How will AI change what good leadership looks like?

How will AI change what good leadership looks like?

How will AI change what good leadership looks like?
? How will AI change what good leadership looks like

There’s been a lot of discussion around AI’s potential to reshape professions, industries and economies. However, there’s been little insight offered into how AI will change leadership itself and our sense of what good leadership looks like. From my many conversations with senior leaders of our customers and partners, I know there’s a lot of interest in this topic and that is why we wanted to help shed some light. 
Together with Susan Etlinger, AI analyst with the Altimeter Group and Heike Bruch, Professor of Leadership at the University of St. Gallen, we undertook a new piece of research. We asked 800 leaders across seven European countries and the United States about how they personally plan to use AI and their thoughts on how successful leadership changes as businesses use more AI. 

As businesses use more AI, leaders put more focus on their people  

As AI becomes more common in business, spending more time motivating and inspiring employees was the top priority among business leaders. This was a (pleasant) surprise. I think one reason leaders want to prioritize their employees is because they recognize the things that make us human – creative problem solving, empathy, building trust – actually become more valuable. These abilities are especially valuable to companies and industry in transformation. 
Human ingenuity is a key ingredient in developing new and disruptive business models. I also believe that as AI helps leaders tackle operational tasks more effectively, they can reallocate their focus on empowering their people. This means trusting people to approach challenges in their own way and ensuring they are equipped to be their best. In short, AI can help leaders shift from being managers to being mobilizers.

Successful leaders use AI to augment their own capabilities  

There’s a correlation between company performance and leaders’ attitudes towards AI. The most successful companies – as defined by those seeing double-digit growth – are more than twice as likely to actively use AI compared to lower growth businesses. What’s interesting is that leaders of these high-growth companies exhibit distinct traits. Successful leaders see AI as an opportunity to augment their expertise and strategic thinking. For these senior professionals, it’s not just about using AI to free up time through greater efficiencies, but using it to do their jobs in a different way – whether it’s to drive growth or stay a step ahead of competitive threats.

“ Successful leaders use AI for operational tasks but also to become more effective leaders – in other words, drive growth, set the right priorities and free time for inspiring people.” Heike Bruch, Professor and Director of the Institute for Leadership & Human Resources Management at the University of St. Gallen 
Furthermore, the clear majority of high-growth leaders want to develop their leadership skills as more AI is deployed throughout the organization. This resonated with me. In a time where change is the only constant, there’s no place for a know-it-all mind-set. Instead, maintaining a learn-it-all mind-set is key.

The AI race is on – what if you’re still on the starting block?  

High-growth company leaders have something else in common: they have bigger plans to use AI as a growth enabler. For example, 93.2% of these leaders intend to invest in AI that improves business decision making within the next one to three years.

“Double-digit growth companies are further along in their AI deployments, but also see a greater urgency in using AI. They are focused primarily on the coming year, while lower-growth companies are planning in more like a five-year increment. What this suggests is that the more you know about AI, the greater your sense of urgency.” Susan Etlinger, AI analyst at Altimeter Group 
There’s no doubt the AI race is on. As a senior leader, what do you need to do to ensure you and your organization keep pace?  First of all, there is a myth out there that everybody needs to be a data scientist now. You don't. You need to understand the opportunity and what AI can do for your company. You also need to consider the overall transformation of your company. You can’t just throw AI at your business and hope for the best. Leadership, culture, and technology must come together -- that's what will make it work.  And then you have to think about your data. Your data house has to be in order to benefit from AI. This should be a big priority for any company thinking about getting started. 
The last thing I would say is start small, but start with intention. This could be the deployment of intelligence agents in call centers, so to make human agents more productive, or using AI for fraud detection in the banking industry or AI for price and supply chain optimization in retail. This will help teams build trust, learn from feedback and build confidence. In a nutshell, this is what will help get your AI journey off with a strong start.

                                               Michel van der Bel
Former President, Microsoft EMEA, NED @ G4S 
As Microsoft President for EMEA I work with 20.000 employees across 32 subsidiaries with a single vision: to help customers transform to compete in a cloud-first world where technology innovation is moving closer to the heart of every business. I firmly believe that getting the right balance of leadership, cultural change and technology innovation can help unlock growth opportunities within all types of companies.  During my time with Microsoft, I have had the chance to lead teams and businesses in many parts of the world. Most recently I was Area Vice President for Microsoft UK. Prior to that I cultivated my worldwide leadership experience as General Manager for Microsoft in the Netherlands, and as the COO for our business in the Greater China Region. 
Working in an environment that cultivates rapid innovation, I recognised the importance of both building and maintaining trust with your teams. As a leader, I believe that building this trust comes down to empowering people to speak up, take risks and do things differently. I have also come to understand that effective leadership depends largely on physical and mental resilience. In a time when change is the only constant, we as leaders need to embrace ambiguity and welcome the evolving challenges we face every day.   To reenergise, I spent time with my family (including James the Fox Terrier), passionately follow sports and am also an aspiring pianist.

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