How to rethink your leadership style with responsibility and purpose in mind.

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How to rethink your leadership style with responsibility and purpose in mind.

Written by: Rana el Kaliouby

The CEO role has been evolving for several years; and, that shift continues to accelerate amidst the pandemic and mounting urgency to combat systemic injustice. 2020 demands a new form of leadership, centered on having a purpose beyond profit. 

Recognizing this, the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Accenture recently developed a responsible leadership framework and shared best practices at WEF’s Young Global Leaders Summit this week. Here are five tenets of responsible leadership and thoughts on how you can put them into action. 

Consider your stakeholders (beyond those you’ve always included)

Responsible leadership is not just about making decisions in the interest of select stakeholders. You need to account for all of your stakeholders: employees, clients, suppliers, your industry, and the general public. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as the CEO of a technology company, Affectiva. We build artificial intelligence (AI), and as with any emerging technology, AI’s adoption will come with benefits as well as risks – specifically when it comes to concerns of data privacy and AI bias. Given the widespread implications of our work, it’s crucial for us to partner with the broader technology ecosystem, as well as other key stakeholder groups, to collaborate on these issues. 

To broaden your stakeholder inclusion, seek out industry organizations that you can participate in. For example, Affectiva is part of an organization, the Partnership on AI, that brings together tech organizations, academia, and civil liberty non-profits to outline standards for the ethical development and deployment of AI. These organizations provide a forum for connecting with stakeholders who you may not regularly speak with, and are key in ensuring your company can make decisions with a wider impact in mind. 

Embrace emotions

Emotions are a driving force in how we make decisions, learn, communicate, connect. So, responsible leadership is about leading not only with IQ, but also, EQ (emotional intelligence). 

This principle is close to my heart, as Affectiva is in the business of (artificial) emotional intelligence. But, before we can achieve that in our technology, we need to prioritize emotional intelligence with one another. 

It comes down to leading with empathy. You need to show your team that you see them as people first, rather than just employees. This is especially important in times of crisis. Be flexible with employees who may be juggling work with responsibilities at home; or, who may be experiencing anxiety. You cannot be effective as a team – or a leader – if you only consider someone’s needs from a professional perspective. 

Let your mission and purpose be your North Star

Your mission should be more than just a line on your Website. It should be lived every day and guide every decision you make.

For example, Affectiva’s mission is to humanize technology before it dehumanizes us, and we have strong core values around privacy and ethics. Not only do our mission and values shape the technology we build, but they also guide who we partner with and where we sell our technology. Over the years, our mission and values have been put to the test, and yours will too. We’ve had to walk away from lucrative investment opportunities that did not match our core values, even in times when we needed the money. These decisions were difficult, but they led us to find other investors and partners who shared our vision. Our mission has, and will always be, our North Star. Yours will guide you too. 

Prioritize technology and innovation

No matter your industry, technology and innovation are key for success in today’s digital-first economy. This is especially true as the way we work, learn and socialize goes virtual amidst the pandemic. You need to look to new technologies and approaches to push your industry forward. My company is a technology company; however, as we tackle challenges such as bias in AI, we need to embrace new methods, such as data synthesis, to change our approach. 

Diversity also needs to be top-of-mind as you adopt new technologies for internal processes or customer experiences. Ask yourself: who built this technology? Who does it benefit? Are diverse voices included? If you fail to consider diversity in technology, it will set you back rather than propelling you forward. 

Constantly evolve your intellect and insight

As a leader, you need to commit to lifelong learning and recognize that you do not possess all of the answers – and that’s okay! You can amplify your expertise by including diverse voices and perspectives that help evolve your thinking.

For example, even though Affectiva is a technology company, we recognize that tech expertise alone is not enough to realize our vision. We need a multi-disciplinary team with a diversity of educational backgrounds and perspectives. 

One way to do this is by making it core to your hiring strategy. Don’t be afraid to look outside of the “traditional” job requirements, and consider a candidate with a slightly different background. Affectiva has also been able to broaden our intellect through internships and education programs. Each year, we hire a diverse group of trainees that represent all education levels (high school through graduate students) and different areas of expertise. Not only does this help us expand our views, but it also gives us a chance to give back by developing the next generation of leaders in our industry. 

In spite of the challenges 2020 has presented, we should use this as an opportunity to rethink our approach to leadership. How are you applying responsible leadership?

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August 21, 2020 at 12:25PM

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Dr. Sharon Lamm-Hartman