An illustration of a businesspeople leading others above a big yellow arrow.
iStock/Dina Mariani

We are currently witnessing the dawn of the Age of Artificial Intelligence and Automation, an era that will change the way we live, work, and do business. Two studies carried out by the University of Oxford and OECD predict that half of all current jobs will disappear within a decade, and in turn new ones of greater value will be created. Essentially, we’re looking out at a horizon full of opportunities and challenges that will require new leaders and new organizations. Certain forums have already begun to talk about the leadership of the future as “augmented leadership.”

Augmented leaders will be those who manage to develop their vision to get the best out of people and technological innovation in a disruptive business environment. They’ll need to do this while keeping an eye on the goal: a values-based and human-centered mission executed responsibly, transparently, and ethically.

The concept is like a three-legged table with each leg perfectly aligned so that the table remains stable.


How can leaders enhance their augmented leadership qualities?

There are eight transformations leaders must undergo in order to become augmented leaders on both a personal and organizational level.

1. Learn to unlearn

Decisions shouldn’t be based solely on preconceived ideas or past successes—just ask Kodak, Nokia, BlackBerry, or Toys “R” Us. We must learn to unlearn in order to relearn. We have to lose our fear of not knowing and dare ourselves to make mistakes in order to evolve. Updated training, experiments, and pilot projects are good ways to relearn.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Alvin Toffler (Author)

2. Understand technology

The media, social networks, consultancies, and gurus often enthusiastically inflate expectations of technology. Knowing how to read the current and future potential of technology is essential to developing an effective long-term vision. Being familiar with the possibilities of different technologies and how to combine them doesn’t mean that we have to be experts or engineers. We all use machines and tools without knowing how they work. Many drivers can operate a car without knowing much about engine mechanics. Technology is the vehicle that helps us develop a vision, but if we don’t know its possibilities, it will hardly take us anywhere.

“In my opinion, right now there’s way too much hype on the technologies and not enough attention to the real businesses behind them.”

Mark Cuban (Shark Venture Capitalist)

3. Develop a long-term vision that engages others

Augmented leaders will need to have a long-term vision of their business and the real capabilities of technologies—not just the specs, but the elements that can involve people and get the best out of them.

“When you have a powerful, long-term vision for something, even against all odds and adversity, you will continue to make progress and people will want to get on board. Why? Everybody wants to be a part of something great.”

– Robin Crow (Author and speaker)

4. Stay flexible in approach

Thriving in an age of automation will require execution plans that are extremely agile. Already, the global business environment is proving highly changeable. Technology evolves at breakneck speed, and leaders will need to evolve with it. Augmented leadership develops value even from failure.

“Execution is everything. Even if you start a business with the wrong idea or too many competitors, you can out-execute all the better ideas in the right market.”

– Robert Jordan (Author)

5. Delegate

In a complex technological environment, a leader cannot and should not have all the answers. His or her success is based on the coordination and motivation of talent, collectively leading a large team of experts from many different areas. Rather than giving answers, the leader must know how to ask key questions and let his or her people find the answers through technology.

“When I had all the answers, the questions changed.”

Paulo Coelho (Author)

6. Develop emotional intelligence

An environment that’s constantly changing, highly demanding, and high pressure generates stress. Leaders need to empathize with society, customers, suppliers, and team members; help staff overcome fears through the use of technology; facilitate professional development; and resolve conflicts between individuals and the collective by turning to experts. In doing so, they will be developing a socially intelligent culture in which governance is ruled by sustainability, transparency, and ethics.

“It takes something more than [human or artificial] intelligence to act intelligently.”

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Author)

7. Generate synergies between the physical and the virtual

Customer needs will evolve as steeply as technologies do. Organizations must adapt to both developments accordingly. AI and automation will not replace human beings in those functions where tacit knowledge, soft-skills, intuition, and creativity prevail. Augmented leadership develops and adapts the talent and capabilities of the team and the technology so that both evolve at the same time, creating value but ensuring they don’t clash.

“Technology is best when it brings people together.”

-Matt Mullenweg (Social Media Entrepreneur, founder WordPress)

8. Prepare for biases and trade-offs

AI can’t discriminate unless it’s been programmed to do so. Therefore, the success of combining AI with human talent lies with human leadership. Prepare to manage the two biases—the human and the AI—redirect them, and manage trade-offs to mitigate potential negative impact. In short, we don’t need to worry about artificial intelligence. We need to worry about human stupidity.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not sure about the universe.”

Albert Einstein (Theoretical Physicist)

AI is already empowering human talent, and automation will give people more time to think, create, and balance their professional and personal lives. According to a study carried out by Gartner, 1.8 million jobs will have been lost between 2017 and the end of 2020. However, AI and automation will have created 2.3 million new job opportunities in the same period. In 2021, AI alone will have generated $2.9 trillion worth of business.

The great challenge for future leaders will be to combine the physical—people and talent—with the virtual. If done correctly, this will not only generate value for business, but will also result in progress for society. The way to meet this challenge will be a matter of anticipating and minimizing the impacts on organizations so that they can adapt without leaving anyone behind.

If, as former Amazon chief scientist Andreas Weigend says, today big data is like oil, human talent will always be like the Sun. We can live without oil, but not without the Sun.

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