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Leadership? Only humans need apply

Ours is a disruptive world. Disruptors include AI, robotics, computerisation, globalisation and the imminent fourth industrial revolution. Already, a growing number of commercial and industrial processes are being dehumanised. So, are humans reaching their sell-by date?

Admittedly, people will have to adapt or cry (over lost jobs or diminished career prospects). The good news is that a stellar future awaits those who are flexible, resourceful, emotive and empathetic (in other words, the very human humans). This is especially true of corporate leaders who are developing coping strategies for the 2020s.

Pertinent insights are afforded by work in my own specialisation – executive search and talent acquisition. Among leading practitioners, the goalposts have widened to the point where the work now entails close partnership with corporates with the aim of shaping integrated leadership and talent solutions.

Listening, understanding and empathising are the key requirements, not crunching the data to find candidates with the technical qualifications and relevant experience. Machines can do that.

But machines can’t sense the cultural fit or feel the chemistry when a potential leader is exposed to new challenges.

These days, you can put a smiling face on a machine, but you can’t instil empathy and the human ability to assess feelings and emotions. Only humans can do that – whether you are a so-called headhunter looking for the ideal fit or a seasoned business leader creating a succession strategy by developing and acquiring the right talent.

The importance of very human qualities is spotlighted when working with an individual executive looking to ensure continued relevance as a senior corporate performer.

shapecharge empathy

The key question is: what do I need to do or be to ensure career success in five years’ time?

Research the literature and international studies and the answer is the same … stay human, become more empathetic, improve your listening skills, increase your understanding of the needs of others and look to make an emotive bond with peers and subordinates.

Show your human qualities and colleagues and customers open up to you. An ongoing conversation with key players will nurture the relationships that enable the organisation to anticipate demands and meet expectations.

Soft skills can’t be written into an algorithm. They set us apart and ensure our superiority over the cobots.  Soft skills don’t create soft leaders. They create a growth platform for highly successful, ultra-receptive leaders.

So, demonstrate learning agility, absorb new information and insights. Make sure there is still joy and excitement in your job; not just for you but for everyone on the team.

Creativity drives today’s successful business, not mindless repetition. A very human spark drives creativity, not reams of data.

Insight and interpretation give leaders the power to focus on the key issues. A machine can generate a 25-page report filled with techno-babble. A receptive human can condense that into one page with half-a-dozen action points.

Find joy in sharing and communicating. If you take everything on your own shoulders you eventually feel sucked dry by the demands of leadership. You go on to auto-pilot. In other words, you become a machine, and that’s a no-no.

Adapt by all means, but stay human. You and your organisation will be better for it.

*Annelize van Rensburg is a director of Signium Africa (previously Talent Africa), a leading South Africa-based executive search and talent management company servicing sub-Saharan Africa.


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