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AI for leaders

Artificial Intelligence

A real leader’s guide to AI 

Published 9 July 2024 in Artificial Intelligence • 5 min read

Remember to treat artificial intelligence as an aid rather than an oracle. 

As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes ever more sophisticated and ubiquitous, leaders who fail to embrace it risk being left behind. To stay ahead of the curve, leaders must work to do three things at once: (1) understand how AI is transforming your roles, (2) leverage generative AI for maximum strategic benefit, and (3) integrate AI into your organization’s practices and business processes effectively. Are you ready for this three-part challenge?


Challenge area 1: Understand how AI is transforming leadership roles

By processing and synthesizing vast amounts of data and identifying patterns, trends, and insights that might otherwise go unnoticed, AI augments strategic analyses. Working with AI, today’s leaders must focus on their crucial human roles: applying judgments and lived experience to interpret and act on potentially valuable insights generated. Leaders must also continue to rely on empathy, authenticity, and interpersonal/relationship skills to lead change effectively.

Also, be mindful that leading any strategic change for an organization involves navigating complex emotions and stakeholder dynamics, which can be challenging even for the most experienced leaders. Changes sparked by AI may be especially delicate to navigate. At the same time, AI can help leaders anticipate and prepare for these challenges by simulating different scenarios and predicting likely reactions. Using AI to test change strategies, leaders can identify potential resistance points and craft more effective communication plans to build buy-in and alignment.

While AI’s customized communication plans have the potential to help address each group of stakeholders’ unique concerns and priorities, leaders must still infuse their own voice, vision, and values into the messaging to ensure authenticity and credibility.

Integrating-AI-into-your-organisation 22
“Building up AI ethical competence will only become more important as AI evolves and shapes the business landscape.”

Challenge area 2: Leveraging GenAI to maximize strategic benefits

Leaders would do well to think of AI as an impartial thought partner, challenging old assumptions and biases in ways that promote creative problem-solving and breakthrough innovations. By engaging in iterative dialogue with AI, leaders can expose blind spots in thinking, consider alternative perspectives, and generate novel ideas.

That is, with good prompts, generative AI can enable leaders to consider a broader range of possibilities than one could on one’s own. AI can also be used to stress-test these options under different assumptions, exposing potential risks and unintended consequences that leaders must be aware of. To make the most of this capability, leaders must learn to guide AI in generating relevant, high-quality options and critically evaluate the outputs to ensure they are aligned with organizational goals and values. (Get practicing with seven suggested prompts below.)

Getting started with powerful prompts

Seven prompts that can kickstart your strategic conversations with AI:

  1. “What are the most disruptive trends and technologies that could fundamentally reshape our industry in the next 5-10 years? What strategic moves should we consider getting ahead of these disruptions?”
  2. “If we were to pursue a radically different business model or enter an entirely new market, what would be our most promising options? What capabilities would we need to succeed?”
  3. “How are our competitors likely to respond to our current strategy? What bold, unconventional moves could we make to leapfrog them and capture new growth opportunities?”
  4. “As we embark on this major organizational transformation, what are the biggest risks to our culture, talent, and performance? How can we mitigate these risks and keep our people engaged and motivated throughout the journey?”
  5. “Fast-forward five years and imagine our company has achieved unprecedented success. What would that future look like, and what were the pivotal decisions and actions that got us there?”
  6. “What are the most pressing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues facing our business today? How can we address these issues in a way that creates long-term value for all our stakeholders?”
  7. “What’s the most compelling way to articulate our strategy to inspire excitement and buy-in from employees, customers, and partners? What key messages, proof points, and stories would resonate with each audience?”

Always triangulate AI-generated insights with other data sources, human experts in the field, and your management team’s judgments before making decisions. The goal is to create a powerful synthesis of human and artificial intelligence, combining the unique strengths of each to make better strategic decisions.

Challenge area 3: Integrating AI into your organization

Leaders must establish robust governance frameworks and ensure AI-driven decisions align with organizational values and ethical principles. Ethical AI deployment must be transparent and fair and come with clear accountability. Building up AI ethical competence will only become more important as AI evolves and shapes the business landscape.

With governance frameworks in place, leaders should actively foster a culture of curiosity and experimentation, encouraging their team to approach AI with open and inquisitive mindsets. AI literacy training that explains how the technology works, its strengths and limitations, and how it can be applied to strategic problems is essential.

As AI technology continues to rapidly evolve, leaders must continuously monitor and adapt to its changing capabilities and limitations. This requires a commitment to ongoing learning and experimentation and a willingness to refine AI strategies and governance frameworks as new opportunities and challenges emerge.

At the end of the day, to harness the power of AI to drive innovation, leaders must address these overlapping challenges guided by our human strengths.

AI x 9: This article appears in a nine-part summer series examining how AI impacts leadership and business, produced in collaboration with ExpansiĂłn.


Michael Watkins - IMD Professor

Michael D. Watkins

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at IMD

Michael D Watkins is Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at IMD, and author of The First 90 Days, Master Your Next Move, Predictable Surprises, and 12 other books on leadership and negotiation. His book, The Six Disciplines of Strategic Thinking, explores how executives can learn to think strategically and lead their organizations into the future. A Thinkers 50-ranked management influencer and recognized expert in his field, his work features in HBR Guides and HBR’s 10 Must Reads on leadership, teams, strategic initiatives, and new managers. Over the past 20 years, he has used his First 90 Days® methodology to help leaders make successful transitions, both in his teaching at IMD, INSEAD, and Harvard Business School, where he gained his PhD in decision sciences, as well as through his private consultancy practice Genesis Advisers. At IMD, he directs the First 90 Days open program for leaders taking on challenging new roles and co-directs the Transition to Business Leadership (TBL) executive program for future enterprise leaders.


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