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Weeknote: 15.05.23


  • Adaptive change poses challenges, but empowering individuals to lead and go beyond expectations can drive progress.

  • Incorporating generative AI and natural language processing into our work can enhance leadership skills and facilitate effective communication.

  • AI tools have the potential to create more time for meaningful conversations and personal connections, as well as assist in networking and transformation management.

  • Developing digital literacy is crucial to utilize AI tools and asking the right questions effectively.

  • Leveraging influence and distinguishing between time assets and time debts can optimize productivity while allowing the brain to rest and enhancing long-term thinking.

Themes from the week

Generative AI and Leadership: the more I hear and read about generative AI and natural language processing, the more and more convinced I am we have to incorporate these tools into the way we work. I find that I keep asking myself, “What am I doing to make sure this is incorporated into my thinking going forward?” In particular, I’m really interested in how it can help us beyond just encouraging innovation and business growth. Can it help us engage more effectively with others? I wonder how I can use AI to help my clients lead better – what are different ways of using ai tools to help with leadership?

Some of my initial thoughts have been around creating more space and time for individuals trying to take action and make a change, to test out different ideas and generate questions that they could ask the group. It may also be possible to use generative AI to help reduce the time we spend doing routine tasks and free up more time for conversations and building personal connections.

I’m also interested in how it might help individuals working to build their leadership skills or address a specific problem to see how they are spending their time and who they are connecting with. Making them smarter in the way they network and manage transformations.

On the flip side, it also requires all of us to build a level of digital literacy that I’m not sure we have. We need to understand how these models and tools work – at a basic level – to ensure we’re asking the right questions. We need to think about how we set tasks at work so that we ensure we’re getting the most out of people and they are using the tools in an additive way – as a “co-pilot” rather than thoughtless.

Some good podcasts on AI that I've listened to recently are:

In many ways, the impact of generative AI will also be an iterative and adaptive challenge for organisations more broadly. As the authors of When Everyone Lead make clear: “When the challenge is adaptive, we have to engage with people who think differently than we do. We have to manage our own insecurities to do what is needed rather than what is comfortable. We must acknowledge the barriers to progress but never let them get us down. We have to think strategically, stay curious, be open to learning, and be ready to experiment our way across the gap.” From personal experience, I know this is hard, especially when people feel their roles and positions are threatened. In a past role, I didn’t have all the tools I needed to manage through an adaptive change and move things forward; I wasn’t confident enough to stay curious and understand the impact of the change. Now I’m asking myself if I am confident enough to take on “Ordinary Leadership” I see it as a gap in how we think and talk about leadership often.

People hate change because they fear loss – what a great quote. I've been thinking about how our choices create an environment where change is possible. A piece of work I’ve been doing with the World Bank has the underlying idea that we need to create space for individuals to self-authorize to lead and make a change. This is hard, especially in the public sector or strong hierarchies. In part, that's because we have a culture of seeing leadership as a position rather than something everyone can do. This current project challenges that thinking and encourages more people to exercise leadership by deciding to go above and beyond expectations.

Yet, at the end of the day, authorizing yourself to lead – to “exercise leadership means deciding to do something above and beyond what’s expected” (117). What I like about When Everyone Leads is this idea that we need to put the challenge at the centre – which is really similar to the work I’m doing. Putting the challenge in the centre makes it clear why leadership is hard; we understand what progress can look like, we see where our authority ends, and we’re more likely to share the load. In short, if we focus on the gap between where we are and where we need to be, we can make great progress in bringing people together.

Use the influence you have. “Typically...major change occurs because enough people in different spheres lead where they have influence.” 144 This question really challenged me. I’m not sure how I feel about it; part of me agrees – you need to work in the space and scope that you have to influence the system. But part of me thinks that leadership is also about looking beyond your current levels of leadership and influencing to create more. It’s a real tension in my mind.

"Time assets vs. Time debts” – James Clear. I really enjoyed this set of bullets and the HBR on Busyness that I read. It really got me thinking about what are my time assets (the choices that will save me save you time in the future) and the time debts (debts are choices that must be repaid and cost you time in the future. Think: saying yes to a meeting, doing sloppy work that will need to be revised, etc.). I’ve often felt that I need to be busy in meetings and doing things to be important. It's definitely a message that was reinforced in my family, and still is – I struggle to sit still – and yet the reality is that there is a lot to gain by taking time to do nothing, to pause and not be busy. I used to have a neighbour who would go for a long walk as part of their job to clear their head. I still find this hard to comprehend, but it makes perfect sense. The HBR article on busyness noted: “One of the most interesting discoveries in neuroscience over the past 20 years points to another good reason for forcing employees to disengage. Researchers found that activity in the network of brain regions involved in attention-demanding tasks (known as the “task-positive network”) tends to be negatively correlated with activity in the network of the brain regions involved in thinking beyond the presence (known as the “default network” because of its tendency to be activity – by default- during movements of rest). This means that the more the brain is engaged in a specific task (even busywork, the less it can transcend the here and now.”

In other words, I need to get better at never mistaking activity for achievement.


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