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Human leadership in the age of AI

By Saru Gupta | |6 minute read

Have you ever been in a room full of people but felt completely alone? True human connection can only be felt – it’s not something we can explain with our intellect.

But as humans, we’re increasingly disconnected from our own feelings and from other people’s feelings, which leads to deep loneliness and a lack of belonging.

As HR leaders, the focus is on building cultures of connection and collaboration. And while we can put structures in place to help people and teams stay connected, true belonging is missing if we’re unable to connect on a truly human level.

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This then impacts our ability to perform well, do our jobs well, and help the business meet its goals.

As humans, we’re wired into our human system, which is designed to help us survive. In the short term, we can perform business metrics while ignoring our human needs and nervous system signals, but in the long term, our bodies will start to protest, which is when symptoms such as overwhelm and burnout come to the surface.

The rise of AI

At present, I think artificial intelligence (AI) presents a risk.

While, as a species, we’ve done a lot in our innovation across science and technology, internally, our bodies are still the same as they were thousands of years ago. We’ve disconnected from ourselves to the point that we are on autopilot or in survival mode, so our decisions don’t come from a place of wisdom or understanding.

We think we know what we’re doing, but really, most of us are being led by our unprocessed emotions and our unmet needs. This means everybody is on the edge of fight or flight and is watching their own back rather than looking at the greater good. The same is true for the people developing the technology – they aren’t driven by ethics or human values.

AI is only just emerging, but already, we can see its powerful potential. I believe we need to reconnect with ourselves as humans if this kind of technology is going to be a force for good.

The role of human leadership

The rise of AI tools to make work more efficient and productive will only succeed if we can also prioritise human connection alongside metrics of productivity.

Leaders, in particular, need more human connection. This means being able to connect to their own feelings and human systems, as well as connecting to the people around them.

Most leaders have been successful and thrived in their work by disconnecting from their human needs, and this eventually impacts their leadership style and ability to make rational decisions. This is all happening deep in the psyche, and most are not even aware of it.

Leadership can be lonely due to the responsibilities and pressures it brings with it, and there aren’t many places leaders can go to complain about what is and isn’t working. However, being able to feel human connection is a game changer for leaders, as it means they can meet their own needs and also feel safe enough to ask for support.

Textbook leadership is redundant now – as we saw when the pandemic hit, none of the old ways of leading made sense any more. But a leader who is connected to others and able to tap into their own intuition and instinctive wisdom is also able to respond to uncertainty in a clear way. And this is the kind of leadership we need in an AI world.

Understanding whole-self leadership

As leaders, we have the power to make decisions that impact and influence others. This power comes with responsibility, not only in meeting business goals and financial metrics but also in making decisions that can impact employees, their families and the wider community.

Leading in a world where the only constant is change means leaders have an extra responsibility to be healthy within their own complete human system so that they can make decisions from a place of clarity, wisdom, humanity and collective wellbeing.

Whole-self leadership (also known as embodied leadership) allows for this to happen. It means leaders can integrate their body and nervous system, their emotions and their intellect, and start to lead from a place of connection and intuition. It brings a new kind of clarity. I’ve seen it time and again with my clients – they can step into their power as a leader, connect with the people around them, and make decisions from a place of safety and wisdom.

This kind of leadership means handling external pressures and seeing clearly what needs to be done.

Looking to the future

With the rise of AI, we need humanity more than ever.

The optimistic side of me believes that if, as humans, we can connect with our emotions, bodies and nervous systems, then we can create a relationship with AI where it is solving problems and making our work world better.

Right now, it is surrounded by uncertainty and fear, but AI is not the problem. The problem is the relationship we have with ourselves, which impacts the relationship we have with technology.

As HR leaders, we can play an important role in helping our people connect with themselves and others, and whole-self leadership is a way to empower your people to lead with clarity.

If we can see each other as humans first, and workers second, then we can start to create a world where AI supports the jobs we need to do and our connection rather than adding more layers of disconnect.

Saru Gupta is an embodied leadership practitioner.

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