Will ChatGPT weaponize transformational leadership?

Generative AI may have important implications for management and leadership. Whether it will be a helpful tool or a poisoned gift is yet to be seen — and will largely depend on how it is used

Manuel Guerris

Social and traditional media are continuously boosting news explaining the advantages and challenges of ChatGPT user cases in different industries. This AI chat has seemingly revolutionized the markets, turning them upside down. Clearly, it is a breakthrough in how we interact with computers. However, what about its implications for management and, specifically, leadership? Will it help leaders or should they feel threatened by its spread?  

ChatGPT is, first and foremost, a chat. A chat, as we currently understand it, refers to communicating and interacting through messages over the Internet with either a computer or a person. Companies harness chats to support customers, suppliers or employees, among other stakeholders.  

The main differences between current chat applications and ChatGPT are the latter’s scale and ability to generate content. ChatGPT was trained with massive amounts of pre-2021 Internet information, being the first time a chat scaled up with generic information and using a machine learning model with 175 bilion parameters.  

The main difference about ChatGPT is its scale and ability to generate content

The ability to generate new content from previous content places ChatGPT in the generative AI category. Its technology — based on mathematical probabilities forecasting the next words and sentences based on all the previous ones — is disruptive and new, allowing us to make and refine conversations in a way that we are still getting accustomed to.  

However, it is not perfect. Having tried it, I dare say that it keeps the same pace as any other machine learning system currently on the market. It depends heavily on the data the system was trained on, their quality, level of bias and timeline.  

In particular, ChatGPT was not exhaustively trained with data from 2021 and after. Thus, when the information it has is minimal, superficial or biased, the results it produces suffer the same fate. And so, it makes mistakes, which is why, although ChatGPT might be great for creating content from scratch, it also requires human intervention to refine and adjust its answers. Nevertheless, it is still more powerful than other chatbots because it covers so many topics.  

What ChatGPT knows about leadership

The best way to find out how well ChatGPT works is to try it. We asked ChatGPT about transformational leadership and some related topics. It gave a correct definition and provided examples of these kind of leaders in big and small companies and in politics, as well as of companies failing with transformational leadership.  

However, it repeats part of the speech when asked about transformational leadership with men or women or different cultures and can surprisingly correlate it with electrical generators. Although it seems that it could have some intelligence because we can interact with it as if we were talking with a person, it cannot understand and contextualize its output the same way as humans can.  

ChatGPT cannot understand and contextualize its output the same way as humans can

After this, we asked ChatGPT how can boost transformational leadership. Some of the results obtained were scary and with a scent of a superb attitude. It suggested it could provide vast amounts of information on leadership, learning support, answering questions, facilitating discussions, and offering guidance to develop leadership skills. It also said it could help leaders identify areas where they need to change and customize feedback about their styles and behaviors. Its final answer likewise seemed slightly arrogant: “By leveraging its vast knowledge and capabilities, ChatGPT can be an effective tool for boosting transformational leadership in organizations.”  

How can ChatGPT help transformational leaders?

In light of these surprising results, can transformational leaders benefit from ChatGPT? ChatGPT also affirmed that they could. It could enable them free up time to focus on more strategic and creative endeavors, helping to facilitate communication and cooperation among team members. They could also use it to gather and analyze data, identify trends and patterns, and make more informed decisions.  

These dimensions are part of how technology and AI impact leadership. Their impact is reflected in overcoming language barriers, automating management and getting insights from data. However, ChatGPT cannot handle other dimensions, such as simulations, employee flexibility, and real-time management.  

ChatGPT can free up us time to focus on more strategic and creative endeavors

Reviewing the definition of transformational leadership and its four I’s (Idealized influence, Inspirational motivation, Intellectual stimulation, and Individualized consideration), we can analyze the links between them and ChatGPT usage.  

Transformational leaders behave as role models, motivate and inspire others, stimulate innovation and creativity, and act as coaches and mentors. In this regard, they could use ChatGPT in a way that serves as an example for other people, to use it to make better and faster decisions. They could motivate and help their teams to try it and to look for business applications to add value to the organization.  

All these ideas could also be extended to other disruptive or innovative technologies to boost efficiency and productivity. Whether or not you like technology, who could be against it?  

Managers should simultaneously evaluate both positive and negative consequences in the short and long term

Still, there is a downside to implementing and using ChatGPT or other technologies able to transform businesses, in part, by automating processes. The sword of Damocles could threaten teammates. Automation might lead to dismissals affecting the organization not only in terms of the knowledge lost but also the motivation of the employees who depend on it. 

These consequences might reduce the positive effects on business goals and, even worse, on the transformational process and leadership style the organization would like to implement and sustain over the long term. Moreover, newer initiatives linked to cultural change might not be credible if the organization has learned that innovation has been punished with dismissals.  

In short, the business world is amazed by and excited to try the latest disruptive AI technologies, including ChatGPT, and to look for business applications for them. Managers are responsible for being open to these developments but simultaneously able to evaluate both positive and negative consequences in the short and long term of their impact on organizations and their cultures. 

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