How to lead the augmented workforce: The dance of ‘humarithms and algorithms’

It’s time to collaborate with AI, say Frederick Holscher and Colin Williams.

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The futurologist John Naisbitt famously said: “The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.”

In many people’s minds artificial intelligence and humans in the workplace are in direct competition. Will I become redundant and my job be replaced by automation? Will I lose control of my role at the mercy of machines? These questions haunt the hearts and minds of many workers, who see a bleak picture when they imagine an automated future.

On the other hand, we believe leaders have a choice. They can either turn the workplace into a war between humans and clever robots, or into an intricate dance, where two different ways of solving problems – ‘algorithms and humarithms’ as futurist Gerd Leonhard calls them – augment one another, bringing out the best possible results.

It is not only disruption brought about by technology, but disruption in what we regard as being human that faces leaders in the 21st Century. It is customary to call humans ‘resources’ – hence the traditional Human Resources department.

However this limited view of people places humans on the same level as technological ‘resources,’ feeding a sense of fierce competition and anxiety in the workforce.

In many people’s minds artificial intelligence and humans in the workplace are in direct competition. Will I become redundant and my job be replaced by automation?

Within this dance, perhaps we should reframe humans as living, creative beings who uniquely collaborate and co-create solutions? Within the renamed ‘Human Relations’ department the relationship between AI and HI becomes one of the key relationships to be dealt with and mastered.

The triple DNA of 21st century leadership

In our new research ‘Ego, Eco and Intuitive Leadership: A new logic for disruptive times, reflecting on automation as an opportunity rather than a threat, we propose a new narrative to guide leadership in the 21st century. 

Our new model centres around three type of leadership intelligence – the triple DNA. If leaders can find a good blend between these three types of intelligence, they can explore ways of helping people to tap into this vast resource of ‘non-rational’ ‘unconscious’ knowledge and find fresh and innovative ways of ‘connecting the dots’ in the dance between algorithms and humarithms:

Ego intelligent leaders have the ability to analyse and shape the world of work according to structures and processes, getting humans to fit in the boxes of jobs and roles. If the intelligent robot can do the job better, the leader will just replace the person.


Ego intelligent leaders are good judges to decide what is right or wrong, what fits the best and then eliminate what is wrong or what does not fit. They are the achievers, influencing human behaviour through inspiration or coercion to achieve their objectives.

Eco Intelligent leaders on the other hand have different capabilities, they are the integrators. They have discovered the art of reconciliation instead of elimination and can see how different and even opposing ideas can be brought together to create something new.

Instead of linear cause and effect thinking, like the ego leader, they think in a matrix way, relating two different opinions, or ways of doing and seeing how they can augment each other to create new solutions for problems.

Eco leaders see organisations as a web of interdependent relationships between people, stakeholders and technology and find ways to leverage this. They have an alternative mindset which is less about using influence or force to get what they want, and more about facilitating generative dialogue in a bid to search for innovative solutions.

Intuitive intelligence is the third strand – and perhaps the most hidden and unexplored of the trio of leadership capabilities we have identified in our research. Intuition or ‘gut feel’ are often frowned upon in a world of work where facts and figures rule the day, and where the craving for data is fast becoming the new ‘gold or oil rush’ of the 21st Century.

Intuitive intelligence enables leaders to sense into a situation or meeting from a place of inner calm, noticing what is happening in the room and with the conversation and then to share some innate wisdom or perspective that ‘comes to them’. 

This wisdom is not always rational or backed up by a business case, but brings a perspective that lies beyond the existing thinking or paradigm. For example, Steve Jobs was quoted as saying: ‘If would have asked my customers, I would never have developed the iPhone.’ Through trusting his intuition, he tuned into a space of unlimited possibilities, changing the future of mobile phones and communication.

Seeing the stars

To quote the famous phrase: two people looked through the prison bars, one saw mud, the other saw stars.

The worries and concerns we have about the augmented workforce have the potential to turn into dreams about a different and hopefully better future, beyond the flight of our imagination, if we have the courage to change our mindset.

Let’s use our new leadership intelligence to create a dance – not a war – between the artificial and human and discover what it means to be human again.


About the authors

Frederick Holscher teaches, researches and consults in the areas of leadership and diversity. Colin Williams is professor of practice at HULT Ashridge Executive Education where he is director of the Transformational Leader program. 


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