On November 30, 2022, generative AI finally hit the mainstream with the release of its ChatGPT prototype. Fast forward to today, and it’s being used to write computer code, draft marketing content, augment customer service, automate routine tasks, and in parts of the sales process, among other things.

We all know that this is just the beginning. Competitors like Bard are being released, and more powerful offerings are on the way. Predicting how they will reshape the business world is a bit of a risky proposition, but it is clear that we are entering a new era.

To bring some reality to all the hype, generative AI in its present state has limitations. For instance, I was at a conference a couple months ago and someone gave a talk over lunch to the entire community. His voice was monotone. His slides weren’t interesting. People were leaving right and left. At the end of the lecture, he said, “Gotcha! ChatGPT wrote my lecture and slide deck!” It was quite a heavy-handed way to show us something we already knew. Just because you can use generative AI, doesn’t mean you should.

But many of us are using generative AI to do our work more efficiently. I’ve used it to create an outline for a presentation, and it saved me at least two hours of my time. Perhaps a good analogy is that it’s like PowerPoint SmartArt. When it first came out, it made it easy for us non-artists to create visually appealing presentations. When used intentionally, it helped visually organize key points. Yet, we took it too far and SmartArt became the joke of the slide deck world.

So how might we leverage generate AI so it’s useful in leadership development and not become another tool we rely on too heavily that it becomes the punchline of how not to lead?

On-demand Assistance

ChatGPT can immediately be of help in leadership development by providing just-in-time support. For example, a leader may be meeting with one of their people and ask a generative AI platform it to share ideas on how to build someone’s confidence.

Here’s what it served up in response to my query: “How can I boost my people’s self-confidence?”:

  1. Acknowledge their strengths and accomplishments: Start by pointing out what they are doing well and what they have achieved. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts and that they are an important part of the team.
  2. Offer specific feedback: If there are areas where they can improve, be sure to offer specific feedback on what they can do to improve. Give them actionable steps they can take to improve their skills.
  3. Encourage them to take risks: Sometimes, people lack confidence because they are afraid of failure. Encourage your employee to take risks and try new things. Let them know that it’s okay to make mistakes and that they will learn from them.
  4. Remind them of their past successes: If your employee is feeling down or lacking confidence, remind them of past successes they have had. Sometimes, people forget how far they have come and need a reminder to boost their confidence.
  5. Show your support: Let your employee know that you’re there to support them and that you believe in them. Encourage them to come to you if they ever need help or advice.

This response is impressive … but it does lack context. This can give you some ideas in the moment on how to boost the confidence of your people (my favorite is No. 4), but you still need to do some thinking and preparing to make it real and relevant for your employee.

Perhaps not for generic queries like the above, but ChatGPT acknowledges its own risk: Generative AI sometimes serves up incorrect information. Or, it could be in paradox to a framework or model you already use. In this way, I compare ChatGPT to what I might take additional time to search on Google. I find good principles to inspire me, inform and consider, but it might lack the depth and direction needed to apply.

Learning from Generative AI

Generative AI can also be used to help the curious leaders learn. Maybe you’re leading a class on how to be a better communicator. If you’re the facilitator, you can ask learners to go to one of these platforms, search for answers and share their findings with their classmates.

This kind of an activity is a great way to reduce fear around AI. There’s been a slew of articles about the possibility of generative AI taking jobs. Many managers are wondering if they’ll be next. You can show them we can coexist with it.

Decreasing Content Development Time

Another use case for generative AI is to reduce the time it takes to build content. Often, considerable supporting collateral is needed for a major learning initiative. For example, L&D professionals may need to write emails that inform and excite learners about an upcoming course. Generative AI can be used to create first drafts of emails in seconds, saving developers considerable time, which can be used for other tasks that take advantage of their core skills.

L&D professionals can also use it for marketing pieces, outreach efforts and any other communication needs. High-profile learning events have many moving parts, and generative AI can lighten the load. It is a thinking partner that can serve up information new ways of doing things.

We’re at the Beginning

Even though the quality of the responses might indicate so, we must remind ourselves that generative AI is not capable of being empathetic — or demonstrating any traits that make us human. Because we know that empathy is one of the most important traits of a leader, we can better decide how, and when, generative AI can help us (e.g., rewrite text, provide sample language, learn about topics, come up with silly poems, etc.).

Generative AI will change how we design, develop and implement leadership development.

It might not be successful every time, but it might just give you an edge. And you can spend that extra time with your people.