In The AI Era, Elevating Human-Centered Leadership Has Never Been More Important

Over the last few months, an extraordinary thing has happened. From Google engineers declaring that AI algorithms have achieved consciousness, to claims that ChatGPT can pass the Turing test, AI tools have grown so sophisticated that they can seem almost human.

That word — almost — is doing a lot of work, though. New generative AI models are dazzling, but they represent knowledge without heart or soul. An algorithm consumes data, finds patterns, and produces lifelike outputs, but ultimately there’s no ghost in the machine.

Why does that matter for today’s leaders? Well, the more we bring AI models into our workflows and our organizations, the more important it becomes to reassert our humanity, and to bring our core human values to the fore as we lead our organizations forward.

The AI age demands human-centered leadership. As we bring AI into our organizations, we aren’t making people obsolete. In fact, the rise of AI makes people more important, and thus also requires humane and compassionate leadership at all levels of our organizations. Whether we’re seeking to use AI responsibly and ethically, or to guide anxious workers through digital transformations that are changing the way they work, we need to ensure that human-centered leadership remains our guiding star.

As leaders, therefore, we’re being called on in this moment to augment and elevate our human-centered leadership. We need show that we can build the trusting relationships and responsible business culture needed to use AI tools in effective and constructive ways. We need to show, too, that we’re capable of building bilateral trust — with leaders trusting employees to use AI tools effectively, and employees trusting leaders to prioritize their growth and wellbeing.

Only by staying focused on the human reality of digital innovation — and the fact that digital transformations ripple through (and rely upon) human networks — can we unlock the full potential of new technologies. Just as importantly, only by staying focused on human-centered leadership can we ensure our colleagues and employees thrive amidst the sweeping changes we’re living through.

Using AI requires knowledge maturity. To achieve this, we need not just to commit to human-centered leadership, but also to elevate that leadership by working to promote what I call knowledge maturity.

Remember, an algorithm is indifferent and unreflective: it finds efficient solutions to specific problems, but it has no idea why a given task matters, or how its operations connect to the world around it. Humans, by contrast, have the ability to look inward at their own knowledge, and to look outward to explore other perspectives and see the integrated whole of which they’re part.

This reflective and integrative quality is at the core of knowledge maturity, and it’s something current AI tools simply can’t do. That makes exploring and elevating our own knowledge maturity doubly important in the AI era. All too easily, automation and “intelligent” software tools can lead us into a kind of passivity, in which we accept what algorithms tell us without interrogating our own ideas or synthesizing AI insights into our own unique blend of knowledge.

With algorithmic bias leading AI models to produce results that revert toward the mean and obscure fringe opinions or minority perspectives, knowledge maturity is the key capability that can help us maintain more just, human, and regenerative leadership. As human-centered leaders, it’s incumbent upon us to help our employees (and ourselves!) to remain attuned to their own ideas, to listen to the diversity of ideas and knowledge that circulate around them, and to bring their own moral values to bear on the challenges they address.

Humanity is a winning strategy. AI systems are great at solving problems, but they don’t care about people or society. That’s where human-centered leadership comes in: only by leveraging and elevating our knowledge maturity can we learn to use AI in sustainable and compassionate ways that drive success for everyone — not narrowly or mechanistically, but with a broad understanding and deep sense of our shared human connections.

The key here is to remember that in an AI era, being human — which is to say, being compassionate, creative, insightful, and self-reflective — isn’t a hindrance. It’s only by leading with heart and soul, and helping our teams to bring their own human truths and moral compasses to the work they do, that we can truly use AI in effective and sustainable ways.

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