Newswise — How can AI ascend to leadership? The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the vital role of digital technologies in effective leadership. Platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and other similar tools enabled seamless communication with employees, proving their significance in the workplace.

Given their competitive advantages, digital solutions have become a cornerstone in leadership, offering speed, cost-efficiency, and convenience. Looking ahead, leadership is inevitably progressing towards full digitalization. The next logical step involves AI-supported leadership, where artificial intelligence aids human managers in tasks like strategic decision-making and analyzing employee behavior.

Looking further into the future, the next phase appears to be AI-driven leadership, where AI surpasses the role of mere support and substitutes human leadership altogether. This transformation will mark a significant shift in how organizations are led and managed.

Forget any romantic notions you may have about leadership

"Stop!" some of you may exclaim. "True leadership requires real human presence! How can AI possibly motivate employees or inspire enthusiasm for the company's objectives?" We understand your skepticism, but it's essential to set aside romanticized notions about leadership. AI has the potential to outperform even today's average leaders. Clinging to idealistic views will leave us unprepared when the realities of AI's capabilities become evident. Embracing the potential of AI in leadership will open new possibilities for organizational growth and success.

How AI can be the better leader

What makes AI an acceptable future leader? The AI leader of tomorrow will not merely be a basic chat program. Instead, it will reside within your devices, equipped with natural speech functionality, much like Siri and Alexa today. This AI leader might even manifest itself as a human-like avatar visible through VR goggles, enhancing its relatability.

The effectiveness of AI as a true leader hinges on its understanding of employees' three fundamental psychological needs: belonging, mastery, and autonomy. Exceptional leaders excel at addressing these needs, and AI's capability to comprehend and consider these aspects could be a significant advantage. Many human leaders often struggle with stress, overwork, inattentiveness, inadvertent unfairness, or a lack of empathy. In contrast, future AI leaders, equipped to record and assimilate essential details, could excel in addressing these challenges.

Presently, we already witness harmonious interactions between humans and machines, such as in online therapy. Surprisingly, many individuals find it easier to open up to a computer, and some programs simulate human-like communication with remarkable sophistication. It is reasonable to contemplate that the same principle applies to the realm of leadership, where AI's potential to connect and empathize with employees may transcend the limitations of traditional leadership.

Don’t let your worry get in the way of constructive co-creation

Undoubtedly, the mere idea of AI assuming leadership roles can trigger fear and uncertainty. However, instead of succumbing to fear, it is crucial to engage in an open dialogue about this concept and explore its potential benefits. What does this advancement mean for leadership, and how will it reshape the roles individuals will need to take on in the future? Furthermore, we must consider the necessary changes in leadership research and education to address the ethical aspects of human-machine interactions.

In the future, human leaders will still be relevant, but they will require a comprehensive understanding of both human psychology and AI capabilities. Their primary responsibility will involve leading computers that, in turn, will lead humans. This entails making critical decisions about the rules and guidelines that machines will abide by. It is imperative to have these discussions now to shape the future, preventing scenarios where machines autonomously establish their own rules without human oversight. Embracing this dialogue will pave the way for a balanced and ethical interaction between humans and AI in leadership settings.

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Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies