Artificial Intelligence: Embrace it—or be replaced by it. No, I’m not suggesting that robots will inevitably control and eradicate humankind, but I do see a need to examine and understand what the rise of AI means for society, both now and in the future. Let’s dive into what it means specifically for the leaders of tomorrow—because today’s leaders don’t look like the warlords of the past, and the only constant in life is change. Are your industry, company, and job ready to evolve and meet the challenges?

Balancing human capital with AI

Like it or not, AI has arrived, and it’s already affecting how your company operates. Even in its infancy, AI is far superior to humans in recognizing patterns, automating performance, and eliminating errors. And it’s acing the job: 50% of C-level executives report that improving operational efficiency is the most critical way AI impacts their business. While drivers, accountants, paralegals, and more may continue to lose their jobs, the leaders of the future need to focus on what humans are better at: analyzing. It’s in answering “why” that humans outshine their competition. Successful leaders must build continual training, learning, and critical analysis into their culture to keep their employees and company competitive.

Somewhat ironically, AI is now training humans. 46% of the executives invested in AI for employee training, while only 33% invested in AI for building new solutions based on data. This trend is a cautiously encouraging sign that AI is being leveraged to help employees be better at their jobs, as opposed to replacing them altogether.

Traits of the future’s leaders

So, in addition to successfully advancing their workforce to complement AI, what do the leaders of the future look like?

  • They know what they don’t know. Surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you has long been a strategy of successful leaders, and even more so in a future with AI optimizing efficiencies.
  • They’re adaptable. Not only to technology, but to an evolving workforce and the changing world in which they meet.
  • They have long-term vision. History has proven that prioritizing forward-thinking vision over short-term certainty has separated the one-hit wonders from the game-changers—and it will keep proving it.
  • They’re self-aware. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses are key to avoiding delusion, especially when automation can identify them.
  • They prioritize purposeful connections. With AI reshaping (and dwindling) and the workforce, building meaningful connections will be more important than ever.
  • They prize applied curiosity. AI isn’t curious or visionary, so our leaders need to be, and use it to solve problems.
  • They’re tolerant of tension. Leadership isn’t always smooth sailing. Exercising patience—a distinctly human trait— is key to weathering the storm.
  • They engage. Human to human engagement can’t be coded. 52 percent of CEOs said they are fearful that their leadership will be less transparent due to AI. Engagement serves as the antidote.


But what is the most important trait of all for the future’s leaders? It’s emotional intelligence, or EQ—IQ’s lesser-known but more important sister (more on why she’s a sister in a minute). “Soft” skills like EQ will outrank “hard” skills because hard skills are exactly what AI was built to do better than humans. Making sure our future leaders complement, and don’t compete with, AI is key. We can’t teach AI to empathize, infer meaning, or manage emotions, and even in business, emotion is everything. As your AI will tell you, the data doesn’t lie: 90% of leadership success is attributed to high EQ.

The shift towards prioritizing EQ in our leaders uniquely positions women to get ahead. Women outperform men on nearly all emotional intelligence measures, meaning we’re likely to see more women in leadership roles in the future.

How is your company creating the leaders that the future needs?

Ellen Huber