6 soft skills IT leaders need in the AI age

AI will cause big change inside your organization - and with change comes fear. Work on these soft skills as you lead teams in the AI era
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As IT leaders help their teams and companies navigate this new terrain, their uniquely human capabilities will become even more important.

“With the age of AI upon us, the switch back to human skills should be a critical focus for organizations.”

“With the age of AI upon us, the switch back to human skills should be a critical focus for organizations,” says Jen Kelchner, co-founder of consultancy LDR21, which helps companies and individuals navigate change initiatives and develop more open organizational cultures. “These emerging technologies help to take the routine tasks off of humans and allows us to get back to the creative, adaptable creatures we are known to be.”

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As the use of artificial intelligence grows, so too will the need for certain so-called soft skills like adaptability, communication – all part of your emotional intelligence skillset. In fact, these types of competencies will become so important in the AI era that Kelchner suggests abandoning the term soft skills altogether and calling them core capabilities instead. (That’s the second person to suggest this to us recently: Read Goodbye soft skills, hello core skills: Why IT must rebrand this critical competency.)

6 soft skills for the AI age

Whether you choose to call them soft skills or core skills, note these key proficiencies that will serve CIOs (and their teams) well:

1. The ability to create emotional safety

Also called psychological safety, emotional safety is that feeling of being secure enough to bring your full self to the workplace. This is particularly important in fast-changing, highly charged environments.

“Everyone is already wound up, and IT leaders need to have a measured demeanor.”

How do you create a safe space for your organization? “Increase your restraint and make sure you have a measure of control over your own emotions, so people don’t feel like they are walking on eggshells,” says Margery Myers, a principal consultant and coach with Bates Communications, who works with CIOs and other corporate leaders on executive communication. “Since this is a time of change and uncertainty, everyone is already wound up, and IT leaders need to have a measured demeanor so people can be open around them and feel safe to express their views and concerns.”

2. Learning agility

Learning agility is the willingness to take lessons from past experience and then apply them in entirely new situations. Kelchner argues that it’s something anyone can choose to apply at work. “It is the chosen ability to adapt in situations and apply knowledge from prior experience even when you don’t know what to do,” she says. “As AI brings continuous change, people must have developed skills to engage and manage change.”

While everyone may possess the capability, Kelchner says most leaders don’t know how to tap into it. “They’ve been conditioned to believe [that] their education or a specific methodology is the only approach… to solve problems,” Kelchner says. “The fact is that every experience we encounter in life teaches us something if we are paying attention.”

IT leaders who want to build their learning agility muscles will seek out stretch goals and new experiences to learn from, take on complex problems and challenges, and continually practice incorporating those lessons into their day-to-day work and decision making. Over time, they can amass a library of learning, tools, and solutions that they might apply to the new situations that AI will introduce.

IT leaders who want to develop learning agility in their organizations will encourage their employees to take on new roles, work outside of their comfort zones, and celebrate mistakes and failures as learning opportunities.

3. Empathy

Empathetic organizations “tend to enjoy stronger collaboration, less stress, and greater morale.”

Empathy is one of the greatest learning tools a leader has, says Kelchner. This ability to read the emotions of others and identify what they are feeling is particularly important in the AI era. “The measure of awareness that one gains by true empathy accelerates understanding and problem-solving,” Kelchner says. And when it is embedded in an organization, the dividends of empathy multiply.

Empathetic organizations “tend to enjoy stronger collaboration, less stress, and greater morale, and their employees bounce back more quickly from difficult moments,” Stanford University psychology professor Jamil Zaki recently wrote.

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.