In The AI Era, Can Leaders Drive Success Amidst Disruption?

Algorithms are changing the world — and wise leadership has never been more important. The long-awaited AI revolution is finally here. In the months since ChatGPT burst onto the scene, machine learning and AI technologies— rom chatbots, to face-recognition algorithms, to generative imaging tools—have seeped into every corner of our lives and every aspect of the organizations we lead.

Such rapid change can be discomforting, and surveys show that across every industry the disruption is only accelerating. Fortunately, this isn’t the first time leaders have been called on to guide their organizations through periods of extreme disruption. From the COVID crisis, to cycles of boom and bust, to geopolitical crises such as the war in Ukraine, we live in a world that’s in constant flux.

Military leaders, who love acronyms, refer to this state of upheaval as VUCA—that’s Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, and Ambiguous. The rise of AI is another reminder that today, we all live in a VUCA world—and that we urgently need more integrative leadership with broader perspectives and better clarity to carry us through the coming storm.

Knowledge and leadership in a VUCA world

Over the next few weeks, I want to use this space to explore the challenges leaders face as they adapt to the transformations that AI will bring to their businesses and the world around them. I’m not a technologist, so I won’t be talking to you about algorithms or datasets. Instead, I’ll be using the AI revolution as a kind of case study to show how, as leaders, we can learn to thrive in a VUCA world by consciously and continuously working to elevate the totality of our knowledge. This knowledge includes not just knowledge of the world around us but also of ourselves and the wisdom that comes from understanding the connections between ourselves, others, and the contexts in which we operate.

Among other things, I’ll ask you to consider the fact that AI, like every disruptive force, brings threats and opportunities that unfold on multiple levels. In the face of rapid technological change, individual workers could find themselves out of a job or learn to make themselves indispensable. Business units or entire companies might succeed or flounder. And as a society, we might find new technologies unlocking incredible positive change—or leaving us far worse off than we were before.

Our privilege and responsibility, as leaders, is to work to maximize the opportunities for positive outcomes along the entire value chain. That’s only possible, though, if we start by elevating our knowledge, raising our awareness of our own roles as agents of change—and thereby coming to clearly recognize our place within a broader ecosystem of interconnected parts.

A broader perspective on leadership

Gandhi famously said that we should be the change we want to see in the world. As leaders, we need a similar awareness of the way that the totality of our knowledge, and ultimately our decisions, ripple outward, and of the tangible impacts we have in the world. In a VUCA world, it’s easy to forget that we have the power to shape the changes we’re living through. As we confront transformative new technologies, we need to respond both actively and responsibly, and to refuse to surrender to shallowness and passivity.

Applying this understanding to the AI revolution, it becomes clear that we need leaders who recognize that AI should augment rather than supplant our existing ways of knowing and understanding. The goal isn’t to let algorithms make decisions for us—it’s to leverage the strengths of AI tools to help us make smarter decisions at all levels of our organizations.

In my next few posts, I’ll dig into this further, and show how leaders can overcome the confusion and isolation of the VUCA world. By consciously connecting the dots between the information out there, and the knowledge within, it’s possible to to lead not only effectively but responsibly. So take courage. The world is certainly chaotic, but together we’ll find a path forward.

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