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Ambiguity and Leadership for Tomorrow
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 09/29/2014

Computer attack Going back in time a few decades, we will remember how people would justify an error made on the computer. One could blame the computer for some things but the truth be known, the computer makes no real decisions and only carries out what has been inputted by the operator or programming default. The fact is whoever said such a thing today is a “moron” as artificial intelligence has caught up with the emotional intelligence of today and linked some means to the decision making at the top.

However, this artificial intelligence has limitations and this needs to be addressed by the human element in the business world. Admittedly, things have changed in the computer world. Machines are learning and learning quickly how to analyze and come up with some reasonable decisions for the executives to consider when solving major or even smaller problems. Mind you, it does not give the absolute answer.

Knowledge has taken another leap in technology and the industry is hopping on board with its new capabilities. What has changed in the analytical world that is so impressive where machines can now offer you a solution to a problem? Solutions that still need to be understood by human in order for them to make sense and applicable to the situation at hand.

First, let us make one thing clear. The advance of machine’s capabilities to create good results is only as good as the effort made by executives to allow such a process to take place and enable this to happen. With a rapid generational shift within the workplace happening as we speak there is new life and ideas abound. Because of this dynamic, there is a prioritized process we must follow.

We must allow senior leaders to maintain the human touch but with careful integrated steps to allow the machine to function but to be there for any ambiguity that may occur during such problem solving techniques. Letting go is not easy. It breaks traditions, customs and practices that have stood for years. Letting go of some of this control to machines is the first step but it is important to retain this control as it is the most important part of this decision-making process.

In other words they should tolerate ambiguity created by the machines limited ability to solve a problem and then allow questions to be asked of the results with the human mind at the helm and control. The tolerating of ambiguity challenges new ideas, different strategies and often rebuilds the capacity to renew itself in organizational structure and management or operational effectiveness.

Needless to say this is counter clockwise of over a century of organizational management development techniques and needs to be balanced. The bottom line is the role of the senior leader will evolve as the process takes place. Senior executives must find and set the software parameters needed to determine, for instance, which data gets prioritized and which gets flagged for escalation.

In other words this “machine” needs filters. This is where the human touch is necessary to stay within organizational limits and with these “filters” the machines have a better way to analyze desired results or outcomes.

In a world where artificial intelligence supports all manner of day-to-day management decisions, the need to “let go” will be more significant and may lead to some discomfort for senior leaders. “Uncomfortable as this new world may be, the costs of the status quo are large and growing. “Information hoarders will slow the pace of their organizations and forsake the power of artificial intelligence while competitors exploit it.”

If senior leaders successfully energizes the insights of these machines and decentralize decision-making authority up and down the line, what will be left for top management to do is most important in this development stage and change.

This is where the human touch becomes important and start asking the right kind of questions from the organizational think tank or people working there. Accepting and penetrating this world of analytical complexity is difficult. What’s required, for executives, is the ability to remain in a state of unknowing while constantly filtering and evaluating the available information and its sources, tolerating tension and ambiguity, and delaying decisive action until clarity emerges.

Humans have and will continue to have a strong comparative advantage when it comes to inspiring the troops, empathizing with customers, developing talent, and the like. No computer will ever manage by walking around. Sometimes, machines will provide invaluable input or insight but translating this insight into messages that resonate with organizations will require a human touch.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


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