The AI Survival Guide For Leaders

by Laura Berger,
Republished from Forbes, November 26, 2018

Artificial intelligence’s takeover is not an impending possibility — it’s here. We use GPS without a thought, accept guidance from customer service bots, and our interests quickly turn into smartphone recommendations. From these experiences, I can’t help but connect the dots to the impact they will have on the passion I hold professionally dear: leadership.

These observations are just a subset of the impact of automation on leadership, and thus, this article will likely be the first of several that I will occasionally publish to share my reflections.

Real-Time Data

On the surface, this is an already ubiquitous observation. However, I want to focus on a different flavor of data immediacy. Companies are already creating tools that scan employees’ actions and communications for their attitudes and sentiments. Ultimately, CEOs will have access to real-time alerts flagging sudden sentiment changes in a company, even by reading employees’ emotions at their desks. Resources like online meeting software, written correspondence and internal social media will summarize employee sentiments, common themes and word strings about the company.

Indeed, I can see the decline of standard human resources surveys in favor of instantaneous data collection, without the productivity drain of focus groups and pages of questions.

While all of this seems a bit spooky, we are giving of this type of data more and more every day, often unbeknownst to us. From this data, leaders will have their fingers on the pulse of everything around them like never before, enhancing awareness and decision making. But we ultimately demand some enhanced value in our lives in exchange for relinquished freedoms.

To that end, as employees and investors realize the power and timeliness of the information they are constantly supplying, they will expect instantaneous reactions from leadership to shift the course of the enterprise.

Transparency Of The Labor Market

Similar to the tools mentioned above, I speculate that job boards, LinkedIn and other social media will begin (if they haven’t already) gauging employees’ satisfaction, preferences and overall “stickiness” to a company by their digital behavior. Thus, companies will be much more targeted in their recruiting efforts, enhancing a leader’s inbound talent pool.

Conversely, in times when a company is in or entering turmoil, recruiters — armed with a dossier of candidates’ personalities and scrupulous preferences — will come knocking on the virtual door of top talent before said candidates can recognize their morale is heading in a negative direction. This makes the external brand recognition of the employee experience much more important in slowing the velocity of company turnover.


Operations are being automated all over the enterprise, even in IT departments themselves. All companies, no matter the industry or sector, are not-so-slowly becoming technology hubs. Now, this could lead to automation oversight whereby non-IT departments are automating routine tasks. However, given the meteoric rise of the CIO’s power since the role’s 1981 inception, large chunks of the operational and strategic leverage of COOs, CFOs, CHROs, CMOs and general counsel will likely consolidate into the hands of the CIO.

Having more responsibility, CIOs will require leadership skills necessary to ensure their success as CEOs navigate a world with a new balance of influence in the C-suite. That said, collaborative decision making provides for diverse perspectives, segregation of duties and greater overall alignment within the organization’s culture and strategic/competitive landscape. Therefore, the CEO must preserve a leadership/governance model in which the non-technical seats in the C-suite have a diverse advisory voice that contributes to decision making.

The Ebb Of Motivational Leadership

It is unsettling that computers are already displacing workers. Fortunately, the state of employment indicates that those lost jobs have been replaced by new roles complementing the digital age. But how long will this backfill continue?

What is clear, nonetheless, is that computers need no motivation to excel at their assigned tasks, or in the age of artificial intelligence, to self-develop. With more and more data availability and decision support from these learning machines, the competitive landscape in leadership will be less inspiration and more information assimilation and rapid strategic decision making.

This is not to say that C-suite professionals will become pocket-protector-wielding George McFlys. Charismatic figures will still need to advocate — to some extent — the virtues of their companies within the company and to Wall Street. But it does feel like the CEO of the future will be less soldier (think Ray Kroc, Walt Disney, Sam Walton) and more intellectual (think Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg).


As the task of daily brain activity shifts toward computers, the leader who believes that he/she is the smartest person in the room will be proven foolish. Anyone shunning assistance from artificial intelligence, big data and complex decision support to compete in the marketplace will eventually be out of a job. Inversely, humble leaders and their companies leveraging these crutches to their advantage will be the clear winners.

I am not a huge fan of perpetual clichés like, “The world will be changing faster than ever before,” and “This time is different,” but this time is different. The picture out there and the one painted above is one of massive and rapid change to the way people think and operate, which will affect material pain. But with change also comes excitement and opportunity. And those reading articles like this one will react to the impending change with a sense of enablement, not shock. Avoiding amygdala hijacks in favor of optimistic clarity will allow leaders to harness the newfound time — freed up by artificial intelligence — to steer an ever-growing enterprise.

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