Bashir Agboola is the Chief Technology Officer and Vice President at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), the global leader in musculoskeletal care. Bashir has an extensive leadership and technology management background, ranging from IT Systems Integration, Consulting, and Healthcare IT. He has spent the last several years of his career serving in various capacities at top-tier academic medical institutions. Bashir is a respected thought leader on various technology and leadership matters and writes and speaks frequently for industry publications and events. He is a multiple award-winning executive, including the winner of the HMG Strategy Global Leadership Institute award for 2021, the Tech Inclusion Conference 2021 Top 100 CIO/CTO award, and the HMG Strategy 2020 Technology Executives Who Matter award. Bashir is a member of the board of Directors of the Center for Family Support and also serves on a number of industry advisory boards. He holds a number of professional certifications, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science with Economics, a Master’s Degree in Computer Science, and an MBA degree with a concentration in Finance.
The role of effective leadership in the success or otherwise of organizations is well documented and effective leadership is one of the most written about topics in business literature. Throughout history, we learn how effective leadership propelled lagging organizations to greatness, and how its absence helped erstwhile successful enterprises slide into decline. Certain qualities are recognized as essential to leadership effectiveness and they have been proven to be so for millennia. They are important in leading today’s organizations as they were a thousand years ago – qualities such as integrity, empathy, resilience, emotional intelligence, trust, adaptability, and strategic foresight, along with influence and persuasion, personal communications, and negotiation skills, amongst others. These are tried and tested qualities and skills that have helped leaders achieve success in leading their organizations (empires, nations, business enterprises, clans, families, teams, etc.) and achieving and sustaining the outcomes that their organizations need or aspire to.
Some leadership skills and qualities assume heightened importance depending on the context in which a leader functions. Leading an organization through an economic downturn, negative market performance, or even a period of military conflict requires a leader to lean more on certain qualities than leading the same organization during a period of ease, growth, and expansion.
Hence, leading an organization through a period of momentous technological change (such as we are beginning to witness with AI) requires a leader to exercise more of those leadership skills necessary to lead an organization through rapid business evolution, fierce and growing competition, and uncertainty in the business and regulatory landscape. The rest of this article will focus on three of those leadership skills that I believe are particularly critical to effectively leading during the AI-enabled transformations that many industries (and society at large) are about to witness. McKinsey predicts that 70% of companies may adopt some form of AI by 2030 and that by that same year, about $13 trillion of economic value will be created as a result of AI. Leaders need to be prepared to adapt to the requirements of leading through this transformation. These three skills are Creative Strategic Thinking, Accelerated and Continuous Learning, and Ethical Leadership. We will briefly explore each one below.
Creative Strategic Thinking
A key quality of effective leadership is the ability of the leader to use strategic foresight in solving problems and charting a path toward effectively achieving the group’s objectives. This is an important quality in a period where AI has the demonstrated potential to fundamentally change many established business models, collapse existing business sectors, and create new value-generating opportunities. Leading through such rapid and potentially consequential change requires a leader to hone their practice of strategic foresight in leading their organizations to evolve, adapt, and thrive in the new AI-shaped business landscape.
There are many well-documented approaches to developing business strategy. One approach that seems well-suited to the highly competitive and rapidly evolving world of AI is to approach strategy creation as a creative exercise, using a framework such as described by Adam Brandenburger and others in their work on creativity as a source of strategy. The framework proposes using the 4 Cs of creativity (Contrast, Combine, Constraint, and Context) in a strategy-making exercise. Leaders can leverage this framework to come up with an “AI-adapted” strategy as they plan for the impact of AI on their business/industry (and even their own professional effectiveness). They can explore taking actions that contrast with what is normally done in that line of business, combine (or decouple) products and services in new or untraditional ways, turn what is seen as a constraint on their business into an advantage, and or change the context in which their business is performed.
An interesting example of creative strategy-making at work is the response of the Stock Content company, Shutterstock, to what appears to be an existential threat posed to its business model by Generative AI. The company has embraced Generative AI and adapted its business model accordingly. It recently expanded its partnership with OpenAI and will receive “Priority Access” to the latter‘s latest technology, while in return OpenAI licensed data from Shutterstock to train its models. Shutterstock has adapted its content creators’ compensation structure to reward artists for the role their work played in training its Gen AI tech. It also offers an Image Creator tool, powered by Open AI’s DALL-E 2, and has established other AI-related partnerships with a number of other companies. In contrast, Getty Images is involved in a legal dispute with Stability AI (Stable Diffusion owner) over the latter’s alleged unlawful use of millions of Getty Images.
Continuous and Accelerated Learning
The rapid rate of change in many business sectors and the widening (often on a global scale) of competition requires that leaders and professionals be able to learn about changes and advancements not only in their area of core competence but also in a variety of related topics as well. The need for this is heightened in the age of generative AI. Leaders must learn to learn continuously and fast. On one hand, the information tsunami that the world is facing will be fueled in part by the power of generative AI, but at the same time, that same technology provides a powerful aid in learning quickly and continuously. Failure in this respect will be a source of likely disruption for many businesses and careers. While AI might not take away a leader’s job or cause their business to lose its ascendancy, it is likely that their disruption will come from people who have figured out how to leverage AI for competitive learning advantage and thus are better informed and able to perform at an optimal level.
Leading with Ethics
Ethical usage is one of the most highlighted challenges of AI. The concern is how to ensure the ethical application of AI in the absence of clear regulatory guardrails (and sometimes lack of clarity about how the AI does what it does), ensuring that this powerful technology is used only in ways that benefit humanity and does not exacerbate or create societal ills (such as all manners of biases). Leaders will sometimes face moral dilemmas in the course of exploring ethically dubious but economically valuable use cases while facing competition that might not share their moral qualms. To lead effectively in this new age, leaders must be ethically grounded and should tether to their individual and corporate values. Keeping their values at the forefront of AI (and indeed general business effort) is key to running an ethically sound program.
The core principles of leadership remain the same throughout the ages but leading in an age of AI requires more focus on certain aspects of leadership. A leader must be purposeful in practicing strategic foresight and can tap into the power of creativity in their strategy-making effort. The rate of change and volume of information that the leader is presented with will grow rapidly, as would the requirement to act in response to the attendant changes in the business environment. Leaders have to learn to learn quickly and continuously. Lastly, business ethics is as important as ever since AI will lead to many uncharted territories and present tremendous competitive pressures on leaders. Mooring to one’s and the business’s core values provides some safeguards from unethical use of AI.