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The People Skills Needed by Managers and Leaders to Stay Ahead of AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) robot workers

You don’t have to search too hard to find scare stories of job-stealing robots.

These predictions suggest ever-greater automation will mean we will all lose our jobs and be replaced by machines and algorithms.

Other views suggest the technology will help us and make our jobs better.

There are undoubtedly going to be changes. And the pace of those changes is going to increase.

So how can managers and leaders stay ahead of the drive for greater automation?

Tienie Loubser, our learning and development director, believes the answer lies in people skills and he has identified four critical areas for managers to focus on:

  • Social connection
  • Coaching opportunities
  • Influencing
  • Ego management

Let’s take a closer look at them:

Social connection

We may have been practising social distancing for what feels like an eternity, but it is social connection skills that will be crucial for leaders.

Robots will be unlikely to replicate the connections humans can build together.

So those managers with emotional intelligence, who can display empathy and integrity, deal with the complex and the unpredictable (situations and people) and inspire, will be the managers who remain in demand.

Tienie says this begins with leaders constantly acknowledging, listening and responding to their employees, setting expectations and being aware of what is going on with their teams.

Asking questions is vital. Managers must ensure their teams are clear on what they are being asked to work on, that they have the capabilities to do it and be aware of the challenges they could face.

This process should also help them build an assessment of how committed each person is to the task and the role.

Coaching opportunities

Coaching and getting the best out of those we work with is also beyond the scope of machines.

So, it is increasingly crucial leaders develop their business coaching skills and provide more coaching to their team members, whether they are formal or informal sessions.

The key is to be curious and ask questions that encourage employees to think, problem-solve and work for themselves.

And it can be as simple as asking three questions:

What is the situation you find yourself in?

How do you think it can be solved?

What is stopping you from doing that?

Just three questions and the leader has encouraged their team member to think about an issue, consider how they can resolve it, and agree on what to do next.

Coaching can obviously be more detailed and formal than this, but a good start is for leaders to start sprinkling coaching into everyday conversations.

On our business coaching courses, we talk to delegates about seeking five-minute coaching conversations with their teams.


Influencing is another human skill robots and AI will struggle to replicate.

And people who can influence will continue to be a vital asset to any team.

This means being able to build relationships and rapport, create trust and develop an understanding of personal and professional motivations.

Leaders with good influencing skills can understand how people might react to what they have to say and can adapt their communication style.

They can cope with reluctance or objections and know when to compromise.

These skills can be developed and we offer a range of courses, including effective communication and influencing and effective negotiation skills.

But they are not just for leaders. Influencing skills are also needed by those who don’t necessarily have authority, such as project managers.

They will need to be able to influence those they do not directly manage who may have conflicting priorities.

Ego management

So, being able to communicate with people authentically is a critical skill that will help people stay ahead of rising automation.

But the one caveat is that leaders need to be aware of, and manage, their ego.

Egos can hinder and prevent those crucial connections.

Key things to look out for and avoid include being defensive, seeking acceptance and showcasing brilliance.

These behaviours need to be replaced by humility, being curious and putting others first.

These are the areas we believe managers should focus on to futureproof their careers.

“Understanding and being able to authentically connect with your people is an essential skill for leaders today to get ahead of tomorrow,” says Tienie.

“Adapting to the changes going on around you is critical for your survival.

“It is no longer, as Charles Darwin claimed, the strongest or fittest that survives. It is those who can adapt to change and in particular, the change that AI is bringing.

Staying ahead of AI by authentically connecting with your people is a great first step to potentially ensure your survival.”

The BCF group has been helping organisations develop their talent, inspire their people and overcome obstacles and challenges for the past 25 years.

We deliver training that makes a difference. Find out more about our business coaching, management training and interpersonal skills options.

Keen to find out more about business coaching? Get in touch to see how our Institute of Leadership and Management business coaching courses and bespoke training options can help. Or, click here to learn more about becoming a business coach to others.

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