Four Leadership Traits that Can’t be Replaced by Artificial Intelligence

Published 1 November 2018

Leaders are more important than ever. Here’s why some of their responsibilities cannot be replaced by technology.

In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, author Yuval Noah Harari shares fascinating information about how homo sapiens came to be. He explains that humans (homo sapiens) rose to the top of the food chain because of mastery of two skills that no other animal possessed: fire and communication.

Harari shares that without the discovery of wielding fire and communicating with one another, it’s likely that homo sapiens would still be hunted today by other animals.

Why does this matter?

Because for the entirety of our existence, our livelihood has depended on acquiring necessary skills. Even though AI (artificial intelligence) does not have a spot in the animal kingdom and is not hunting us, many people are still unsure of how far technology’s reach will be.

We know that the cycle of change gets faster and faster, that industrial revolutions and major technological advances are coming quicker. The first industrial revolution took place in the late 1800s when machines were used to make textiles, the second in the early 1900s when the assembly line was introduced, and the third in the mid-1990s with the popularisation of the internet.

In an article for the World Economic Forum (WEF), Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of WEF, suggests that “a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” This is why human and humane leaders are needed now more than ever– because we are living in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, with fast-changing technology that shapes and interacts with our lives.

Here are the four leadership responsibilities that AI can’t replace:

Reassuring communication can’t be replaced by AI

Employees look to leaders for reassurance in good and bad times. They look to someone who understands and truly knows what the human condition is. In an article with Time, Jana Eggers, CEO of artificial intelligence company Nara Logics explains that “computers have no concept of the meaning the way a human does. Even if the computer can determine an emotion, it does not understand what experiencing an emotion means.”

So even though we may turn to machines for data and information, we will look to humans for interpretation and emotion.

The human touch can’t be replaced by AI

Surface-level inquiry such as basic questions or automated checkout are fine by most people, but when something goes wrong, customers want to speak to another human being. In a Forbes article, “Will AI Replace Humans in the Customer Service Industry?”, the example of interacting with an airline is given. Author Tiago Piava writes that AI can be used for a quick yes or no, where an objective response is expected. He shares the example of AI searching for unassigned seats on an airplane. However, the personal touch is best for times that require unique (not yes or no) responses to problem-solving. Piava shares the example of a customer who has lost his or her luggage. They want to speak to a human who can solve the problem, not hear from a machine.

While this is a customer-service example, it shows the nuances of when people need to see or speak to a human. The same goes for employees; nowadays companies like OCBC have a chatbot that can answer employee questions with personalised information. However, if there is a serious HR issue, that information should not be shared via AI.

Establishing rapport can’t be replaced by AI

In an article for Forbes, author Blake Morgan shares 10 things robots can’t do better than humans. Her list includes making a person feel seen or heard, make them feel taken care of, establish trust, and feel empathy.

These all have something in common: they are actions used to establish rapport with another human being. It is an essential trait for leaders, and they need to be able to build rapport with colleagues, business partners, and stakeholders.

Creativity can’t be replaced by AI

In an article for Fast Company, “5 Traits of Creative Leaders (And How to Become One)” author Erik Wahl explains that one thing that creative leaders do is listen to their intuition. They also do more than just what’s expected of them. Wahl writes, “Most of us have problems balancing logic with intuition. But the truth is that those faculties aren’t opposed to one another. In fact, you need to figure out how to get them working together if you’re to become a truly creative leader. Intellect without intuition makes for a smart person without impact.” While machines are inherently logical, it is yet to be seen whether they can be taught ‘intuition.’ Another question that is raised is does society want creative robots? Or is it better to leave creativity, and therefore innovation, to human workers and leaders?

Creativity is important because it pushes the needle – and what we think is possible in business.

In business, the human touch will matter. While it is likely that technology will evolve to be more human-like and adaptable, we will still need leaders who can be creative, establish rapport, and communicate clearly. These are skills that AI can’t master as humans have.

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