As a senior executive who has retired from the military reserves with over 20 years of service and in parallel operated in the corporate world for the past 30 years, I have seen leadership transform. What’s most apparent to me now is we are more in tune with what drives peak performance in teams while leveraging technology hardware and software to enable the strategic imperatives of the business.
When I first started in business and the military, leadership was much more command and control. Today, however, leadership is centered more around leaders serving their teams and taking the time to influence more through their emotional quotient (EQ) rather than titles or power.
Through decades of research, industrial psychologists have developed profiles for good leadership and the means to assess those people leaders. Technology has played a role in those assessments of leaders and capturing and archiving data for year-over-year and peer-to-peer comparison.
My experience in today’s business is that it’s very dynamic and challenging with greater needs and expectations of employees and customers. The past few years have been unprecedented with talent shortages continuing to rise, the need to upskill and reskill the existing workforce and customer demand being unpredictable with higher expectations.
I am now having to make decisions more quickly with greater precision, delighting a more diverse customer base and ensuring valuable experiences for talent in the company.
The good news is that leaders today have more tools and assets than before. Software, machines/robots, artificial intelligence and people are the most important assets in any company.
Leveraging robots, software and artificial intelligence requires strategic thought on a foundation of the ethical and moral context of the business while balancing the companies’ purpose, vision, values, commitment and behaviors.
I found this to be the solid foundation on which we operated — leading to an organizational culture that fosters trust, engagement and inclusiveness. As these multitudes of tools cohabitate in one environment, I have had to invest in the continuous learning of my teams, focusing on digital communication, cybersecurity awareness, information management and data literacy.
We have put even extra focus on data literacy to ensure data is understood and interpreted correctly. This has enabled informed decision-making with greater precision.
Equally, we have also focused on ensuring our artificial intelligence systems address concerns about bias and privacy. It has been critical for our organization to put guardrails up in a transparent and balanced manner, as we know we will be held accountable for any inaccuracies and shortfalls. The team and I have invested time in understanding the depth and capabilities of our artificial intelligence system while managing its abilities effectively. Our implementation has been game changing, giving us speed and lowering our cost to serve the business.
Leveraging Assets Effectively
At one of my former companies, I had growing pressures of lowering the cost to serve with higher demand for key critical skill hiring within a very niche environment. We were faced with tremendous headwinds in the market, and our business was counting on us to deliver.
The team came together and participated in a “possibility thinking” exercise, generating ideas that would achieve the greatest value. My strategy was to leverage technology by redirecting routine and mundane work that I call foundation work.
We needed to scan a high volume of resumes; this is where I made the investment in an applicant tracking system (ATS). Its software used algorithms to analyze resumes and match them against specific criteria such as skills, work experience, education and certifications. It enabled us to filter through large volumes of resumes efficiently and identify the most suitable candidates as part of our first-screen candidate selection process.
Internally we launched a campaign to collect skills and career-aspirational data from our workforce. All employees loaded their skills and short- to long-term career aspirations in our Human Resource Information Management System (HRIM). This data enabled the artificial intelligence tool built into the system to make learning and development recommendations and career move proposals that would enable their capability build.
The last piece of our strategy was to use “bots,” short for robots. Bots are software programs designed to automate tasks, and with speed and precision, our bots entered data into our HRIM system to enable the accurate onboarding of our new hires.
As a result, we were able to go to the market and find talent with the right capabilities and hire them quickly while having a good inventory of internal capabilities with the right focus on the development required to close capability gaps.
As I continue my leadership journey in the 21st century, I am expected to lead a broad network of stakeholders (employees, shareholders, customers, investors, suppliers/partners). To win in this dynamic marketplace, I have found that being a boundaryless collaborator across the stakeholder network serves the best interest of the business, given that I am able to promote teamwork while harvesting the collective intelligence around one purpose, one mission.
Leveraging technology, including artificial intelligence, has become so sensationalized that its often misunderstood. This can become “noise” and a distraction from creating value for the company. I believe this type of technology can enhance our work environment, but we must take the time to understand it and anchor ourselves on the values and principles of the company, while ensuring we have solid guardrails in place that will delight customers and deliver a great people experience.
As a leader, I have adopted these traits: external focus, imagination, inclusiveness,
courage, clear thinking and continuous learning. Leaders must be externally focused,
ensuring what they are doing will leapfrog the competition. They also must be imaginative
and have the courage to act on their ideas. Leaders must also embrace inclusiveness,
listening to the diverse perspectives of those around them.
Leaders must also be clear thinkers to distill the most complex of problems. Continuous learning has also served me well, as I have immersed myself to new ideas and concepts. I will continue to be a lifelong learner — it is challenging and rewarding all in one.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of In the Lead magazine, from Buccino Leadership Institute. The bi-annual magazine focuses on leadership perspectives from the field of health care, with content that is curated from leaders across the industry who share lessons learned from real-world experiences.