The World Economic Forum predicts that machines will outnumber humans in the workforce by 2025, and an Oxford University study concludes that artificial intelligence (AI) will replace almost half of white-collar jobs in the United States.
When I read emerging trends like this, I can’t help but stand firmly in my belief that there will always be room for the human connection. Sure, technological advances have forever changed how people work and communicate. You need only visit a coffee shop or someone’s home office to witness the whirring of tech devices that streamline our productivity and capture cloud-based work.
In the late ’90s, we thought the experience economy would change the face of business overnight, but it took another twenty years before we saw claims like “The experience economy is booming.” In the early 2000s, technology analyst and visionary Jerry Michalski coined the term “the relationship economy,” which had far greater implications for the future. Michalski’s original intent behind the term was to acknowledge that smart companies were building authentic relationships with their customers and no longer treating them as merely consumers.
Never miss a post about leadership, transparency, and trust by signing up for my weekly mailing list, delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.
Today this term has experienced a comeback, emphasizing our imperative to connect and engage face-to-face in the marketplace—especially in light of our growing dependence on technology. Business author John DiJulius argues that relationship-centric organizations stand to gain a competitive advantage in a technology-based world if they commit to practices such as being authentic, obsessively curious, a great listener, and incredibly empathic.
The reality is that the relationship economy should be viewed as a call to action and a reminder for what will always be a classic leadership value—relating well with people. During the Great Recession, I leaned into connecting with my employees through transformative influence, or what I call transfluence. More recently, we’ve observed many leaders making the same commitment to leadership fundamentals during the pandemic, and I’m sure the same will hold true as the business landscape changes with artificial intelligence.
No matter the economy or trend, relational skills will always have a place. In fact, Gallup research reveals that rising and seasoned leaders alike should have seven competencies. All but one relate to collaboratively working with others:
- Build relationships.
- Develop people.
- Lead change.
- Inspire others.
- Think critically.
- Communicate clearly.
- Create accountability.
Leadership cannot exist in isolation from a group of individuals who need to be led. Nor can this group be left untended, uncoached, or untaught. Leaders share their vision; they inspire followers to move forward and think collaboratively by illustrating a collective purpose. New trends or zeitgeists will come and go, but leaders who tap into their abilities to connect with employees on a human level will be better equipped to create resilient cultures that stand the test of time—and trends.