AI + EQ Is the New Equation For Success

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Why and how the best leaders focus on artificial intelligence AND emotional intelligence.

AI, and new large language models like ChatGPT, have captured the imagination, excitement and fear of leaders, companies and industries worldwide.

While AI may possess unparalleled computational capabilities, it lacks fundamental human qualities.

As we enter this new world dominated by AI, another type of intelligence — emotional intelligence — has never been more crucial. In this article I make the case that the most effective leaders in the years and decades to come will need not one, but two types of intelligence to thrive: artificial and emotional.

Emotional intelligence, often referred to as EQ, encompasses a set of skills, mindsets, and abilities that enable individuals to recognize, understand, and manage their emotions and those of others. It involves empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, picking up on social cues, and an awareness of the environment around us. Put another way — crucial human skills for understanding oneself and others.

Machines excel in processing data and making decisions based on predictive logic — so much so that they will likely eventually become more effective than their human counterparts at many of these analytical tasks. However, they fall short of grasping the intricacies of human emotions and social dynamics.

AI will become a complement to our human experience — not a replacement for it. So that means that human skills will become increasingly crucial in both the design and interaction with AI systems.

Emotional Intelligence in Designing AI

Emotional intelligence allows developers and engineers to design AI systems that can better understand and respond to human emotions and desires. By elevating emotional intelligence in our design of AI technologies, we can create more personalized and empathetic interactions that cater to individual users, leading to enhanced customer satisfaction, personalization and loyalty.

One of the most critical aspects of incorporating emotional intelligence in AI is addressing the biases and ethical concerns associated with this technology. Bias can creep into AI systems when they are trained on data that reflects societal biases or when algorithms lack emotional nuance. Emotional intelligence equips designers and developers with the capacity to identify and rectify biases in AI systems upfront in pursuit of greater fairness and equity. Additionally, emotional intelligence allows us to create AI systems that better adhere to ethical guidelines — for instance respecting privacy, consent, and the emotional well-being of users. An AI system is only as good as the data it’s trained on, and it takes emotional intelligence to properly mitigate against potential downsides in the design and training of these tools.

Emotional Intelligence in Interacting with AI

As a faculty member teaching leadership and impact at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, I’m overall really optimistic about AI. But one of my concerns is that students will use tools like ChatGPT without employing critical thinking in its deployment. In fact, I saw one example shared by a professor at another university that showed a final paper a student turned in that accidentally had multiple references that it was written by ChatGPT. The student didn’t even read closely enough to see that it was obvious to anyone that it was a ChatGPT paper.

While we can get hung up on examples like this one, I’m more interested in the magical intersection point where AI tools make us more effective at our jobs — whether as founders, COOs or CMOs. Like any good collaboration, we need to focus on leveraging the unique strengths of both partners while mitigating the downsides.

Emotional intelligence is a tool to help us capture the upside of AI tools while reducing downside risk. AI can crunch the data, present visualizations, and share a set of recommendations for a new corporate strategy. But it’s still up to the leader to take the recommendation and implement it. That means understanding that the pitch for a new strategy to one’s board might be different from the pitch to front-line employees (something Psychologist Stephen Zacarro calls Cognitive Flexibility). It also means being able to adapt what ChatGPT predicts for one’s own environment — from identifying champions to persuading fence-sitters and overcoming detractors (per Zacarro this is Emotional Flexibility). Emotional intelligence is at the core of these approaches which turn AI output into a real-world impact.

AI might be able to tell you what to do, but emotional intelligence helps us figure out how to do it.

While everyone is focused right now on learning key AI skills — from designing to prompting — the leaders who will be most effective in this brave new world are those who also commit time and energy to improving their emotional intelligence.

AI + EQ is the new equation for success.