinsey & Company. (2017). A future that works: Automation, employment, and productivity. Retrieved from McKinsey & Company website.
- Pieter den Hamer, Vice President of Research at Gartner, as quoted in "AI isn’t yet going to take your job — but you may have to work with it," The Washington Post.
- Capgemini Research Institute. (2019). Why Addressing Ethical Questions in AI Will Benefit Organizations.
- Deloitte. (2019). Leading in the Age of AI.
- Stuart Russell. (2022). If We Succeed.