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I’m a tech guy, but I’ve been watching the news around artificial intelligence with trepidation. Microsoft’s Bing has threatened Google’s supremacy and in response, the behemoth is racing to push out an AI-infused search engine — whether humans are ready to culturally absorb the technology or not.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak added their names to an open letter with more than a thousand signatories urging companies to pause their AI implementation until safety protocols are established.
It’s clear we’re in an arms race for AI-assisted technology, and like many, I fear we aren’t ready. Professionals of all stripes — from the C-Suite to developers — are exploring ChatGPT to code and communicate more efficiently. I haven’t been in a situation yet where I’ve found myself guessing if I’m speaking to a human or a machine, but I don’t think that moment is far off.
Some CEOs are already treating AI like a member of their executive team. After a particularly callous layoff email from the CEO of the cloud computing company, PagerDuty, went viral, ChatGPT produced a close imitation, raising concerns about how leaders might use the technology.
While AI can be a helpful tool for assistive workplace tasks, it’s no replacement for humanity. In fact, as we enter this new era of tech, human leadership has never been more important. Here’s why it’s a mistake to outsource your leadership to technology.
Related: The Perfect Blend: How to Successfully Combine AI and Human Approaches to Business
The CEO’s role in the age of AI
With AI trending, I’ve been reflecting on my role as a CEO. The truth is my team doesn’t need me to model how to do their jobs or micromanage the projects they are driving. Not only are my employees smarter than me in their chosen professions, but I trust their judgment on where AI assistive tools can help them find efficiencies.
The role work plays in our lives has evolved. A recent report showed 70% of workers say work defines their sense of purpose. With so much riding on the workplace experience, leaders have a responsibility to step up and ensure their teams feel connected and have an opportunity to contribute to something meaningful.
As leaders, more than ever, our role is to provide a greater sense of purpose and motivation. It’s our job to get our people jazzed up about the mission and committed to working together to achieve common goals. To do this requires a high level of emotional intelligence and human relatability — traits even the most advanced robots can’t replicate.
Computers are good at a lot of things, but connection is still a uniquely human skill — and it’s incredibly valuable. So, the next time you find yourself asking if ChatGPT could say it better, remember the most important part of your job is to make people care and no computer can do that better than you can.
Flexing our connectivity muscles
When was the last time you memorized a phone number? It’s probably been awhile. For all its benefits, technology can also make us dependent — one study found nearly 1 in 5 Americans can’t even remember their own number.
Since smartphones took over the task of keeping our friends and family on speed dial, we’ve stopped using the part of our brain that kept those number sequences sharp. Skills are like muscles, if you stop exercising them they get weak and decline.
In an asynchronous work environment, communication could be just another thing we outsource to AI, but I’d caution against it. If we start relying on AI to handle human interactions in the workplace, it’s no exaggeration to say we could lose the very trait that differentiates us from machines: empathy.
In leadership positions, it’s necessary to deliver both good and bad news. As tempting as it might be to avoid the discomfort of speaking face-to-face or typing out a heart-felt email communicating some tough truths, it’s essential that you do.
They may be difficult, but hard times are often our best opportunities to grow as leaders. If addressed correctly, they improve your ability to relate and empathize with your team. In addition, employees appreciate authenticity. Business leaders who show their feelings and own their mistakes are seen as more trustworthy and competent. In addition, vulnerability in leadership actually increases productivity and motivation.
Think about what humanity has accomplished in our time on this planet: hunting and gathering, inventing the wheel, conceiving of the internet and much more. We’ve only reached this point because we have learned to cooperate meaningfully with each other. Don’t short-circuit your ability to connect with your team, it’s the most important opportunity you’ve got.
The risk of outsourcing your heart to AI
There are other risks to over-relying on AI as a leader. By outsourcing your communication, you run the risk of being perceived as disingenuous and can break the trust you’ve built with your team. Those cracks can create disillusionment.
A 2022 survey found 1 in 3 employees said they felt disconnected from their company’s leadership. Feeling disconnected has real impacts on workers. It puts them at a higher risk of burnout, hurts the quality of their work and makes them six times more likely to leave the company sooner. When we whittle down the work experience to productivity and paychecks, we sacrifice the things that foster connection. Community, creativity and purpose — these concepts may be abstract, but they’re foundational to thriving workplaces.
Put the time in. If you’re in a hybrid or remote workplace, make an effort to get the whole team together whenever possible. When we foster shared team experiences we build stronger and more effective teams. There are good use cases for AI tools — putting together lists, assisting with boilerplate code or getting your brainstorming juices flowing — these tasks can create necessary efficiencies.
But as we navigate the age of AI and what it means for who and how we trust, there is no substitute for a leader who is committed to connecting with their team on a deeply human level.