Top 7 Leadership Skills for Small Business Leaders in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

by | Apr 24, 2023 | Artificial Intelligence, Leadership

Regardless of industry, organizational size or geographical location, being an effective leader has always come with inherent challenges and rewards. As the rate at which the world of business and technology continues to accelerate, however, the definition of an “effective leader” also continues to change at unprecedented speeds.

In less complicated days of years past, strong leaders were considered those who excelled in competencies such as effective delegation, conflict management and relationship management. Those of course remain foundational skills in every leader’s toolkit, without which they undoubtedly wouldn’t hold leadership positions to begin with – at least not entirely successfully.

But in today’s world of advanced technologies, geo-socio-economic turmoil, and rapidly changing consumer trends and demands, strong leaders are having to master a wider range of more complex skills. Leaders of small businesses – those with under 250 employees – tend to have to juggle even greater levels of stress and variables than their larger counterparts, demanding more of them than ever before.

The 7 Top Leadership Skills for Small Business Leaders in Age of Artificial Intelligence

What are the skills that all business leaders – especially small business leaders – need to master in today’s world, then? There are of course many, including the “classics” of effective communications, motivating others, and strong relationship-building. But these seven are standouts in the increasingly complex and fast-paced world of business, focused on artificial intelligence and the use of other advanced technologies.

1. Agility: Agility in leadership refers to the ability to adapt quickly and effectively to rapidly changing circumstances. In the age of AI and advanced technologies, the business landscape is evolving at an unprecedented pace, rendering agility an essential trait. Agile leaders are adept at swiftly identifying opportunities and threats, pivoting their strategies, and guiding their organizations through change.

With at least 71% of companies already implementing Agile methodology, Agile has an established stronghold within organizations. But as AI continues to disrupt industries and redefine work, leaders must be prepared to adjust their operating models, embrace new technology, and foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement faster than ever before.

For example, a leader may need to quickly learn how to use a new AI-powered tool in order to improve their team’s productivity. Or, they may need to pivot their business model in response to a new technological development.


2. Technological Savvy: Leaders can no longer get by by pumping up their teams, offering exceptional services / products, and providing excellent customer service. In addition to those must-have’s, they must also fully embrace advanced technologies and leverage artificial intelligence in their organizations. This includes staying informed about the latest trends, identifying relevant opportunities, and making informed decisions about technology adoption. Technologically savvy leaders can drive innovation and growth by incorporating new tools and systems into their organizations’ operations, while also addressing potential ethical, legal, and security concerns.

Technological savvy is now an integral component of organizational success that leaders no longer have the luxury of delegating to their teams. They need to be able to understand how advanced technologies work, and they need to be able to use these technologies to improve their organization’s performance. They to understand, for example, how AI can be used to automate tasks, improve customer service, or develop new products.


3. Innovation: Innovation is the ability to come up with new ideas and solutions. It’s always been a crucial skill for leaders, as it drives the development of new products, services, and business models that can keep organizations competitive in a fast-changing world. In the age of AI and advanced technologies, however, it takes on an even greater prominence, as they must not only embrace innovative solutions but also foster a culture of creativity and experimentation within their teams.

By encouraging risk-taking and challenging the status quo, leaders can inspire their teams to develop novel ideas and solutions that can improve their organizations and create value in the marketplace.For example, a leader may come up with a new way to use AI to automate tasks, improve customer service, or develop new products.


4. Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. Most organizations understand the importance of strong EI in the context of effective leadership, as pioneered and institutionalized by Daniel Goleman back in the early 2000’s.

In the age of AI and advanced technologies, EI remains crucial for effective leadership, as it helps leaders build strong relationships, foster collaboration, and create positive work environments.

While AI can automate many tasks, it cannot replace the human touch that is essential for inspiring and motivating teams. Leaders with high emotional intelligence can empathize with their team members, resolve conflicts, and provide support during times of change and uncertainty.

Now more than ever, leaders need to be able to understand and manage the emotions of their team members in order to create a positive and productive work environment. For example, a leader may need to help a team member who is feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the changes brought about by AI, workforce automation, or other advanced technologies.


5. Collaboration & Teamwork: The ability to collaborate effectively has become increasingly important for leaders as the world has become more global and connected. Why? Because harnessing the collective intelligence and unique perspectives of their teams to develop more innovative and effective solutions to complex problems will help their companies remain competitive through increasingly rapid rates of change.

Furthermore, high-performing collaboration is essential for leveraging AI and advanced technologies, as these tools often require interdisciplinary expertise and cooperation between different departments and stakeholders. For example, a leader may need to work with a team of engineers to develop a new AI-powered product. Or, they may need to collaborate with a marketing team to launch a new AI-powered campaign.


6. Critical Thinking: This refers to the ability to analyze information, evaluate evidence, and make reasoned decisions. In the age of AI and advanced technologies, this is an essential skill for leaders who must use critical thinking skills to navigate the sky-rocketing complexities of the digital world, assess the validity of data and information, and make informed strategic choices.

Critical thinking is essential for identifying potential risks and opportunities associated with new technologies, as well as for evaluating the implications of AI-driven decisions on various stakeholders.

By applying critical thinking skills, leaders can make more effective decisions that drive their organizations forward in a rapidly changing world. For example, a leader may need to decide whether or not to invest in a new AI-powered tool. Or, they may need to decide how to use one of the many new AI chatbots to improve customer service.


7. Decision-Making: Decision-making in this context focuses on the ability to make sound decisions under pressure. This has always been a crucial skill for leaders, but it takes on heightened importance in the age of AI and advanced technologies. Leaders must balance the potential benefits of AI-driven solutions with the risks and ethical considerations associated with their use. This requires leaders to weigh various factors, such as the accuracy and fairness of AI algorithms, the potential impact on employees and customers, and the long-term consequences of their decisions.

Additionally, leaders must be prepared to make quick decisions in a rapidly evolving technological landscape, while remaining adaptable and open to change as new information becomes available. For example, a leader may need to make a decision about whether or not to recall a product that has been found to be defective. Or, they may need to make a decision about how to respond to a security breach.

Wrapping Up…

Solid leadership obviously requires more than mastering these seven skills. But without these, leaders of today and tomorrow, and their companies, simply won’t succeed. As I mentioned in a previous post, the companies that survive through the next few years will be those that understand and leverage advanced technologies to their advantage.

For better or for worse, right or wrong by any given measure, how business owners and leaders view technologies such as artificial intelligence is somewhat irrelevant. Regardless of their views about it, the success of their business will probably depend on the degree to which they use it to their advantage. Their successful competitors will.


The Future-Proof Business helps small businesses become future-proof by showing them how to anticipate and pivot around the trends that will impact their competitiveness in the future, and then implement the tools and technologies that will ensure their long-term profitability. Visit our Consulting or Leadership Development page to learn more, or contact us so we can explore how your business may benefit from the rapid advances in technology.

Marina von Bergen, MAM, ACC

My 23+ year career as a consultant, leadership development expert and executive coach in large global firms shifted in 2020 when I felt compelled to focus on consulting and coaching small to medium sized businesses that were negatively impacted by the pandemic. Since then, I have continued pursing my passion of helping small businesses and their leaders become future-proof by leveraging best-in-class trends, technologies, and tools. My official, professional expertise lies in consulting and coaching leaders in areas of change management, human capital, communications, emotional intelligence, and leadership development. I have helped organizations and leaders all around the globe, in many industries, and from countless walks of life. Visit The Future-Proof Business to learn more. 

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