Self-Leadership in the Age of AI

Theo Pistorius

How to survive the new AI Age

The introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into our families, our communities and the workplace has brought with it both fear and opportunity. On one hand, AI can improve our own efficiency, help generate new ideas and explore new worlds for our families, bring new concepts to the fore, reduce labour costs, and automate certain processes to increase productivity in both business and life. On the other hand, the spectre of fear is palpable as we hear it causing job displacement, creative discontent, and a slew of cynical cycles emphasising and re-emphasising certain points of view we may disagree with yet get bombarded with due to all-consuming algorithms. With all that was going on, I thought it prudent for us to take a breath and consider how to approach this new, booming age through the lens of self-leadership. In any event, it is not merely the winds of change that shape the leader, but also the strength and suppleness of self- and centred, creative leadership that acts as a bulwark against being uprooted and flung about in the artificial torrent. And none of us are new at this, either! Remember the ages of the computer (for those of us from pre-1990), the rise of the mobile phone, the age of the internet, and recently the spectre of social media? Together we adapted, learnt to harness and hone those technologies and skills we found most prudent, and expelled the fluff and noise not pertinent to us. And in the end, in each age, we found that it was the relationships shared that shaped our survival, and "sur-thrive-al". So, allow me to share 6 simple secrets, gleaned from people much wiser and smarter than me, to guide us as (self-)leaders in this audacious AI age. Let’s take the plunge, shall we?

The Power of "Why"

In his masterpiece "Start With Why," Simon Sinek brilliantly emphasizes the importance of understanding the purpose behind our actions. In the Age of AI, leaders must continuously question the 'why' behind their decisions. Why are these the values we hold dear? Why does our team exist? Why do our customers choose us over competitors? Why do we value one another as a community? And why are we challenged to lead our friends and families in a new, challenging arena? Embracing a values- and purpose-driven approach to leadership can unify our teams (in whichever format they feature) and help guide them through uncertainty in this rapidly changing technological landscape.

So, ask yourself: What is the deeper purpose behind your leadership decisions? What are the values that drive this purpose (the deepest Why)? And are you inspiring your team with a clear creed as to exactly... 'why'?

Overcoming Dysfunctions and Building Winning Teams

In Patrick Lencioni's "The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team," we learn that effective teams are the backbone of any successful organization, whether it is a community, business or family. Yes, the strength of the team is not its weakest link, but the value and communication we share within the team. The Age of AI brings both opportunities and challenges, including the integration of AI into the workplace. Instead of fearing AI as a replacement, an unseen bully bashing our brothers and sisters and sometimes ourselves, self-leadership requires embracing its potential while recognizing that humans bring unique value to the table, bruises and all! To prosper, we as leaders have a duty and privilege to foster open communication, build trust within our teams, and emphasize the importance of collaboration between humans and machines.

Ask yourself: How can you create a culture of trust and collaboration that leverages the strengths of both AI and your team?

Focused Leadership in the Digital Noise

In "Focus," Daniel Goleman explores the importance of focus in the age of constant distractions. With AI-generated data and information overload, churning more and more so-called virality through algorithms be it to our eyes (YouTube, Facebook, X [formerly Twitter] and TikTok [ask your kids]), we as leaders must master the art of selective attention. Cultivating mindfulness and deep focus is essential for making critical decisions in this fast-paced digital landscape, and keeping a sure footing to our values, regardless of where we are planted. Remember, successful self-leadership is about filtering the noise and honing in on what truly matters, be it amidst the digital chaos, or just the day-to-day fluctuations of life.

Take a moment to reflect: How can you improve your focus and lead your community, family or team through the noise and churn of the AI age?

The Power of Introverted Leaders

Continuing from the previous point, Jennifer Kahn

weiler's "The Introverted Leader" challenges the stereotype that leaders must be extroverts. Interesting to think that some of the best leaders are the ones quietly leading from inside, rather than the "faces" from the outside. In the AI age, where complex algorithms and machine learning drive advancements, introverted leaders possess valuable traits to calm the nerves, see through the smoke, and provide excellent processes to tame what may seem like a rampaging, all-consuming AI beast. Their ability to introspect, think deeply, and listen attentively can lead to thoughtful and strategic decisions. Embrace the extroverts in your team; they might be the ones who unlock the next AI-inspired breakthrough, but do so with the introverts too, for they are often the ones who steady the ship, lending the quiet hand of guidance.

Ponder on how you can encourage and empower introverted team members to contribute their unique perspectives in this technology-driven world.

Six Thinking Hats: Adapting to Change

Edward de Bono's "Six Thinking Hats" technique is a powerful tool for self-leadership. The rapid pace of technological advancements requires leaders to be agile and adaptable. Regardless of how impressive the new artificial intelligence boom may seem, from images to ideas, these "stochastic parrots" are constrained by the fact that they cannot think creatively. It may seem that they can, but the joys of creative questioning are purely the domain of the human mind! Your mind! And mine too! But how do we question creatively? A simple technique is systematically considering and challenging multiple perspectives (the white hat for facts, the black beret for caution, the green gardening hat for creativity and growth, the red riding hat for emotion, the yellow yarmulke for YES-driven optimism and benefits, and the blue bowler for understanding and managing the process [see the link herewith for more details]). Leaders regardless of rank or file, can make well-rounded decisions with creative and innovative pathways in complex AI-driven scenarios. This technique enables also allows us as leaders to navigate through our own challenges, stimulating creativity, and adapting to the changes of our dynamic time.

Mind if I challenge you? How can you apply the Six Thinking Hats approach to solve complex problems and embrace change in your leadership role? (Remember, Green for Growth and Yellow for YES!!)

Finding and Breathing the Balance

In the Age of AI, leadership requires a sense of humour and humility. AI can achieve impressive feats, but it is the human touch that truly connects and inspires. As leaders within our organisations, families and communities, it is up to us to embrace laughter. We are the ones to acknowledge that continuous learning and growth, sprinkled with extra servings of humour, are essential to effective leadership, regardless of how dangerous or intimidating a new age may seem to those we care about. We are the ones to balance the opportunity of what the new AI Age serves up, with the vigilance ensuring those under our care are looked after and supported.

I challenge you to reflect on your own leadership journey and find ways to balance AI's impressive capabilities, with nurturing human connections in your family, community, team and organization.

In Conclusion:

Self-leadership is crucial in the Age of AI. To succeed in a turbulently evolving world, the wisdom of the likes of Simon Sinek, Patrick Lencioni, Daniel Goleman, Jennifer Kahnweiler, and Edward de Bono may seem simplistic but still hold true. Important aspects of self-leadership include asking questions, using creative questions such as the six thinking hats, understanding your personal purpose (a.k.a. your 'why'), developing strong teams and relationships, and embracing whichever leadership style comes naturally to you, be it introverted or extroverted leadership. But don't forget the humour! Remember, in this new AI Age, self-leadership and purpose are what move us from Ex Mundi Machina (The World Of The Machine) to Administrandi Machina (the one managing the machine). To the future! To us!


Theo Pistorius is an entrepreneur with more than 15 years of systems and creativity-focused thought leadership. He holds guiding and executive positions in the AI, education, entrepreneurship, and organisational spheres, including as advisor to international software- and technology enterprises. He counts the likes of Netflix, Major League Baseball, and Aquature among his clients, and was a former UN chief adjudicator, guiding panels on education, artificial intelligence and neural networks, education, and human rights in the technological age. He lives in Cape Town.

Theo Pistorius
Theo Pistorius

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