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What Skills and Values Do Leaders Need in an AI-Driven World?

Discussions on leadership often cover one of two topics: values or skills. Values provide the foundations for why and how we lead, while the skills equip us to execute leadership effectively.

Both are important, of course, but if you can only focus on one — for yourself or when hiring people — then I would sacrifice the skills and go with the values. If your skills are great and your values stink, your leadership will likely resemble that of a highly successful bank robber. On the other hand, if you have solid values and lack the skills of an effective leader, you can work from that base while improving your skills.

Thankfully, this isn’t an either/or dilemma. There’s no reason you can’t have (and hire) both.

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While much of my writing focuses on values, particularly what I call the 3H-Core (honesty, humility, and heart), an interview earlier this year with Google executives got me thinking about the leadership skills of the future.

The 60 Minutes story in April was all about artificial intelligence and automation, and part of the discussion was about their impact on jobs — you know, the raging debate about whether technology is going to put everyone out of work.

Google Senior Vice President James Manyika, whose job includes thinking about how AI and people can co-exist, acknowledged that some occupations will decline because of technology and new job categories will emerge. But the biggest shift, he said, involves how existing jobs will change.

“Something like more than two-thirds will have their definitions changed,” Manyika said. “Not go away, but change. Because they’re now being assisted by AI and automation. So this is a profound change which has implications for skills.”

There are two categories of skills: Technical and personal.

The ability to rope a cow (or write code for a computer) is a technical skill. It’s something you learn and can improve with time. Technical skills, unlike values, change based on the needs of the marketplace. Few people today need skills with a lariat, but they were pretty important 150 years ago, especially if you were in the cattle business.

In many cases, technical skills are enhanced by God-given talent. If you are naturally gifted with good hand-eye coordination, your odds of being good with a rope improve. If you are naturally gifted in math, you have advantages in computer science, data analytics, or finance.

Personal skills are more dependent on our willingness to commit to their development. And if we develop the right personal skills, we find ourselves with an advantage in developing technical skills.

So, what personal skills do leaders need in an AI-driven world?

Manyika mentioned the skills needed to “learn to work alongside machines,” but I’m not sure what those would be. While machines are becoming more and more like humans, they still aren’t human and never will be. They are tools we can use, so we need skills that help us use them appropriately and effectively.

Unfortunately, AI isn’t a simple tool like a lariat, and it will be difficult to master a tool when even those who are creating it worry about what it really is, what it can really do, and how we can ensure it is used for good.

That’s why I think some of the most important skills have more to do with how leaders approach AI than how they work with AI.

For instance, personal skills like adaptability and grit are essential. Leaders need to pivot quickly and wisely as the world around them changes, and they need to persevere when times are chaotic, cloudy, and filled with unpredictable barriers.

I also think leaders need the skill of discernment, because the temptation, especially over time, will be to trust AI in an unquestioning way. There will likely be times when leaders need to — pardon the pun — rage against the machine.

Interestingly, and importantly, to master these personal skills, leaders need to lean heavily into their values, because foundational values like honesty, humility, and heart are more important than ever in an AI world.


  1. Greg Scott

    “While machines are becoming more and more like humans, they still aren’t human and never will be.”

    This line haunts me Walt, because although they may not be “human”, the 60 Minutes report showed that they will make up information like the list of books. That is NOT a good trait! They can make up videos of us saying/doing things that we did not do. Because of it’s infinite wisdom (it has supposedly read everything on the Internet), could it not “learn” to lie? Could it not learn to manipulate people through what information it gives us? Not quality traits.

    My faith says to me that God has created humans for a purpose – to love God and to be in relationship with all His creatures. I am not sure how this fits into that. I am open to the concept, but don’t see it in front of me for sure.

    Reply to Greg Scott

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