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AI, IQ & EQ – The future of knowledge-work and leadership

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At a time of heightened uncertainty, AI is creating even more future shock. Leading scientists, including the late Stephen Hawking warn that if left unchecked, “someone will design AI that improves and replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that outperforms humans.” We aren’t there yet, but AI and more broadly information technology are changing the face of work as we know it.

The collapse in the cost of information has loosened the historical bonds between functions, hierarchical levels and geographies in a corporation. Most of the value-add is “knowledge work” which can be done remotely, on-the-road or in the home office. But AI delivers something more than this – more than simply automating human interfaces and reducing the cost of interactions. It promises the ability to automate learning, that is, to connect the dots and recognize patterns.

In this way, AI is moving up the knowledge worker’s value-add chain in the workplace, to the kind of work that trained professionals in finance, law, medicine and many other occupations have studied years and years to master. Their experience, the precious ability to recognize patterns in their areas of expertise, is now being challenged by AI technology. AI is replacing IQ in the workplace.

Far more important will be your EQ in the future, that is the ability to sense the emotional state of another person and adjust your behaviour to influence them. As repetitive tasks, and increasingly knowledge-based work are automated away through AI, more higher EQ employees will be needed at all levels to motivate, inspire, and drive innovation.

Tomorrow’s high EQ leaders may actually come from many diverse backgrounds, and not a traditional academic career path. EQ is an elusive personality trait. Despite all the efforts and investment in management coaching and leadership soul searching, it is inherently difficult to become more sensitive to other people’s emotional state. Ego and insecurity often get in the way. Either you have high EQ, or you don’t.

So, what do you look for in a leader with high EQ? For one, they are more likely female. Beyond that, high EQ people have good listening skills – in particular with their eyes. That is, they don’t need to be told what the subtle dynamics in an organisation are. They are perceptive enough to triangulate the relationships and sensitivities in a group by simply observing the interactions. High EQ people are also so self-aware that they understand the implications of their behaviour on everyone else around them.  They understand in an instant, without thinking, the occasions when breaking the behavioural norms is exactly what is needed to send the right signals to a group they lead. It’s a natural reflex, rather than a well triangulated logic. High EQ leaders leverage this competence to ensure the right management rhythm, processes and interactions to drive desired behaviours without using old-fashioned command & control.

Business and psychology are only beginning to systematically assess and select leaders for their high EQ. However, this will surely become more important as AI steadily automates away more IQ work.

This article originally appeared as the March 2020 Humatica Corner in Real Deals magazine and can be accessed in PDF-format here.

 

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