Have you ever reported to an unapproachable leader? Maybe it was a stern schoolteacher or perhaps the jumped-up supervisor of the fast-food joint you temped at as a student. Or, maybe it was a recent boss; someone who presided over your company from behind a firmly closed door.
Whatever your experience, the feelings of not being appreciated, unease or even outright fear that can accompany life under hostile management are common to many of us. Unapproachable leaders don’t have to be in-your-face aggressive or unfriendly. Many simply distance themselves from their employees by displaying a lack of interest in their development, their performance — or even their names.
Some leaders get away with it because they deliver results, but I can’t help but wonder how much better companies might perform if their leader were a little more, well, human.
Fortunately, I won’t have to wait long for the answer and that’s because, as we speak, artificial intelligence is helping business leaders to hone their human sides. While the world continues to obsess over the idea of robots rendering flesh-and-blood employees jobless, AI and machine learning are arming leaders with vital tools that are fundamentally changing the way they manage their people.
As with so many AI technologies, it all begins with big data. By applying algorithms, AI can identify patterns as well as anomalies in vast pools of data, which leaders can then act upon to better understand and develop their teams. Then there is decision-making.
Not only can AI generate invaluable insights from company data, it can make recommendations based on experience. For example, it can identify what decisions and approaches have worked well in similar scenarios in the past and suggest courses of action for leaders to follow.
AI can get a pulse of future actions
But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to identifying past and present trends, AI and machine learning have powers of prediction too. Predictive AI “learns” and continually adapts, keeping leaders one step ahead when it comes to driving improvements and pre-empting situations. For instance, by analysing workforce data, predictive AI can flag up employees who display signs of discontent.
Based on such alerts, leaders can then take pre-emptive action to keep valuable people on-board.
Maybe a lunch invitation, a pep talk or a simple “Thank You” are all it takes to engage a demotivated employee. But how many leaders make these small, human gestures a priority, or even factor them into their working week?
In fact, as managers focus on their own growth and the company’s bottom-line, how many can honestly say that they take the time to listen to their employees and take an active interest in their concerns?
With prompts from AI, we can all make sure that these actions become an integral part of the way we work.
The need for such prompts doesn’t mean that leaders don’t care, but the fact is, the typical working day simply doesn’t afford over-stretched managers the time to sit down with every worker to understand their needs and ambitions. Fortunately, however, other AI advancements are now helping leaders to hear their employees loud and clear.
In recent years, natural language processing (NLP) has advanced significantly, to the point that it can identify emotion as well as speak your language. In other words, if deployed correctly — perhaps through a companywide survey — it can give leaders a rapid snapshot of how their employees feel, not just what they have to say, achieving in just hours what it would take months to accomplish face-to-face.
NPL and other tools such as chatbots that engage in dialogue with users, can identify who needs positive feedback and who requires additional support and training. They can even provide the insight that leaders need to prepare detailed agendas for one-to-one meetings with team members.
They may not seem like mission-critical priorities, but these human-led activities make all the difference to team morale and, ultimately, business performance.
If you want to be the best leader you can be, let AI show you how to be human.
— Tommy Weir is the CEO of EMLC Leadership Ai Lab and author of ‘Leadership Dubai Style’. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.