Why artificial intelligence will never be smart enough to replace a good leader

Robots and leadership CSC Blogs

Recent events suggest that in the next 5 to 10 years, robots will be prevalent in society, serving humans in areas that 10 years ago seemed impossible.

Governed by artificial intelligence (AI) and policies we put in place, robots will be helpers in our daily routines. From shopping, driving, cooking, cleaning to looking after people and animals and replicating advanced tasks we model for them, robots will serve us in a large variety of ways.

Humans’ role in the workforce will change as we seek to differentiate ourselves from AI in order to show our worth. What will humans add to the equation and where will we add value – those are questions we must consider now.

Travelling on the train from Mandurah to Perth, Australia, recently, I saw a slogan for Headstrong that brought this question to mind. The slogan read, “Strong Mind, Strong Spirit, Happy Soul.” It’s clever in that it seems to imply if you believe it, it can happen. It’s like Peter Pan believing he can be a boy forever; he just has to believe. Something doesn’t have to be real for you to believe; it only needs to empower you.

This saying really brought home to me what it takes to be a leader, to believe in something when everyone else may believe the opposite, to believe in something when your passion gives you the strength of mind and spirit to succeed – and to empower and inspire others to action, too. It made me think – is this what makes humans different? Is this what will make us valuable in the future?

This led me to ponder the act of mentoring. The mentoring relationship is built on trust and bound by an agreement of mutual respect for those involved. As a recent mentor, my mentee asked me, “Are you getting paid for this gig?” My response was that I am learning as much from my mentees as they learn from me. My mentees often work with the next generation of technology, which may be applied in 10-15years from now, which I want to know about. And I have a sense of “giving back” what I received from many mentors over the years. Plus, I want to help them. A robot will never feel this way. We can dictate a set of rules for a robot to follow, but in order to be a good mentor, sometimes you need to bend the rules to help others learn and develop.

Robots in positions of leadership can use a set of clear rules and processes to be good managers. But to lead requires more than that. It requires one to sometimes step out of bounds, rise up and inspire others, even in the darkest of times. Where will a robot find the soul, empowerment and spirit to do these things? Their AI is not sophisticated enough to understand the grey area between right and wrong and to navigate differing opinions and changing situations.

So what makes humans different? It’s the way in which we are able to adapt and change our preferences, opinions and viewpoints based on what we learn from others. Of course, we can teach robots right from wrong with machine-learning. But what they really need is a way to understand the shades of grey that occur in numerous decisions on a daily basis.

I don’t feel a robot will ever be able to achieve this – certainly not in my lifetime. And I don’t think they will behave either as a mentee or mentor. Sure, a robot will be able to understand the data around an experience, but it will never know what the person felt, learned or lost. It will just be able to replay the events that occurred.

In addition, I don’t think robots will be able to empower us. Without passion, inspiration and soul, they will not be able to lead and inspire us. (And the day robots master these emotions will be an extremely dangerous one for the human race.) Instead, I envision robots teaming up with humans to accomplish amazing things – like Ironman and Jarvis.

Where do humans add value? Humans add value with our soul, by believing passionately in changing things for good and in helping the next generation succeed.

It’s our creativity, innovation and heart that will set us apart from the robots. But together, humans and robots can certainly make the world a better place.

Sarah James was ANZ lead for Authentic Leadership in DXC and an advocate for DXC’s Women in Leadership and STEM. Prior to leaving DXC in September 2017, Sarah founded the Empowering Future Leaders blog and was its primary author. With over 15 years of experience in the world of IT, Sarah’s specialty is spatial information and includes integration on projects as diverse as mapping volcanoes in Hawaii to delivering high-tech police vehicles.


Real or sci-fi: Robotic software automation

Smartphones are on the way out. What’s next?

Apps engage consumers with breathrough tech


  1. Well done. I’m reminded of the quote from Miracle on 34th St. – “Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to”. It wasn’t a crazy old man who thought he was Santa Claus who was being judged. It was kindness and goodness, other qualities that set us apart, that were on trial.

  2. Brian, thank you very much for your kind comments. One of my favourite films. Kindness and goodness should always prevail.

  3. Ken Gottry says:

    Sarah – well thought out and well presented. Your passion comes through loud and clear as you encourage (implore) others to be passionate. Sometimes a human teaches and touches just by looking deeply into another’s eyes. I have always felt that the problem with AI was right in its name *Artificial*. Humans have RI … real intelligence … and RP … real passion

  4. Rob Kohler says:

    Great conversation starter for 10 !!! Around a table sometime the debate will go down a Si-fi routes I’m sure. Context around the comments “what it takes to be a leader” is going to lead into much discusion in the years to come.

  5. Nicely said Sarah! I’ll take the opposing view that without emotion we’d not have AI – simply a sophisticated pattern recogniser. It’s interesting when you look at the Turing test that it relies on the invisibility of the responder, so that they are indistinguishable from the other. Only language can be relied on, which has actually caused some folks to fail as the human under the test.

    A far more interesting and intuitive example is the Chinese room scenario, where a sophisticated process recognises Chinese symbols entering the room on a conveyer belt and adds new ones in response according to a very sophisticated set of rules.

    We might get the rules to the point of fooling people that there’s a fluent person in the room but it would be hard to argue that rule books make consciousness.

    From a neurological and evolutionary stand point emotion is the first language of the self, providing a compelling, clear and persistent simple grammar of ‘pay attention’.

    I wonder in the great teaching example if the appearance of empathy can be programmed – after all emotional intelligence can be learned and it’s mostly off social, tonal, body language, linguistic and facial cues we respond.

    These are deep, interesting waters!


  1. […] Why artificial intelligence will never be smart enough to replace a good leader […]

  2. […] Why artificial intelligence will never be smart enough to replace a good leader […]

  3. […] Why artificial intelligence will never be smart enough to replace a good leader […]

  4. […] Why artificial intelligence will never be smart enough to replace a good leader […]

  5. […] Why artificial intelligence will never be smart enough to replace a good leader […]

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.