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Machine learning can predict leaders, maybe

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 20 June 2019, 7:58 pm

What makes a good leader? Apparently, this too can be answered by Artificial Intelligence. That's according to a study led by Otago University, which claims that very soon machines will have a say in who becomes top dog.

"Basically, where there's data, there's going to be some sort of machine learning algorithm exploring patterns," says Dr Brian Spisak, lead author of the study.

"It will shape how we select leaders (and followers), build teams, make decisions at a strategic level, adjust patterns of behaviour in real-time, dictate marketing plans, and adjust how we distribute budgets and make investments."

The study, published in The Leadership Quarterly, used self-report personality data and performance evaluations of 973 managers from a range of areas. The researchers then used machine learning to investigate the theory of different personality traits being linked to successful leadership.

Organisations and companies have amassed plenty of data, which is often used during the hiring process to determine the best candidate. It now appears that this can be useful in singling out the employees destined to rule.

"We realised it's only a matter of time until the mountain of leadership personality data is used to predict leader effectiveness. It's increasingly important to better understand what machine learning can add as well as what it can't," he says.

He also queries how people will feel about a machine judging their suitability to be become a CEO. "How much should we rely on the machine?" he asks.

And could a machine do a better job than humans, and how do you measure 'better' - bigger profits, more sustainable, happy staff ? I expect those considerations would need to be part of the algorithm.

Context is also important, according to the Study which found personality predicted performance and, importantly, context of the situation, significantly improved the ability to calculate leader performance.

"This predictive boost from context implies that no matter how charismatic, extroverted, or generally amazing a leader is, if the situation is not conducive, then leaders will struggle," says Spisak.

"So leaders may want to choose their situations wisely. Just because someone offers you the opportunity to be prime minister of the UK, for instance, should you take it during these Brexit times (especially if you're worried about longevity)? I don't know much about Theresa May as a leader, but the cards were definitely stacked against her."

Indeed. We should all be a little bit careful about ushering in a Brave New World - whether at the workplace or in government.

"Machine learning is ethically void. It will find patterns, but that does not mean we should act on them. Inadvertently using the wrong fuel in the machine learning engine has the potential to damage both the engine and the operator," Spisak says.

"Perhaps one way our future should change is the development of organisational departments for the ethical application of machine learning and artificial intelligence."

You can read more about the study here.


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