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Leadership Development in an Artificially Intelligent World

Artificial intelligence (AI) enables computers and machines to simulate human intelligence and to problem solve. Yet, leading AI scientists say world leadership still need to wake up to AI (University of Oxford, 2024). If you are unsure what AI is then MIT (2018) designed a great flow chart to help people understand what is (and what isn’t) artificial intelligence.

In fact, AI is not the only technology transforming the world of work which leadership teams currently need to be aware of. Cloud-based technology, 5G, virtual reality, the Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain, 3D printing, Robotics and much more are all transforming the world of work for everyone, faster than ever before.

So what do leaders need to know?

1. What is the purpose of their organisation?

The World Economic Forum outlines how the fourth industrial revolution is changing the way we live, work and relate to one another (WEF, 2024). Businesses add value in increasingly complex ways, which means having a clear, well-communicated and understood purpose is fundamental to ensuring success. Simon Sinek (2009) outlined the importance of ‘WHY’. Since then many businesses have gone bust because they lost their focus on ‘why’, one great example being Blockbuster.

Blockbuster grew from a single store to a chain of over 9,000 locations in over two decades, but its fate was sealed when it failed to acquire Netflix. At the time Netflix was a successful start-up, not yet five years old. With the same purpose, both solutions provided access for people to watch movies or programmes, without having to buy them. Yet, the focus on how (customers visit the stores) was overtaken by the much more convenient download/stream solution. This led to the demise of Blockbuster. Allowing leaders to learn from the mistakes of the past.

The leaders of Blockbuster failed to protect the purpose of the company. Just as Blockbuster failed to make decisions aligned with its purpose – no more so than when it decided not to acquire Netflix. Subsequently, it took the company another six years to launch an online offering – by which time it was too late to turn around the failing business. Which leads to the second element.

2. How leaders make effective decisions – fast!

All leadership teams need to be able to make effective decisions. They don’t always need to make the right decisions, but they do need to be effective. On average humans make 35,000 decisions a day (Kahnman, 2011), the majority of which are unconscious. Over the last three years, the volume of daily decisions has increased tenfold with 85% of business leaders experiencing decision stress in 2023 (HBR, 2023).

This is not surprising when you consider the pace of change. Statista recently published their findings about how fast different online services were being adopted – the rate of pace change has been phenomenal.

Statista - threads shoots past one million user mark at lightning speed

Today, leaders can’t afford to ‘wait and see’.

Leadership teams need to make effective decisions quicker than ever before. Blockbuster was so worried about losing its current market and focused on adding value (e.g. introducing food offers to the stores) that it failed to pivot and embrace the changing landscape. In reality, the decision-making in the Blockbuster C-suite wasn’t aligned with its purpose, wasn’t timely and ultimately contributed to its offering becoming obsolete.

A systematic approach

Leaders who use a systematic approach to decision-making have been shown to make more effective decisions. Whilst decision making is a balance of intuition and evidence leader’s must define the decision being made. Gathering relevant information, identifying alternatives, weighing the evidence, choosing the best option, taking action, and reviewing the outcomes is the process. Coaching, decision workshops and supported decision-making to help leaders make effective decisions fast can be crucial.

Strategies such as rational analysis, intuitive decision-making, SWOT analysis, cost-benefit analysis, decision matrices, seeking feedback, scenario planning, and avoiding biases like overconfidence and groupthink are vital. Selecting a suitable tool, which suits your situation (e.g. decision trees, software, mind maps, etc.) can also aid the process.

The key is to balance structured methodology and psychological fundamentals to empower leadership teams to make informed and effective choices on behalf of their organisation. So what else is important?

3. Beware of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a psychological phenomenon. It is the feeling of anxiety when something is happening elsewhere. FOMO has increased significantly in recent years due to the rise of social media.

Years ago it was more difficult to see or know about what was going on elsewhere. However, today FOMO occurs when individuals feel anxious and insecure about missing out on rewarding experiences others might be having.

Currently, everyone is talking about AI. Many people, including business leaders, are talking about AI. So the risk of FOMO is significant. This compulsion to stay connected, on topic and be part of the pack often leads to compulsive shifts in our attention. Yet there is a negative side.

The constant comparison to others can impact individual confidence, reduce self-esteem and impact mental wellbeing. Questioning oneself, being unsure what to do next and feelings of isolation can all manifest as a result of FOMO. The important thing for leaders is to be aware of this, to learn how to manage it, and to focus on trusting their abilities, which leads to the next piece of knowledge.

4. Focus Management in Leadrship – avoid tunnel vision

The prolific rise of AI in our media, events, and businesses is at risk of causing many leaders to have tunnel vision. In reality, AI is just one slice of a very large technological pie that leaders can choose from. The best bit is you don’t need to just have one part of the pie! The key is picking the elements which drive value in your business or team.

The ability to manage focus is fundamental for any successful leader. The human brain processes 40 pieces of information per second consciously, whereas unconsciously it is thought brains process up to 11 million pieces of information per second. Being aware of the psychology behind human thought is fundamental in helping leaders empower teams to deliver effectively.

The psychology behind attention focus involves selectively concentrating on specific information while ignoring other stimuli.

Selective attention, allows us to focus on one task while excluding distractions, and divided attention allows us to manage multiple tasks. Sustained attention is the ability to maintain focus over time, whilst executive control involves higher-order processes like planning and decision-making. Having a basic understanding of the psychology of attention focus is critical for all successful leaders striving to ensure their teams are successful.

5. Everything is Connected

A clear and well-communicated purpose

The purpose of your organisation is its guiding light, especially amid technological disruption. A clear and well-communicated purpose ensures everyone is aligned towards common goals. Take the cautionary tale of Blockbuster, whose failure to adapt to changing consumer preferences led to its downfall.

Leadership teams must constantly reaffirm their organisation’s ‘why’ to stay relevant in today’s dynamic environment.

Systematic approaches

With the speed of change accelerating, leaders can’t afford to procrastinate. Effective decision-making is crucial, even amidst uncertainty. Utilise systematic approaches like SWOT analysis and decision matrices to weigh options swiftly. Embrace a blend of intuition and evidence to make informed choices, and don’t shy away from seeking feedback. Remember, timely decisions, even if not always perfect, are key to staying ahead.

Guard against FOMO

In the age of social media and constant connectivity, FOMO is a real threat to effective leadership. The hype around AI, for instance, can lead to impulsive decisions driven by fear rather than rationality. Leaders must guard against FOMO by trusting their instincts and focusing on what truly matters for their organisation. Confidence in your abilities and a clear vision will shield you from the distractions of comparison.

Manage focus

While AI might be dominating the headlines, leaders must not lose sight of the broader technological landscape. Managing focus is paramount in a world inundated with information. Understand the psychology of attention and empower your team to filter out distractions. Recognise the importance of selective attention, divided attention, and sustained focus in driving success. By mastering focus management, leaders can steer their organisations towards sustainable growth amidst technological upheaval.

Conclusion

In conclusion, embracing technological advancements is essential for modern leaders. By defining purpose, making timely decisions, managing FOMO, and mastering focus, leadership teams can navigate the complexities of the digital age with confidence and clarity. Stay agile and focused, leading your organisation towards a brighter future.

Think Performance. Think Excellence. Think Impact.

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