A New Direction

A New Direction

(This article originally appeared in Ambition, the thought leadership publication by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) – in print and online – and has been republished on this website with the permission of AMBA.)

It’s clear there is a strong need to redefine and redesign the concept of leadership nowadays. But what is the best way forward? In this article, Pierre Casse and Elnura Irmatova are our guides to navigating the business environment of the future.

Mathematician Alan Turing, renowned as the man who broke the Germans’ Enigma code during World War II, once remarked: “We may hope that machines will eventually compete with men in all purely intellectual fields.” It appears that we have certainly arrived at Turing’s vision of a state of play where human and non-organic intelligence are entering a partnership with huge implications for the future of leadership.

We would like to issue a reminder to start with the equation L = HI + NOI; namely, leadership equals human intelligence plus non-organic intelligence. That formula leads us to inquire about the kind of leadership mindset and behaviour that is required for the new environment in the making. How should leaders apply the leadership equation so that the challenges of our times are dealt with properly and effectively?

Our purpose here is to move on from that initial query regarding the new requirements of leadership to some more fundamental reflections related to management drivers and orientation. Let’s confirm, once more, that we strongly believe that the phenomenon of non-organic intelligence, or NOI, is the major change factor impacting our collective lives in a tremendous and still mysterious way. As Émile Durkheim posited, we are determined by what we have created without really controlling its consequences.

We are focusing on a tentative model describing the kind of leadership drivers that we think are good for today and even more so for tomorrow. It is, of course, speculative and should be read with a critical and creative mind. We believe in the power of questioning. We think the best models are the ones that leaders can invent by and for themselves.

We are convinced that the golden rule in leadership is to do whatever you think is right (and proper or ethical) in each situation and always check the impact of your behaviour on the environment, including the people involved. If what you are getting is what you want, there is a good chance that you are doing the right thing. If not, do not simply attempt to increase the volume, but rather accept that your behaviour is not working and you need to switch to another approach.

This rule applies more than ever to the algorithmic world we are entering, which involves greater and greater risks, albeit alongside interesting opportunities.

Leadership and the art of questioning

“To ask the right questions is already half the solution to a problem,” as CG Jung said. Based on this statement, we would like to ask the reader to go through a short and simple self-assessment exercise that we’ll debrief later on. Just read the description of the leadership situation as it applies here and then select what you think is the best option among the four presented. Don’t think too much about it – go with your intuition.

The situation: It has been quite clear to you as a senior leader (in charge of organisational reinvention) that a great number of activities and operations are being increasingly taken over by the so-called artificial intelligence and its algorithms. It has been happening very subtly and discretely in some key areas. You are getting nervous about it and suspicious about its consequences in both the short and long term. You have just heard that the hiring process basically managed by some algorithms has been biased gender-wise – and that can’t be good. Here are your choices in terms of what to do next.

A: Set up a working group made up of a selection of key executives of your organisation with the objective of examining practical ways to control or manage the use of AI without jeopardising the bottom line of the company. There is a need for a plan; a blueprint on the proper use of AI will be submitted to the CEO of the company.

B: You are convinced that you have no choice – AI is the way to go. Your first step (a basis for factual reflection) is to consult ChatGPT and see what kind of diagnosis and recommendations it will make because you assume that other organisations are facing the same challenge (and are moving faster than you). You are convinced that one algorithm can understand another algorithm. It can also learn how to control itself with some human guidance.

C: Set up a survey with the help of some consultants and assess the impact of the growing role of AI on the people within your organisation. You strongly believe that AI is good as long as the basic human values at work are respected, ie responsibility, dignity, trust, cooperation and so on. You are deeply concerned about the fact that AI operations are becoming uncontrolled and unpredictable. Tension and animosity exist between those people who despise AI and those who love it.

D: The critical questions you want to assess are: does it make sense to allow AI to assume more power and responsibilities in your company? What is the meaning of what is happening apparently without any clear understanding or control of the situation? You really believe that the company should take stock of what’s happening, assess the risk involved and then decide on how to work with the non-organic intelligence. The critical thing for you as a leader is to preserve the human side of work and life. So, you decide to defer action before you undertake some deep soul searching.

Deciding where you stand

We need to recognise that we all have a combination of various orientations and that they are changing all the time; all of us have dominant traits that we have acquired through education and experience. We adapt ourselves to the requirements of the various situations we experience over time; this is called survival and it is the ‘game of life’.

But back to the self-assessment exercise. What have you selected, and what does it mean for you? It is up to you to decide if it makes sense or not. If in doubt, check it out with someone who knows you well and whom you trust. Keep in mind that this is not a test, but an instrument designed to make you refl ect on where you stand as a leader. We hope that you take it in the spirit in which it is intended, as a positive speculation on leadership.

If you selected A, it could mean that you belong to the generation of leaders still attached to their well-tested attitudes and behaviours. Their philosophy is: it worked in the past, so it should work today. You trust your experience and you prefer the good old way of getting things done. You may be defi ned as an ‘old-timer’ leader who can still deliver great results. Be careful though, you could become obsolete without even realising it, as we need a good mix of past and present wisdom.

If you opted for B, you are not afraid of forging a partnership with AI. You might be at the forefront of the new kind of cooperation between AI and human intelligence. It is risky, but also in line with the latest requirements of the time. This is akin to the new leadership trend that we call intelligence-plus.

If you chose C, it is possible that you belong to the generation of new leaders who are responsible for the creation of values to ensure the survival and development of people. Business is good as long as it serves people’s quality of life. Do you recognise yourself as an ethical leader?

If you went for D, then the meaning of things is critical for you. There is a good chance that you believe in checking the meaning of all the assumptions you are using to make sense of things. Actually, creating new assumptions is maybe your basic leadership motivation. Perhaps you are really a philosophical leadership type?

Intelligence analysed

“It may be beyond the limits of human intelligence to understand how human intelligence works,” according to Noam Chomsky. Let’s put things into perspective and take a risk. The risk is to guess what will become more critical in the near future.

Let’s use a little bit of imagination to examine what leaders must learn to focus on today and tomorrow because of the challenges of this new world in the making. We need to bear in mind that it won’t be business as usual anymore. The growing role of NOI is changing the rules of the organisation and business operation in a dramatic and exciting way.

There are two responsibilities that human leaders should not give away or delegate to any other form of power. The first is the meaning of things in the sense of protecting our identity as living beings: who are we? What do we want to be? Where are we going? The second is the value of things in the sense of ensuring our survival and destiny as a species among other species: what do we care about? What is important for us as human beings?

This selection leads to two critical leadership drivers: namely, sense-making and value-making. By combining them, we can identify four different leadership orientations characterised by a series of typical behaviours.

It is quite obvious that educational providers involved in the preparation of the next generation of leaders are facing some major issues around the creation of new learning content and processes based on human partnership with AI. The most important question for us right now might be, “How do we prepare people for a world that we know nothing about?” Or perhaps, “How do we teach what we do not know?”
We’ll leave you with a pertinent quote from no less a person than Albert Einstein: “As a human being, one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists.”

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