Artificial Intelligence and the Leader of the Future


It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change in the world of AI. ChatGPT, the popular chatbot from OpenAI, is estimated to have reached 100 million monthly active users just two months after its launch. The implications for businesses, society, and leadership are constantly evolving. This was explored in detail at the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC) conference in London, where we heard from some of the foremost authorities on AI and leadership. In this blog, we aim to help you navigate this evolving frontier. 

What is AI good at? 

Generative AI excels in creating new content, such as text, images, and music, by learning from data and using probabilities, it’s able to synthesize original material that is often indistinguishable from human-generated work. Louise Herring, Partner at McKinsey’s QuantumBlack summarizes Generative AI’s capabilities in their four C’s model: 

  • Concision: AI excels in distilling insights from extensive data sets, effectively answering the “so what” questions. This capability enables businesses to leverage data more efficiently and accurately. 
  • Creative Content: AI aids in the creative process, offering substantial assistance in drafting initial versions of diverse media, including text, images, and music. This amplifies human creativity and innovation. 
  • Coding & Software: AI ‘Copilots’ significantly boost productivity. Expert coders may see enhancements of 50-80%, those with less experience might experience a negative impact, indicating a varied impact based on skill level. 
  • Customer Engagement: AI-powered chatbots engage customers instantly using natural language, enhancing customer service. Additionally, generative AI facilitates product searches, moving beyond traditional filter-based selection methods. 

Skills and Leaders in the AI Era? 

As we enter the era of generative AI, what skills and approaches are most suitable? Herring argues that future leaders need to adopt a thoughtful and learning mindset. While technical backgrounds may become more important, she believes that asking the right questions, creative thinking, and a willingness to experiment are more crucial. 

This is not just for CEOs; all senior executives need a strong understanding of these trends. Operational leaders should be asking the right questions and exploring AI applicability, unblocking change, enabling cultural shifts, and providing role modelling. 

Rahaf Harfoush, a digital anthropologist believes that AI will be especially influential in certain functional areas. CMOs and CFOs, for instance, will need to develop plans for integrating these changes. We may also see new roles emerge, such as Chief AI Officer and Chief AI Ethics Officer. 

What to watch out for? 

Despite AI’s rapidly improving capabilities, it remains a nascent technology with several major issues to consider. AI models can suffer from “hallucinations“, where the AI generates convincing yet incorrect content. This requires careful inspection and checks and balances to identify errors.  

Harfoush highlighted the critical issue of bias. Large language models, trained on billions of historical data points, can carry inherent biases, necessitating scrutiny and mitigation by governments and companies. 

Barry O’Sullivan, Professor of Computing at UCD, pointed out the forthcoming EU regulations, noting that certain AI applications will be graded on a risk score. Any AI use in HR will automatically be classified as high risk. In the USA, a new executive order requires that AI models are shared with the US Government and there will be new standards set to ensure safety and security. One thing is certain, there will be more regulation to come, and this will demand extra diligence from leaders in implementing AI in specific areas and jurisdictions. 

The value of human expertise in executive search 

In the field of executive search, AI offers valuable support but cannot supplant the nuanced expertise of human consultants. Key aspects of executive recruitment, such as understanding company culture and leadership fit, demand a subjective grasp of organisational goals, often beyond AI’s scope. 

Trust and relationships, central to executive search, hinge on personal interactions and deep comprehension of clients’ unique needs, areas where AI presently falls short. Crucially, the subtle nuances of human behaviour, emotional intelligence, and intuition, essential in selecting the ideal executive, remain largely unattainable by AI.  

While AI streamlines tasks like research and candidate identification, the core value of executive search lies in human judgment, crucial in differentiating potential candidates and ensuring the best possible fit for the client.  

At Kincannon & Reed, we view the role of AI in executive search as fundamentally supportive, complementing and enhancing specific aspects of the process while depending on the irreplaceable insights and judgement of human experts.  

We acknowledge that AI will drive significant automation and disruption in various labor markets. However, there was a unanimous consensus among conference speakers that AI’s true impact lies in its ability to amplify the value of genuine, profound expertise. This perspective aligns with our commitment to harnessing technology as a tool that works in concert with, rather than in place of, the deep industry experience and discerning judgement of our seasoned professionals. 

Thriving in a World of Change 

Former table tennis international and celebrated author, Matthew Syed, echoes the call for a learning mentality. Through extensive research and conversations with leading business figures, he makes a compelling case that success in today’s ever-changing world lies in developing a growth mindset. Leaders like Satya Nadella at Microsoft demonstrate the rare skill of being open to diverse ideas, then decisively galvanising their teams around a chosen direction. 

In conclusion, AI technology will profoundly and genuinely impact many industries, functions, and operating models. However, predicting the future is always uncertain, so the best preparation for these inevitable disruptions is for leaders to embrace their discomfort with uncertainty. 

The quote by sociologist Eric Hoffer is apt and worth remembering: “In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.” 

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