Upping your game – leadership in the age of AI


At a time of rapidly accelerating technological change, industry leaders need to take time to build resilience and learn new skills, says Claire Rutkowski of Bentley Systems.

Change is always hard. One of the traits of an effective leader is the ability to drive change through teams and organisations. Great leaders are students of change management models and know how to explain the why, clearly state the value of the change, get people on board and communicate.

This approach works well when the change is relatively obvious, such as an organisational change or the implementation of new processes or systems. But what do you do when change is constant?

For years, advances in technology have been accelerating the pace of change. Artificial intelligence (AI) in all its forms has cemented this constancy of change. We can certainly still use the solid change management practices that have served us well in the past for event-based changes, but it will not be enough. As leaders, you must up your game. Building resilience is a great place to start.

An environment of constant change creates anxiety for teams and colleagues. They might worry about whether AI technologies will make their function redundant, whether their jobs are going away, or how they are going to keep up. It is overwhelming, which can lead to burnout. Burned-out colleagues disengage. They are not effective, and productivity goes down. However, building resilience can help people remain engaged and excited about the future, not scared of it.

How to build resilience

Building resilience starts within. You cannot help your team be resilient, confident and engaged unless you feel that way yourself.

There are many ways to do this. First, be positive. Try to think of constant change as a constant opportunity, not a constant threat. Carve out time to think about how your company and your team can leverage AI and other technological advances to create new revenue streams or eliminate low-value, repetitive activities that few like doing anyway. This mindset will help you view change as something to be embraced.

Second, invest in yourself. Learning something new feels good. It gives us a new challenge and a new skill. Whether you take some courses on AI, practice with it, or simply watch some YouTube videos, learning about and engaging with innovative technology can reduce the fear factor.

Third, be sure to monitor and proactively address your mental health. A 2022 study by the US surgeon general raised some alarm bells. The study states that 76% of respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition, 81% of workers will be looking for workplaces that support mental health in the future, and, most concerningly, 84% of respondents said that their workplace conditions had contributed to at least one mental health challenge. Be sure you are taking care of yourself first.

Once you are focusing on the positive, investing in yourself and taking care of yourself, it is time to help those around you. There are lots of ways you can improve the resilience of your team and support them through the changes already underway – and the undetermined changes yet to come.

First, you need trust and respect to build resiliency in others, so focus on that if you are not sure whether you have it. Be genuine and authentic. People can easily spot artificial feelings, which creates doubt as to whether we mean what we say. This in turn can cause people to lose trust in us and feel uncertain. Be forthright, even when it means saying: “I am not sure what will happen, but we will figure it out together.”

Second, be a good coach. If you are visibly positive, your team will be too, increasing their resilience in times of change. There is a reason why you must be positive first – you need to be in the right mindset to share that positivity in a genuine and authentic way and you need to make a point to say positive things. “We will get through this together” is a powerful phrase. Not only does it imply that you are one team and will all work through whatever it is, but it also implies that things will all work out.

Third, be straight with people. If people know that their leader is always honest with them, even when the news is not great, then they will not be worried about whatever the next surprise might be. This situation eliminates a host of distractions and lets people know you respect them. It also means setting clear expectations and providing very timely feedback if something is going off track.

Fourth, be sure to clearly articulate your vision and strategy – and repeat it often. People are more resilient and able to deal with change when they understand what is happening and how it fits into the bigger picture.

Fifth, make time and take care to explain the why of decisions. People can read too much into things if they do not know why something is the way it is, which can create more fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Leading in the age of AI and constant technological disruption means that you will need to use these steps and strategies repeatedly, as well as constantly checking in on yourself, and your team members, to make sure everyone feels supported and engaged. Only then will they bring their best selves to work every day and only then will they thrive, driving organisational success in the process.

Claire Rutkowski is senior vice president and CIO champion at Bentley Systems.