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ATD Blog

Great Leadership Development Is Real, Not Artificial

Friday, May 12, 2023

No technology has been adopted as quickly as AI. This is amazing given we are still determining what to do with this phantasmagorical technology. AI will change every aspect of life and work. As it does, the need for human connection will become more pronounced and essential, especially as it relates to leadership development. As AI scientist and author Amit Ray says, “As more and more artificial intelligence is entering into the world, more and more emotional intelligence must enter into leadership.”

AI can perform tasks that replace human activity. For leadership development professionals, AI can be incredibly helpful, from organizing ideas to structuring outlines, assisting with scheduling, and providing chat support. More strikingly, AI can even create content and images. So, despite the dystopian warnings about robots taking over the world, AI is mostly good. That said, while robots are helpful, bots aren’t leaders.

As practitioners who design and develop comprehensive leadership programs know, a lot goes into effective leadership development. The most effective leadership programs combine group and individual learning experiences.

At the group level, going through an educational experience with fellow high-potential employees is essential for building a strong and collaborative peer network. The group aspects of a leadership program, such as when a cohort of budding leaders go through a series of leadership workshops together, allow everyone to learn a common leadership standard, work on relevant case studies together, and learn from each other’s experiences.

The group elements of a leadership program can be made even more powerful if they include action teams, whereby subgroups of leaders work on items of strategic importance with one another, providing tangible value for the organization in exchange for the investment being made in its leaders.


Great leadership programs include more than group experiences. Each leader is on their development journey. If that journey isn’t recognized, attended to, or otherwise neglected, the individual leader won’t progress much during the leadership program. Thus, in addition to group experiences, effective leadership programs include individual elements.

The most impactful programs include one-on-one leadership coaching for each leader. A qualified coach helps the emerging leader identify their strengths, clarify developmental gaps, develop a viewpoint about leadership, and ultimately build confidence. A coach can also gently hold up the metaphorical mirror to let the leader know when their values might not be walking in lockstep with their actions.


From a leadership development standpoint, AI can be a great assistant. Many activities that used to take hours and hours, like identifying, organizing, and creating content, can now be done quickly with AI. But what’s artificial shouldn’t be a replacement for what is authentic. Fake is no substitute for real, no matter how real the fake thing seems.

Groups of leaders in a leadership program still need a qualified human being to shepherd them through the experience. Groups still need a skilled facilitator to challenge, provoke, support, and encourage them. Individual leaders still need human beings, in the form of mentors and coaches, who will listen to them, believe in them, give them honest feedback, and draw out their self-worth.

AI, regardless of how seemingly real, will never be real. People and developing leaders will always need real connections. They will always need an attentive ear, caring eyes, and genuine laughter. Humans will always need other humans.

In the coming years, it will be important for organizations to resist the temptation to get so frothy with AI exuberance that they lose sight of the human elements that are essential for developing leaders. AI can have a positive and transformational affect on the world. But what is artificial must work in concert with what is authentic.

About the Author

Bill Treasurer is founder of Giant Leap Consulting, Inc., a courage-building consulting firm that designs, develops, and delivers comprehensive leadership programs. Bill is the author of six books, including Courage Goes to Work and Leadership Two Words at a Time. For nearly three decades Bill has worked with thousands of leaders across the globe, from such renowned organizations as NASA, UBS Bank, Saks Fifth Avenue, eBay, Lenovo, the Social Security Administration, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. He currently serves on the board of ISA, an association of learning providers and recently received their Outstanding Contribution award. Learn more at

1 Comment
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One of my weaknesses as a leader is not reading more literature unless necessary. Every day is learning however, I'm not fascinated with applying myself anymore. I have been in many board meetings, conferences, and huddles no one uses terminologies learned in college and everyone talks about metrics (key performance indicators) for stakeholder profit growth. I've joined to develop my leadership skills.
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