Innovative Leadership & Followership in the Age of AI

Welcome to the Innovative Leadership Newsletter, brought to you by the Innovative Leadership Institute, where we bring you thought leaders and innovative ideas on leadership topics each week.

This week, we share with you the forward written by Neil Sahota to the new book Innovative Leadership & Followership in the Age of AI.  Neil is an IBM Master Inventor and United Nations (UN) Artificial Intelligence (AI) Advisor. It is a companion piece to his interview on Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future titled Leading with an Eye on AI, which premiered on October 10, 2023. 

Link to the entire interview:

Listen to the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future via Apple PodcastsTuneIn, Spotify, Amazon Music, AudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One.

Meet Lynn, a Customer Service Representative at ACME Corporation. Lynn’s manager is Riley, an AI (artificial intelligence) bot. Riley listens to all of Lynn’s calls in real time and provides instantaneous guidance and performance feedback. Lynn is part of the next-generation workforce and appreciates Riley’s management style because Riley provides the deep engagement and constant interaction that Lynn craves to feel as a contributing member of the team. Now, meet Pat, the human manager of Riley and a team comprised of humans and AI bots. As a second-line manager, Pat has management and leadership responsibilities to the downline reports to direct their work and inspire them towards ACME corporate goals. It is not easy when people have a variety of motivators and AI bots, well, none save what they have been trained to do.

Sound like an exciting future?

Surprise, surprise, this is very much the present. Everything described already exists. And, yes, AI systems are directing human work…and yes, human managers are directing AI “employees.”

We live in a time of rapid change, with tools that can cause a massive impact (both positive and negative). As a result, traditional leadership styles are too slow and disengaging for the workforce. Moreover, with the increasing pressure to build innovative teams and intrapreneurial cultures, leaders face the dual challenge of honing their skills and teams without many proven models to rely upon. To make life even more complicated, today’s leadership is faced with learning to manage and lead in a post-COVID world that requires managers to assess performance and steward employee well-being. Furthermore, leaders are also expected to be JEDI champions: facilitators of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace.

This is why we need books like this one on Innovative Leadership. Historically, people were thrust into management and leadership roles based on their non-supervisory work performance. More rigorous leadership programs were developed as business advanced to help prepare people for this transition. However, change has outpaced the curriculum development. Today’s leaders must understand the ever-evolving workforce and new transformative technological tools like artificial intelligence. Like it or not, the demands of today’s employees expect you to be ready (and that includes those AI bots), and there’s not a lot of time or patience for leadership to adjust and be effective.

Thankfully, while you may not need to worry about AI employees in the very near future, we do have some powerful AI and other emerging technology tools to support us as we shift into Innovative Leadership. From a data perspective, 2 leaders and managers have many data points to assess work performance. In the case of Lynn, we have our traditional metrics of wait time, resolution time, the number of levels supported, and so forth. However, thanks to AI tools, we can also better assess customer satisfaction throughout the entire call, using the science of psychographics (psychology and personality assessment) and neurolinguistics (science of language and word choice). More importantly, AI can assess the real-time performance of Lynn (or any other employee) as they interact with the customer. Depending on how the call progresses, the AI will provide instantaneous feedback and coaching to the employee to maximize the opportunity of a beneficial outcome for the call. That’s a level most managers cannot do with a single employee, let alone an entire team. More importantly, the insight the AI provides into employee performance is the most important for a leader to gauge employee performance and maximize customer engagement.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for leadership regarding tooling. The ability for introspection and honest, constructive feedback for leaders is critical. Getting this input, though, is challenging. This is where AI presents another boon for leaders: the honest assessment of leadership skills. As we move forward, there isn’t a single prototypical leader. We have different archetypes (the nine types of leaders as you will read in this book) based upon the ten core skills (also shared in this book). AI tools help leaders fairly and accurately assess these capabilities. This is crucial to help us understand our strengths and weaknesses and which type of leader we are to maximize our strengths. As we understand what an innovative leader means, we also see how difficult it is to get honest feedback from our staff and colleagues. Artificial intelligence provides leadership with another trusted source of information (beyond employee performance) to help us become innovative leaders.

Moreover, as we look to the future of work, it’s not only enterprises wondering what the jobs and leaders of tomorrow must bring to the table. Government agencies are investing heavily to adjust their workforce development programs accordingly. Singapore has created the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) initiative and AI Apprenticeship Program (AIAP) to provide the existing and future workforce with hands-on experience for these jobs of tomorrow. Canada has adopted Canada’s AI Augmented Workforce for their future work plan. The State of California has adopted an AI roadmap. The core tenants require full integration of AI skill development in K-12 and higher education curricula and a mandate to integrate AI tools to provide public services, including labor management and workforce development. That’s why management and leadership must be the first to understand and adapt to these changes because they will be the ones to lead the upcoming transformation of work.

To start leading your human and machine workforce soon, you must master ten critical skills. This book will share how to do that and essential frameworks to factor in contextual understanding and situational analysis. In essence, this book will serve as your sherpa as you enter the new world of Innovative Leadership. AI will be your leadership concierge so that you can maximize your effectiveness and support your employees in realizing their peak performance.



Neil Sahota (萨冠军) is an IBM Master Inventor, United Nations (UN) Artificial Intelligence (AI) Advisor, author of the best-seller Own the AI Revolution, and a sought-after speaker. With 20+ years of business experience, he works to inspire clients and business partners to foster innovation and develop next-generation products/solutions powered by AI.



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Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future on your favorite podcast platform, including Apple PodcastsTuneInSpotify, Amazon Music, AudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One. Also, stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute on LinkedIn.

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