The most powerful memory I have of our country being focused and united on one big thing is the complete solar eclipse that took place on Aug. 21, 2017.

Like everyone else I knew, I found a location for the best possible viewing in my area. I joined my then-finance (and now wife) Libby on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University. It was a warm, sunny day. Libby and I sat amongst hundreds of MTSU students and staff, wearing our special protective sunglasses as we marveled at the day suddenly transforming into night…and then back to day again.

In an America that feels more divided than ever, I cherish that brief, simple, but powerful memory of all of us being on the same page and captivated by the same event. As a country, we rarely join together to observe and persevere through times of darkness and light.

Large, unsettling questions

It takes an exceptional kind of individual to bring disparate, diverse groups of people together for a shared vision, purpose, or outcome.

Such a person’s challenge is amplified by the rapidly evolving, endlessly converging, and ubiquitously disrupting technology that influences every aspect of how we work and live.

In this age of artificial intelligence (AI) in particular, it seems like more and more of the skills and tasks we perform are being turned over to machines.

Many of us are pondering large, unsettling questions…

“Do my human skills and experiences still matter?”

“Do human beings still matter?”

SPOILER ALERT!

Yes. More than ever.

I believe what makes us “uniquely human” is more important than ever. We’re hard-wired by evolution to seek and engage community, foster tight relationships, and actively care for other people and, to a large extent, other species.

And one of the most important qualities that each of us can develop, whatever stage we’re at in life (still in school, in the midst of a career, retired, etc.), is what I’m calling “authentic human leadership.”

Those three words resonate in different ways to people. At best, they inspire and motivate. At worst, they’re part of the cacophony of hackneyed “buzz words” or cliches we fling around, mostly devoid of meaning and impact.

As a professional coach, writer, and speaker, I think word choices are very important—and that words deserve to be accompanied by the clarity and intentions of the person offering them. And so I’ll share what each of those words means to me.

“Authentic”

When I read, hear, speak, or write “authentic,” I envision someone who, in the face of complex and nuanced problems, demonstrates a growth mindset; which increases their capacity for mindfully forming genuine, non-transactional connections and relationships with others, curious about people and what’s most important to them.

These relationships are strengthened by the “authentic” person’s willingness to…

…be vulnerable and transparent.

…demonstrate ongoing learning (and unlearning).

…own their flaws and contradictions.

Authentic individuals share and remain congruent with their values, in both what they say and do, earning trust and respect. They craft environments of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and therefore embed a sense of belonging and psychological safety in those around them.

As powerful as AI and machines are becoming, there’s still nothing like being in the presence of a truly authentic individual. It’s not hard for you to immediately think of those people in your life who fit that description, and how much they mean to you.

“Human”

These days, I’m frequently associating the word “human” with the many ways we can leverage AI to augment…

…not fully replace!

…the unique contributions we still have to offer.

Even as AI improves and becomes more reliable, humans maintain the lead regarding dynamics such as…

Complex problem solving.

Creativity.

Critical thinking.

Emotional intelligence.

We make meaning, ensure accuracy, protect ethics, and guard against biases. We identify, respect, and tailor our approaches to various nuances. We envision and design products, services, and societies with the potential to elicit the best of us even in the face of the worst of us.

Not convinced that we’re still as relevant as I’m declaring us to be?

Here’s my “closer…” Even if verifiable measurements of technical proficiency give AI the edge—or at least a “tie”—in one or more of the topics I’ve included above, there’s a larger human need that AI can never fully satisfy…

…and that is to be understood by another authentic individual who gets what it’s like to struggle, thrive, and, eventually (another spoiler alert) die within this wondrous confluence of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen known as the human body.

I can respect and marvel at a great piece of music, literature, or film that’s completely or largely composed by AI. But I’ll never be as emotionally invested, moved, or inspired as I am by the creative outpouring of my fellow impermanent, flesh-and-blood, human beings.

“Leadership”

Effective leaders inspire and motivate others toward a shared vision, purpose, or mission, as well as specific outcomes.

How? Day over day, such remarkable persons tend to demonstrate these five abilities in particular:

  1. Coaching: Providing it to others AND receiving it from others.
  2. Storytelling: That helps others to understand who the leader is, what’s important to them, and what they’re asking people to do.
  3. Immersive empathy: That involves the leader proactively seeing the world through another person’s eyes and on their turf.
  4. Open dialogue: That enables the leader and the people they lead to begin to identify and align on complex and nuanced problems.
  5. Design thinking: Described in this McKinsey articleas “a way of using systemic reasoning and intuition to explore ideal future states.”

Human beings recognize authentic human leaders, and usually respond with loyalty, productivity, a growth mindset, and the best work they can offer on any given day.

The frequent outcome of authentic human leadership in the age of AI? Teams and individuals begin to find creative, unexpected ways to collaborate with AI and flourish like never before because of their human abilities and not in spite of them.

Let’s connect

II’m an ICF-certified and experienced professional, coaching authentic human leaders in the age of AI, with a focus on organizations whose Director+ population is facing complex, nuanced problems. Use this link to schedule a call with me to discuss potential coaching services. You can also email me or message me on LinkedIn.