By Randall P. White

Image: AI, Adobe Stock

The robots are coming in 60 months.

Yes, I always expect bold insights like this from advanced students of leadership at the TRIUM alumni gatherings. In Cartagena last summer, a very prominent tech executive shared with the group this prediction: In about five years, human workers will share teams with AI entities. Not just humans demanding instant data, but socially facilitated interactions on an equal basis as peers.

My human leadership development mind switched on. Psychology colleagues, surprisingly, rolled their eyes when I brought it up in an online forum. But I’m still leaning in toward my tech colleague’s forecast for AI/human team development. It’s necessary and fascinating.

Gene Roddenberry gave my younger imagination the vocabulary and images to begin to understand today’s potential of artificial intelligence. From the original Star Trek television series 50 years ago – in which half-Vulcan, half-human Spock had mastered pure intellect – to its present-day sci-fi franchise, spin-offs and imitators, the people-and-machine collaboration central to many episodes still helps us ponder the balance between machine data and emotion in human progress. Is one superior or are they meant to work together?

And in such classic science fiction there were seldom definitive binary conclusions.

Today, when I think about artificial intelligence as it relates to our human leadership process, it’s as ambiguous as it gets, . Still, we can extrapolate AI potential.

It’s time to imagine how this will change the work of leadership development professionals – consulting psychologists, coaches, and teachers – to advance the human process of coaching, giving, and receiving feedback in the mission to learn, grow and change in an AI/human context.

Our employees need to constantly adapt and upgrade their skills to work alongside AI, especially in understanding how to leverage AI effectively for maximum impact. This has instilled a culture of continuous learning and adaptability in our diverse, multi-cultural team that operates in a global perspective.

Matthew Montez, Founder, MBC Group

AI appears to benefit human performance

I started by imagining an enterprise with a team of six assigned to ongoing tasks consisting of four humans and two AI entities. So, the Executive Development Group team reached out through a journalist query platform to find organizations where AI bots are sharing conference rooms with workplace teams.

Interestingly, we did not hear from offices where robots and humans meet in the office break room to rehash their weekends before convening joint strategy meetings. Or maybe people just aren’t ready to talk about it.

Instead, most of what people are telling us is the ways in which AI is still subordinate in service of humans. And, with some success reported in augmenting and amplifying the human insights and innovations.

Okay, that’s still pretty cool.

Geoff Cudd, founder of Don’t Do It Yourself, is integrating AI tools with a team of 15 human employees. Cudd described the AI-human team dynamic as “fascinating and constantly evolving.”

“AI brings efficiency and data-driven insights, but it also requires us to adapt our leadership style,” wrote Cudd. “We focus more on emotional intelligence and creative problem-solving, skills where humans really shine.”

Kiki Qi is manager of Hongyu, a fashion manufacturer supporting start-ups and independent designers. The company is leveraging AI to study human trends in apparel.

“In our ‘FusionLine’ project, we have developed the AI systems to analyze and synthesize trends from a broad spectrum of fashion data,” wrote Qi. “It will help our designer to generalize a series of initial design ideas. While often, we spend months analyzing them, we only need to spare two weeks handling this. Thereafter, these concepts are used as foundations. The designers then will craft out and finalize each design with their creative knowledge to develop a revolutionary collection that would look innovative and relevant to the current going-on trend.”

Qi sees management now creating a symbiotic relationship, “where the analytical prowess of AI composes and elevates human creativity and intuition.”

Matthew Montez, the founder of MBC Group, is in the process of transitioning to AI-Driven Marketing Solutions.

“As a part of this transition, we have been utilizing AiDen, our intelligent AI chatbot, to redefine customer interactions and engagement across digital platforms,” wrote Montez. “Our employees need to constantly adapt and upgrade their skills to work alongside AI, especially in understanding how to leverage AI effectively for maximum impact. This has instilled a culture of continuous learning and adaptability in our diverse, multi-cultural team that operates in a global perspective.”

Dominic Zijlstra, a serial entrepreneur, has founded the edtech startup Traverse and the AI SEO company Adaptify where he’s seeing how AI helps create a “continuous learning culture.”

I love a continuous learning culture.

“Our teams have to stay abreast of emerging trends in AI as well as understand the strengths and limitations of AI tools when blended with a human team,” wrote Zijlstra.

“I also think it’s valuable to note that the presence of AI in the team has transformed our team’s roles from just creation to more editing and strategizing.”

Right now, it appears that there’s a pattern in these current scenarios. It’s not yet machines replacing humans, but rather AI is becoming a force that allows humans to do more with their talents at a higher level and, perhaps, there’s a boost to learning culture within their organizations.

Entrepreneurial leaders sound excited by the possibilities. Talent management professionals are also enthused as they consider the impact on learning, development, and succession.

Geoff Cudd

Kiki Qi

Matthew Montez

Dominic Zijlstra

What questions should we be asking?

While we learn to talk to AI ­– remember, we must teach AI for it to give us better answers – how might this affect our human-to-human conversation? Could it improve our effectiveness because we finally learn how to be more precise?

Are robots potential coaching clients? Is there a role for coaches in teaching chat bots how to anticipate human needs and maybe “read between the lines” and intuit what a person might be trying to get at with their queries?

Will coaches be called into service to make machines more human? It sounds like you can prompt a bot to read the room and ask, “I’m not hearing much, is everyone having a good day?” Or tell a joke to break the ice.

How can coaches help leaders to both engage with AI themselves and to bring AI into a coaching client’s action plan? Maybe a bot can prompt its human to address their action plan deliverables in a timely manner.

Do leaders now need to “earn an AI merit badge” to lead effectively? Do we all need to go back to school, or at least earn auto didactical certification on the subject?

In a recent McKinsey report of what AI related roles companies are hiring for, it’s all tech jobs. But In teaching AI to work better with teams, it may be more about abstract human ambiguities in the process. Thus, is there a new role for liberal arts majors in making AI better? Can a psychology degree help you prepare an AI system to work with your human team, once the coding is done?

We all need to be learning

Whether AI brings us cyborg coworkers who beat us in three-dimensional chess like Spock, or just a more empathetic Super Siri, right now our work appears to be very humanistic:

  • How to prepare people for the uncertainty of AI, be it job replacement or job enhancement.
  • How to play a role in making AI more effective with people in an ethical way.
  • How to harness all the freed up higher level of human functioning that comes from having so much AI support.

And more.

In a few months, this may all sound quaint. But right now, any learning leader adept at uncertainty, should be getting excited by the AI potential of taking us from high performing to higher performing in our work.