Automation transforms the priorities - and therefore the skills required of - the leaders in a new age of abundance.
By offering limitless low-cost labour it provides:
1. Immediate abundance of capacity.
2. Learned abundance of capability.
Before the opportunity to automate - particularly the opportunity to engage ML/AI-infused automation - successful management was all about control and direction of constrained and relatively fixed capacities and capabilities. These primarily existed in the employee cohort.
Over time this extended to out-sourced cohorts which offered a little more flexibility - but essentially capability and capacity resided in the people you directly or indirectly employed.
The scarcity of labour made the wise and timely allocation of it an essential business skill. That created an entire industry of strategic planning, roadmaps, business case development. HR and logistics to identify the need for new capacities and capabilities and scale up (and down) accordingly.
Pre-digital it was ok to have five-year plans. Digital typically thrust an annual cycle on leaders; the combined effect of the cloud and of globalization has already been to rapidly close any gap a 'strategy' may initially provide by way of competitive advantage.
With automation, there is no cycle. Leaders can summon up or switch off entire new swathes of digital workforces in seconds. Enabling this friction-free recruitment and redundancy through the cloud and appropriate pricing models is the near-term competitive battlefield for automation vendors.
And it closes the enablement gap between strategy and execution in ways 20th century leaders could only dream of.
But it also threatens some fundamental relationships between the organization and work. How many times have we heard leaders proclaim 'people are our greatest asset'. Now our leaders command a digital workforce - to both do the grunt work and augment the decision-making and creative delivery of their human teams.
Today's leader must become skilled in directing an automated workforce to deliver on decisions made by a human workforce, augmented and amplified by their digital peers.
Their choices are less about how many people they direct to to do what, and more about carving out the differentiation that informs what data they seek, where from and how it is interpreted for insight.
With so much data available to understand needs and wants, so many systems available to listen-learn-respond to those needs and understand customer contexts, and such limitless low-cost labour to deliver vs those needs in more and more customised configurations, business process operations will be honed in ever-improving, self-learning and natively automated iterative cycles.
Recognising and assembling the technologies to do this (as described by the OneOffice Emerging TechPlatform) at least places the enterprise on a level playing field with all the others that are smart enough and fast enough to recognise how digital transformation gets out of a strategists head and into the systems of the organisation.
Make no mistake, first-mover does offer an advantage here. The first to set their systems of learning rolling will accelerate their self-improving processes, and get faster and better at doing so - opening a gap that laggards will find hard to close.
But it is in the will to break down silos, in the quality and systemization of change, the emphasis on scaling their organisational digital fluency, and in the selection of a domain to extend expertise in, that competitive differentiation will emerge.
These then are the areas in which tomorrow's leaders must accelerate their skills. Not all come naturally. Selecting the domain comes down to legacy purpose or establishing one. This is where vision and belief come together to encompass both goals and ways of working to attract employees, partners, and customers and to inform and be reflected by the algorithms of the business - as much part of your brand as anything.
This will require a step-change in the embrace of data and insight for decision making, driving process and supporting the employee and customer experience.
Tomorrow's C-suite must be skilled and able to coach their intelligent automation processes to assist and complement their expertise - just as much as they coach their human reports to better support them in the future.
They must learn to trust in, and act on, the new opportunities their systems of anticipatory insight present them. They must accept that much of judgment now resides in backing the real-time data - ready to press the go-button on instant new divisions of digital labour to take advantage.
For some, the trust will only come when they understand and believe in the decisions embedded in the processes that deliver that data. They have to go on their journeys of discovery right now. Because before long we will stop talking about lucky generals and ballsy decisions.
The complete leader will be an insight-led pragmatic decision-maker, combining a scientific approach to data with the emotional intelligence, imagination and empathy to guide both people and bots towards an intended future in which the shared values and concerns of the humans engaged are brightly and clearly reflected.