Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays. Thompson of  The Diversity Movement was named an Entrepreneur Of The Year 2023 Southeast Award winner

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Picture this – A senior executive deftly navigates a virtual mountain of information, including highly complex analytics and data. They make a series of decisions with pinpoint precision. A few minutes later, they assess strategic objectives and analyze various possible outcomes, all derived from the collective knowledge drawn from millions of data points and case studies. 

Photo courtesy of Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson

This leader is not superpowered, but has the benefit of a superpowered assistant and partner through the use of AI. Machine learning has significantly reduced the number of hours it would have taken to do these calculations, while also adding context and nuance by allowing the leader to use that time savings for deeper thinking.

In other words, this “futuristic” leader – in a future that really isn’t that far away – has made themselves a more effective executive by layering AI within and on top of their managerial and executive skills. The result for this forward-looking leader is utilizing AI as a thinking partner and sounding board, ultimately unlocking new avenues of leadership potential. 

While I certainly don’t want to dismiss the many challenges we face if AI implementation goes wrong, I want to explore the upside of AI. Let’s focus on some ways executives can think about and use AI to help their organizations win in the marketplace. 


AI’s most important attribute today is processing nearly incomprehensible volumes of data and extracting meaningful insights. Since all senior leaders are ultimately battling against time, being given a tool to analyze and assess faster is a game-changer. 

AI-driven data analytics and metrics enables leaders to understand complex information at scale, uncover patterns and predict trends that translate into bottom-line results. In the hands of senior leaders, AI-fueled learning and analysis translates into better strategic choices and a deeper understanding of their organizations, industries and markets.


What if every executive had a library of the world’s top management thinkers at their fingertips and could access that information for every critical decision they made in a matter of seconds? The value of essentially having an executive coach available at a moment’s notice would be priceless. From this perspective, using AI as an additive to human capacity and thinking makes every person more efficient and effective.

But, AI can be employed at the micro-level just as effectively. Leaders can use AI to maximize their schedules, operations and efficiencies. Automating operations via AI slashes the time needed for routine tasks, which will have broader organizational benefits, while also helping the individual prioritize their own well-being, which is a challenge for many executives given the amount of high-pressure decisions they are required to make. 

Imagine having an army of assistants, researchers and schedulers to alleviate mundane tasks and provide new information at a moment’s notice. One of AI’s most compelling features is to free up space once filled with routine tasks, thereby providing leaders with much-needed space to innovate, strategize and drive real progress.


AI is a catalyst for innovation – spotting opportunities for emerging products and services, suggesting new solutions to difficult challenges and freeing up time for creativity. Spearheaded by senior leaders, the adaptation of machine learning tools can infuse innovation across the entire organization. 

Recent research suggests that employees are eager for executives to help them understand and implement AI in the workplace. In August, a survey conducted by Robert Half revealed that 41% of employees believed generative AI would have a positive impact on their career. This month, however, a study by consulting firm Avanada found that employees had a “somewhat shared optimism towards the future impact of AI, with 95% believing it will have a positive impact.” Although the wording of the two reports is slightly different, what they both indicate is more widespread acceptance of AI and its consequences in a relatively short time frame. 

Leaders who seize the opportunity to lead on AI implementation and reskilling (at a time when people have moved from frowning on AI to a more cautious optimism) will gain a real competitive advantage. Executives who combine their existing skills with AI-powered skills will be prepared to flourish. The fusion of critical thinking, contextual understanding, lifelong learning and a broad comprehension of AI’s workings will chart a clear path toward success. 

The future belongs to leaders who understand and harness the capabilities of AI, both as a tool for personal growth and in creating stronger organizations. So, what’s the directive for leaders in thinking about and assessing AI? It’s a clear path – embrace AI skill development today, and you will unlock endless possibilities for tomorrow.

About the Author 

Donald Thompson, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 Southeast Award winner, founded The Diversity Movement to change the world. As TDM CEO, he has guided work with hundreds of clients and through millions of data touch points. TDM’s global recognition centers on tying DEI initiatives to business objectives. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, Thompson is author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics. 

Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events and his podcast, or contact him at info@donaldthompson.com for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content. To further explore DEI content and issues impacting your work and life, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives leaders a trusted source of DEI content.