Robots vs True Leaders

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a part of our culture for a very long time.  It started through fantasy and science fiction stories and then became a reality in the 1950s through the invention of computers.  As computers became more complex over the decades, AI machines were created and became standardized in various industries including manufacturing. With 2020 upon us, AI has now become a household standard through devices like Alexa and online chatbots to troubleshoot computer issues.

Sophisticated robots seem to be the next generation of AI, with some businesses considering seriously adding them to their workforce. In January 2020, Fast Company magazine released a study revealing that 64% of those surveyed said they would trust a robot more than they’d trust their manager. The article looks at the increasingly comfortable relationships humans have with AI and considers how that might affect leadership roles within a company in the future.

An article from Forbes magazine seems to correlate that survey. In that article, the author also set up a different survey to 1080 managers between 25-55 (51% male, 49% female) in the U.S. One of the questions asked was: “If the company you work for offered to replace your manager – the person who is actually your boss today – with a robot boss instead, would you do it?”  The response was as follows: 30% said they would replace their boss with a friendly humanoid robot, and the reasons varied from “I don’t like my boss” to “my boss is not competent” to other annoyances they had.

A robot may make you feel better in the short-term, but long-term is another whole story. Sure, a robot boss would work fine if your job constantly runs smoothly, everyone gets along, and you always feel great at work. But that is rarely the case. We all have bad days, challenging situations, and sometimes our personal problems even bleed into our work life. Not to mention, it’s important to continue to grow professionally and a robot leader is a poor substitute to help with that.

True leadership is more about how a person leads rather than the mere focus on moving people towards desired goals. Hitler was a leader and look how that turned out!

The one quality that all but guarantees a successful leader is empathy. A recent LinkedIn article by Brigette Hyacinth states, “If we treat people only as the means to an end, we will never have their loyalty. Treat your people right. Great leaders are concerned about getting the job done as well as the well-being of those under their care. It doesn’t mean being overly attentive or soft but demonstrate that you value people. Without empathy, you can’t build a team, inspire followers or elicit loyalty. Leaders that possess this trait always make time for people.”

Think back to a difficult time you had at work and how your boss handled it. If it was a good experience, I’ll bet that your boss’ ability to empathize with your feelings and struggles was the reason the experience went well. Soft Skills are essential as a true leader, and robots do not currently have the ability to be emotionally intelligent at the depth and consistency a human does.

Employee engagement, loyalty, and high-performance teamwork does not happen by accident. It occurs because human leaders (not robots) sincerely care about their people and do what they can to show that through words and action.

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