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Henley Leadership Group Blog

To Successfully Implement AI, You'll Need To Be This Kind Of Leader


Three tips to help you get ahead of the latest major workplace disruption, Artificial Intelligence.

I’m always a little suspect when there is too much hand-waving and emotionality happening around me. I try not to get caught up in fear mongering. The current media tizzy about artificial intelligence (AI) has encouraged me to read and learn so that I can develop an empowering perspective for myself and those I lead. 

I’ve read about the possible upsides of AI. For example, the World Economic Forum predicts that the technology will create 97 million new jobs by 2025. And in an article for Forbes, Adam Famularo observes that AI “will enable everyone to have a ‘digital assistant’ working alongside them. This has the power to change work as we know it. This will foundationally change how you write and communicate on a daily basis—much like when we started using email versus letters or faxes.” 

Then there are, of course, the potential downsides. The Future of Life Institute argues that “AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity…[and] Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable.” 

Experts point out that we have already been there and done that – we’ve experienced an earlier version of AI with algorithms - social media (FB, Instagram), and YouTube which many believe contributed to political polarization, mental health issues, loneliness, the rise of nationalism, hatred, racism, sexism, ageism. Not good.

If you consider the example of social media as a technology that exploded in popularity without enough in the way of oversight, guardrails and regulation on the front end, we know that we are challenged to do better when rolling out AI. So, let’s learn from the past. 

In 1998, I met a mountain of a man, Bill Dean. At nearly seven feet tall, Bill made my 6’4” husband look like an average-sized person. Bill had been studying the exponential increase of information and was concerned about our collective preparedness.  We were standing in the kitchen of a mutual friend when he began talking about the future, specifically about technological advancements. He predicted that we humans would not be ready emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually for what technology would bring to our door. His comment piqued my interest and I remember it all these years later. 

Nearly 25 years ago, Bill suggested that leaders would need more skill and ability in staying steady in the face of technological wave after wave or they would be swept away. 

Do you know how to retrieve yourself when intensity and emotions are running high? Can you keep your feet on the ground? Are you able to access your thinking brain and embrace what may be paradoxical? Is there more to learn? 

In her book, Artificial Unintelligence, Meredith Broussard argues that if we understand the limits of what we can do with technology, we can make better choices about what we should do with it to make the world better for everyone. 

Here are a few tips to help you navigate as a leader through complexity:

Tip One: Keep your wits about you.  Study, read, learn as much as you can about AI and its implications.  Read the good, the bad and the ugly and be prepared to arrive at your own conclusions and actions. 

Tip Two: Remain steady.  Don’t get too freaked out and imagine the worst possible sci-fi movie outcome. If you are a leader, you have some say over what comes next with your team, your people, your company. What kind of future will you imagine and create?  How might you engage more powerfully? Don’t collapse into handwringing and waiting for the worst.

Tip Three: Create some sanctuary time for big thinking.  Don’t be swept into the day-to-day fray of news and panic.  Step away from all of it from time to time so that you can think bigger, see patterns, hear your own deep sensibility.  Engage in a news and social media (and maybe even all technology) fast for a day or more.  This will help you in more ways than you might imagine. 

Of course, we will need social safety nets. We will need to invest in things like job training and up-skilling. That’s a given. Remember that you are a leader.  Your job is to provide a thoughtful, steady and innovative way through for yourself and those you have the privilege of leading.

Previously published on Forbes