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Responsible Leadership in the AI Era

Leading sustainable business, fostering inclusivity, inspiring growth and motivating others…it all comes down to the same fundamental ideal: trust

Without trust, there is no leadership.

We need to trust that the person we are following is authentic and has our best interests at heart. We have to believe that what we say will not be used against us; that if we make a mistake, the consequences will not be a surprise; and that our goals and interests will be considered when professional development opportunities arise.

Trust is inherent in psychological safety. Those who sense this safety are more engaged in their work. This, in turn, leads to augmented collaboration, ideation, and innovation. Individuals who feel psychologically safe are also less likely to leave their roles and more likely to contribute to a positive culture. Thus, trust is the cornerstone to sustainable management practices.

While leadership is difficult on any ordinary day, complex times intensify everything. During challenging moments, all eyes turn to the leader. Stress and anxiety are elevated, the consequences of decisions are magnified, and yet it seems the noise to signal ratio goes up more than before, too. As these situations arise, authentic leaders rise to the challenge. Those who thoughtfully deliberate their actions and respond rather than react will identify the best actions to take, resulting in alignment between their words and actions. Thus, in short, followers will continue to trust their leaders will get them through.

Unchartered Territory

So, what happens when we are asked to lead in an environment that no one really understands? Where the boundaries of both current work and future possibilities are fluid, there are seemingly as many opportunities as there is capacity for imagination. The more AI seeps into our work-world, the more questions arise. What jobs will be safe? What competencies will be needed to work in and around new technologies? And whose role will be rendered unnecessary all together? To many, AI feels like a trap door to a great expanse…one that may reveal both possibilities and endings. Overall, what it does not feel like is safe.

Leaders must be aware of the environment, real and contextual, in the AI era. Every mention of artificial intelligence seems to supplant the need or value of human intelligence, but this is not true. Leaders who understand what is at stake and what resources are available to them can create new possibilities. If AI can streamline a process, humans can focus on the elements that need the most attention. If AI can anticipate obstacles, humans can work on developing creative solutions. And if AI eliminates waste and redundancy, humans can determine where to invest their energy for the greatest good. In the age of AI, leaders must make the connection between what will change and what could happen if things go well.

Channeling this outlook enables a positive and growth mindset and allows a leader to envision the potential of the changes we see coming, and even those we do not.

Strong and effective leaders have always been confident working with fluidity, complexity, and uncertainty. They also have also built and maintained relationships by managing their own emotions and communicating genuinely.

Nothing changes simply because AI brings new twists to the game.

Leaders who have facilitated continuous learning, creativity, and growth in their teams should not change what they have been doing. In fact, the AI environment actually needs more of these competencies and attributes. A learning organization is a growing one. Thus, employees who show interest in learning or doing new and different things can be encouraged to participate in upskilling programs or classes, then bring what they learn back to the team. Not only will this foster professional development, it will also augment the capabilities, skills, and behaviors of the collective team as well.

On the other hand, it would be a mistake for a leader to overrepresent their own knowledge or understanding of the unknown. Employees would see through these actions since it is impossible for anyone to be over confident on where things are going. Instead, leaders should embrace the opportunity of the new frontiers for work. Calling upon the trust that has hopefully been established already, leaders should lean into the relationships they have established with those they work with to not only get through but flourish during these times together.

As we enter this new AI era, leadership is one competency that really should not change very much at all. Being in sync with ones’ followers will demonstrate empathy, and employees who feel cared about will feel safe. Put it all together, leaders will maintain the trust necessary to take their teams into wherever AI will take us!

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