Organizations With Soul Need Leaders With Soul

In my last post, I argued that to succeed in the AI world, we need to build organizations with soul. Well, that’s true — but it will only be possible if we also develop leaders who bring their whole minds, hearts, and souls to work every day.

This might sound like strange advice for coping with a technological revolution. Not long ago, every parent wanted their kid to learn to code. Computers were the future—everyone knew that!—and coding was seen as the key to a futureproof job in the new information economy.

Things Change Fast in a VUCA World

With the rise of AI, coders (along with many other professions) could become obsolete — because, using new generative AI tools, it’s becoming possible to create even the most complex computer applications using plain English as a programming language.

To prepare ourselves, in other words, it isn’t enough to understand the technical aspects of AI. Instead, we need to build a deeper knowledge fluency that weaves together foundational technical knowledge and a deeper understanding of the operational, strategic, and moral implications of digital transformation.

That requires a holistic approach: not just technical know-how, and not just creativity, or communication, or teamwork, or even a commitment to positive impact.

Instead, we need to bring all these things together—and anchor them in the clear sense of our self, our mind and heart and soul, that springs from Knowledge Mindfulness.

Bridging Your Core Human Values

Leaders do need a basic understanding of how AI works, of course. But they also need a more systemic understanding of how data cycles into and out of the algorithms we now use.

Computer scientists use the term “garbage in, garbage out” to imagine programming as a linear process: add high-quality data, and you get high-quality outputs. In an AI world, though, things get more complicated. We’re not only seeing constant flows of information into and out of AI models, but also the synthesis and integration of all the information on the web.

As leaders, we need to work to expand the depth and breadth of our knowledge in order to understand and properly leverage our entire network of interactions. To achieve that, we need to leverage our knowledge maturity—the full range and depth of our understanding of both ourselves and the world around us—to recognize and use our own moral compass in dealing with AI tools.

That’s vital because AI algorithms are morally neutral and simply assimilate or synthesize text scraped from the internet to develop more intelligent answers to our questions.

That’s why it’s so easy for problems like algorithmic bias to creep in: an AI tool has no soul and no heart and can’t possibly know that it’s wrong to discriminate against certain classes of people or to make unethical suggestions.

It’s up to us, as leaders, to leverage our knowledge maturity by including diverse perspectives from different employees with different backgrounds—or to recognize the biased answers an AI tool is giving us.

Augmentation, not Automation

The reality is that AI tools can make our organizations incredibly efficient—and incredibly profitable, if we integrate them correctly. Achieving that, though, requires knowledge-mindful leadership to point these new technologies in the right direction and to ensure that people are using AI tools in the right ways and for the right purposes.

The goal is to use AI tools not to automate away human knowledge and judgment but rather to mindfully and selectively augment our capabilities—and to close the loop by bringing our own human values, creativity, and insight back into the mix to guide AI systems in positive directions.

As leaders, we need to help our employees take charge of using AI technologies responsibly and efficiently and empower them to level up their knowledge maturity to drive sustainable and progressive organizational success.

That means, in part, working to elevate our knowledge maturity as leaders—and inspiring our people to do the same so that they, too, can use their self-generated moral compass instead of externally imposed rules to govern their actions. It also means staying attuned to the pros and cons of new technologies and the consequences of our decisions and actions.

These are vital leadership capabilities in any context, of course. But they are especially important in the VUCA world of rapid AI innovation because so many far-reaching decisions are being made so quickly and with so little thought for the long-term consequences.

To lead in today’s fast-changing world and use AI tools to elevate rather than supplant our human intelligence and judgment, you need to lead with soul. That journey starts with working to elevate your knowledge mindfulness.

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