Leading Humans & Machines in Knowledge Organizations

ILA Annual Conference 2018 -- Final Submission


Short Description

With the new digital era -- powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning -- businesses face a fundamentally different leadership challenge.  Authentic leaders will need to create new organizational narratives about the nature of work, the roles humans and machines play in integrated teams, and address the emotional needs of their human followers during exponential change.  This panel will synthesize original research with business executives and technology researchers at the era’s cutting edge and leadership scholarship to provide practical advice for leading human-machine teams and knowledge organizations now and into the future.

Detailed Abstract

We are entering a new era where executive leaders will be challenged in fundamentally new ways.  They will be required to integrate advanced machine capabilities -- such as artificial intelligence and machine learning -- with their human workforce into the core work of their organizations or face obsolescence themselves (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2017).

The changes to the nature of work in this new era are so profound that some -- including Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum -- have called it the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Schwab, 2016).  In this revolution, authentic leadership will be called for along with artificial intelligence to help people and organizations adapt to and capitalize upon this change (Heifetz, 2003).  Technological progress may bring peace and prosperity to agile and resourceful leaders and followers working together toward mutual goals and uncertainty and misfortune to the unprepared and misaligned (Burns, 1978).

Technological disruption will reach well beyond the factory floor, significantly impacting white collar knowledge workers.  The need for humans to perform the work traditionally done by loan officers, paralegals/1st year associates in large law firms, radiologists, and others will be greatly reduced or eliminated (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2017).  Companies and professions previously thought immutable, will need to adapt quickly or be overtaken by nimble, non-traditional challengers that have learned to successfully lead human and machine intelligences as an integrated team.

Authentic leaders will be called upon to create new organizational narratives about the nature of work, the roles humans and machines play in integrated teams, and address the emotional needs of their human followers during times of exponential change (Norman, 2017).  They will need to understand the strengths and weakness of human and machine team members and assign roles and design projects that maximize new opportunities and mitigate risks inherent in each.  Leaders will also need to persuade stakeholders to accept the validity of machine-generated data and insight.

This panel discussion will showcase the results of original research conducted in the United States and United Kingdom through interviews with technological and corporate leaders at the cutting edge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  It will provide specific examples of how business executives have led successful partnerships between humans and advanced machines across a variety of industries.  Finally, it will preview collaborations of the future based upon insights and technologies that are currently incubating in advanced research centers.

The presenters will integrate the practical experience gathered through their research with scholarship in the areas of leadership, followership, and organizational change.  They will employ these frameworks to analyze and develop strategic approaches to meet the challenges of this new era.  Ultimately, business leaders will leave the session armed with practical advice for leading their human-machine teams and knowledge organizations into the future with confidence and skillfulness.


  • Brynjolfsson, E. & McAfee, A. (2017). The business of artificial intelligence. Harvard Business Review. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
  • Burns, J. (1978). Leadership. Harper Torchbooks: New York.
  • Heifetz, R. (2003). Leadership Without Easy Answers. Harvard University Press: Massachusetts.
  • Liebowitz, J. (2001). Knowledge management and its link to artificial intelligence. Expert Systems with Applications, 20, 1-6.
  • Norman, D. (2017). Design, business models, and human-technology teamwork. Research-Technology Management, 60(1), p. 26 - 30.
  • Schwab, K. (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Crown Business: New York.