Leaders must stay human in a digitizing world

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Automation and AI are already changing many of our daily experiences. From automated supermarket check-outs to real-time Google translation, the world of work is most certainly changing.

In Japanese, the word “henn” meaning “to change”, has inspired The Henn-na Hotel in Tokyo to imagine a totally different type of hotel, where 95% of its staff has been replaced with 140 robots. Just about every aspect of the hotel experience is robotized, from a hologram check-in to a Wall-E like porter carrying your bags.

CEOs and HR managers are already facing a major shake-up. As we hurtle at pace towards an AI world, any work task that can be turned into code will increasingly be replaced by robots.

The jobs that will remain in the AI world will be those that are difficult to codify, those that require a human touch, such as judgment, empathy and creativity. Successful behavioral development will therefore need to be less about training and compliance, and more about helping people to become more human!

Personal flourishing – the model for leadership in an AI world

What does this mean in practice?

The founders of the positive psychology movement asserted a simple but very powerful idea: happiness is not simply the absence of sadness. They discovered that happiness (or personal flourishing) can be scientifically measured and codified, and that we all have much to gain by applying these principles in order to be more complete human beings – with happier, fuller and more successful lives.

With its focus on helping people be more complete human beings, personal flourishing therefore becomes the foundation of a successful performance culture in an AI world. Are you moving to a development model that encourages people to be ‘on fire’, bringing the best version of themselves to work every day?

Think of that rare airline steward who has the knack of making you feel special because he just looks like he means it when he smiles, or the supermarket shelf-stacker who uses her empathy to diffuse negative energy in an angry customer. These human touches increasingly define the essence of the role, whereas not so long ago they were nice-to-have additions to the role.

What does this mean for you?

After analyzing the behaviors of the world’s very best leaders, we describe in The Joy of Leadership how these new-era leaders succeed.

To prepare for a world where you have to be the best version of yourself every day, you will need to focus your personal development on the five areas of the SHARP framework:

  • Strengths – knowing what you’re truly good at and finding ways to apply your strengths regularly to daily life. This is the only way to ‘knock the ball out of the park’ – a true performance multiplier.
  • Health – knowing that stress isn’t all bad, it can be good for you, and that by proactively managing your health and energy you will be better prepared to embrace stress and capture its benefits.
  • Absorption – knowing that people are often distracted, rarely settling their attention on a task or person for more than a few fleeting moments. This has a dramatic effect on personal productivity. The way forward is to increase absorption levels with techniques such as mindful engagement, active listening and meditation.
  • Relationships – knowing that we no longer operate in formal hierarchies but as actors in many overlapping networks. In this world, what differentiates the greatest leaders is their focus on authentic and positive relationships, and their ability to build psychologically safe team environments.
  • Purpose – knowing that our performance is dramatically enhanced when we commit to meaningful activities. To do so we need to practice the art of re-framing to find purpose in life, rather waiting to understand the purpose of life

These ‘humanizing’ behaviors, which are by no means confined to the upper leadership echelons, are essential enablers of high-performance in the transition to an AI world.

And in a world where disruption and progress are the only constants, it is by not preparing adequately for this change that “leaders will go wrong”.

About Angus Ridgway

Angus Ridgway

As a former Senior Partner of 20 years at McKinsey&Company, Angus led the Strategy Practice in Europe, Middle East and Africa, overseeing the work of over 1,000 colleagues. His interest in leadership came from his astonishment at the diversity of leadership profiles he saw in his clients over the years, and for over 10 years he led Leadership Development functions at McKinsey, most recently for the global group of 1,500 Partners.

He obtained his B.Sc in Pure Mathematics from Nottingham University and his MBA from INSEAD in Fontainebleau

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