The first thing to understand about leadership is that effective leaders don’t get anything done. They build organizations that get things done.

The second thing to understand is that effective leaders must master eight capabilities – eight tasks, which are (1) setting direction; (2) making decisions; (3) staffing; (4) delegating; (5) motivating; (6) managing team dynamics; (7) engineering the organizational culture; and (8) communicating.

Third: Each of the eight tasks takes time – something that’s in short supply for most business executives on a typical day at the office.

Fourth? The caliber of leadership in an organization determines, more than any other single factor, the organization’s success.

One more: Many of those in leadership positions don’t particularly enjoy practicing the leadership craft. Given a choice between leading people and just telling them what to do and hoping for the best, hoping, for a certain class of executive, has a lot of appeal.

All of which helps explain, to a significant extent, the excitement many business executives seem to be feeling about artificial intelligence right now. Staff a business with AIs instead of human beings and the need to review resumes and interview applicants goes away, as does motivating the employees they’ve hired, managing team dynamics, and engineering culture.

As for communicating, that changes from listening, informing, persuading, and facilitating to the weirdly conceived “prompt engineering” … apparently, AIs aren’t I enough that they can understand what’s needed from them without translation services provided by actual humans.

It’s enough to make you wonder why you should rely on Google Translate and its competitors.

There’s one more aspect of AI’s appeal as a replacement Homo sapiens that needs attention: From the perspective of running a business, many aspects of staffing are, if we’re going to be honest with one another, annoying. Humans, but not automata, disagree with management about what constitutes fair compensation. Treat humans poorly and they become grumpy and don’t give their work their best effort. Treat them worse and they’ll complain about their managers to HR, and there’s a whole process for that.

Then there’s benefits. Health insurance isn’t just expensive. It also requires a whole department just to administer it. Not to mention the complexities associated with tracking PTO.

We’ve all read the polls, surveys, and person-in-the-street interviews reporting employee concerns about AIs taking jobs away from we mere mortals.

What I haven’t seen is frank acknowledgement that, all things considered, the executives responsible for determining how the work of the business should get done can’t get rid of those pesky human employees (PHEs) fast enough.

Here’s what else I haven’t seen: Advice to our fellow PHEs that we need to frame the conversation about PHE replacement, not as hand-wringing worry and guilt, but as a matter of competitive advantage and disadvantage. That is, PHEs are competing with AIs for each job in the organization. They (You? We?) need strategies for making ourselves more desirable than the AIs that are positioned to replace us.

One possibility, to get things started, is rooted in the difference, celebrated in There’s No Such Thing as an IT Project, between processes and practices. Briefly, processes result in organizations “designed by geniuses to be run by idiots.” With process, the intelligence of experts is codified in the step-by-step process specification. With a practice, in contrast, success comes from the expertise of its practitioners.

Project management is a practice. An assembly line is a process. And right now, much of the opportunity for AI to supplant PHEs in the organization is in the process domain, where AIs probably will prove superior.

But process isn’t the only way to get work done in the business, and the role of AI in business practices will be quite different. Just as personal computers and smartphones have already resulted in “computer-enhanced humanity,” AI-based “Computer-even-more-enhanced humanity” can yield business practices that supplant rigidly specified business processes, resulting in quantum leaps in business flexibility and adaptability.

Bob’s last word: Viewed from the potential computer-enhanced humanity has for replacing inflexible processes with adaptable business practices, replacing human beings with AIs becomes a choice, not an inevitability. But PHEs can’t rely on business leaders to figure this out on their own.

It will be up to the PHEs of the world to make the pitch, and make it convincingly.

# # #

Now on CIO risk-taking 101: “Playing it safe isn’t safe.” But then, neither is reckless risk-taking.

Not that it’s relevant to anything important, but I stopped admiring people who “speak truth to power” quite some time back.

It isn’t that I’m against the practice. It’s that I long ago read enough about epistemology (roughly three medium-length paragraphs) to understand that none of us have access to “the truth.” As we don’t have access to it we sure shouldn’t take it upon ourselves to share it.

Understand, I do have some experience in this game, as when I debated Gartner about their total cost of ownership metric: I spoke “truth” (my opinion) to power (Gartner being a force in the industry.

But I wasn’t, in truth, speaking truth to power at all. The best I could and can claim was that I provided my honest opinion, based on the best evidence, logic, and withering ridicule I could come up with.

None of us know the truth about anything. But on the other hand we’re all capable of honesty – a more advisable because less arrogant alternative to pretending to truth-telling.

None of which has anything to do with this week’s subject, which begins with my new favorite word, polysemy, which is when different words have closely overlapping meanings. Drawing on the subjects of recent weeks – integration and data warehouses in particular – this week’s polysemes are “system of record” and “source of truth.”

There are those in technical architecture circles who use these terms interchangeably, as if they were the same thing.

But like the difference between truth and honesty, systems of record and sources of truth are distinct and different concepts: a system of record is a matter of technical choice, while a source of truth is a matter of design.

Imagine your applications portfolio includes three different applications that manage customer information – maybe a CRM suite, an ERP suite, and a third-party database marketing company. Your job: make it easy for a sales representative to find a customer’s primary business address. It isn’t easy now because often the three applications contain different addresses for each customer.

What you need is a more-or-less arbitrary decision as to which of the three applications will, from this point forward, contains the address that will be used. That application is the “system of record” – the application developers will consult whenever they need a customer address.

Compare that to a source of truth. A source of truth is an integration point, often an API, possibly an “operational data store, enterprise service bus connector, or for different uses a data warehouse. What makes a source of truth invaluable is that someone has constructed a single software locale that knows, for each chunk of information, which application is its system of record and … and this is the crux of the biscuit … how to reconcile any discrepancies.

Systems of record are concrete. Sources of truth are abstractions.

To put a dot on it, anyone wanting to make use of corporate data must have a map that identifies, for each piece, which application is the system of record for that data.

Or else they need to ignore the individual applications and, for each piece of data they want they should consult the sources of truth.

Bob’s last word: When it comes to IT, understanding and making use of sources of truth in lieu of systems of record is a handy way to get work done faster and more accurately. But the same thought process can play out in non-technical situations.

Each of us has sources of truth for information we need. These sources take the time to collect and summarize information so we don’t have to. Maybe Gartner is one of them (good luck!). Greg and I hope KJR serves this purpose for you in your professional life. Microsoft wants you to start relying on Copilot, encouraging you to obey our future robotic overlords.

Regardless, given the flood of information available to us should we need any of it, perhaps our biggest challenge will be vetting our summarizers. For the ones we choose the minimum standard can’t be truth. The raw sources are, after all, in the cloud.

And the internet doesn’t trade in truth.

Now in Want more along these lines? Read Bob’s newest CIO Survival Guide post, “CIO risk-taking 101: Playing it safe isn’t safe”, about how organizations often get risk-taking wrong.