Leading People as Technology Accelerates

Despite emerging AI tech, leaders still need to invest time and energy in getting to know people and creating a culture where people want to work.

Technology has come a long way since the 1980s. The Internet, World-Wide Web, and e-mail changed all industries and how the people within them worked. Then in the early 2000s, Facebook and other social media platforms were created and influenced how people interacted with each other.

Initially, there were many fears about how this technology was going to affect workplaces. As a college professor during this evolution, one aspect I worried about was blatant plagiarism. My colleagues and I feared students would not do rigorous research, but would copy and paste from Websites and online documents. Then software programs were created to help us check for plagiarism.

For the past 50 years, we have learned how to leverage technology as a tool and how to overcome many of our fears of automation. Now with artificial intelligence (AI), similar fears are emerging. A recent New York Times article (June 11, 2023) stated, “Goldman Sachs estimated that the technology behind popular AI tools such as DALL-E and ChatGPT could automate the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs.” It further noted the “tremendous uncertainty” of AI’s effects.

But AI is here to stay, and, in fact, has been with us for some time. The challenge for leaders in all industries is to learn how to leverage it in ways to benefit them and their organizations. However, human workers will not become extinct. And leaders will still need to invest time and energy in getting to know people and creating a culture where people want to work.


I am working with a manufacturing firm where many of the jobs are automated. My role is to develop leaders to create a more cohesive culture. After interviewing about 75 percent of the firm’s workforce, I identified several themes that need to be addressed, including:

  • Accountability
  • Recognition, Appreciation, and Teambuilding
  • Communication
  • Management Visibility and Relationship Building

I heard how leaders often were nowhere to be seen and relied on e-mail to communicate most messages. Employees felt under appreciated and, many said, “invisible.” They expressed how they want leaders to get to know them as people—not just workers.

I concluded that leading people still depends on the human touch. But relationships take an investment of time. It is hard to trust people you don’t know. No matter what new tech emerges, leaders will always need to get to know people.

Jann E. Freed, Ph.D.
Jann E. Freed, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, coach, and leadership development and change management consultant. Her most recent book is “Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts” (ATD, 2013). For more information, visit: http://www.JannFreed.com.