The Top Attribute a Leader Needs in a Future of Artificial Intelligence: People Skills

By: Dave Sladack

September 11, 2017


As published in HBSDealer.

 

In a not so futuristic world where robots and algorithms take over many tasks and jobs that were once accomplished by human workers, it’s antithetical to say, “people skills” are the number one skillset future leaders need. But it’s true.

Everywhere you look another headline is talking about how artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robots are transforming everything from cars to investments to product development. We’re experiencing the beginning of an incredible transformation of our economy, culture and how we do business. And that’s exactly why the future will be led by people, not bots, algorithms, or artificial intelligence.

Look at online job searching as an example – it’s terribly broken. Despite the technological advances made that make the search appear simpler, human intervention is desperately needed. And it’s not going to come from some junior HR coordinator following their recruiting software’s algorithmic score. Finding and hiring the right talent for your organization requires instinctive people who personally view resumes, and recognize the diamonds peeking out from the dirt. For all the efficiency this technology has enabled, human intervention remains critical.

Cultivating a strong emotional intelligence in future leaders is just as important as developing the next breakthrough algorithm. The qualities of a good leader remain constant – be a trusted advisor, possess a calming influence and communicate a clear vision. Tomorrow’s leaders will need to apply those skills in different ways. They’ll have to be authentic and credible in assuring workers increased technology will result in a better, more productive workplace with clear roles and opportunities for the human talent facing integration with a growing workforce of robots.

In 2016, Harvard Business Review released a 10-year study on what great executives know and do. It boiled down to four themes:

  • They know the whole business – working to improve the whole versus the parts they know best
  • They know the industry – applying a long-term vision to both opportunities and threats
  • They are great decision-makers – inclusive in the process and confident in making decisions
  • They form deep, trusting relationships – genuine and believable

To best navigate the growing complexities technology has on an organization, it’s the “trusted relationship” that is most critical. And tomorrow’s leaders – the Millennial generation – has it.

The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey suggests the top two values a business needs to succeed are focused on people and employees – from employee satisfaction and fair treatment to operating with a strong level of trust and integrity.

What are the most important values a business should follow if it is to have long-term success?

The study also found Millennials’ personal beliefs about an organization’s sense of purpose should put a high priority on people – everything from providing good wages and a positive culture to improving workforce skills and generating jobs. That differs significantly from how Millennials perceived the actual priorities of their employers. But don’t confuse soft skills with soft leadership. Millennials also put a high priority on performance – efficiency, continuous improvement and achieving excellence. We can expect Millennials to be empathetic leaders, but with a clear level of accountability for their employees.

In addition to strong people skills, Millennials have complementary qualities that provide the credibility they need to be trusted, believable “next great communicators” including:

  • Confidence – they are a highly confident group – confidence builds conviction
  • Highly Educated – they value continual learning – they must retain an ability to pivot when new information arises
  • Bottom-up Ideation – as young managers, they demand to be heard – as they assume executive levels of leadership, they must remember the value of considering all points of view
  • Authenticity – this generation relishes authentic experiences and relationships
  • Test-and-Learn Mentality – these digital natives are comfortable with technology and navigating data. They’ve grown up in an ever-fragmented world of choices – both personally and professionally. They live by a philosophy of try, learn, adjust, re-apply.

And while Millennials are comfortable using technology in all aspects of their life, ironically, it may be their ability to be effective, people-first leaders that becomes their most valuable asset to tomorrow’s organizations.

 

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