As a child, I didn't realize I was being "home schooled" when I was watching the Jetsons. Many of you probably were not alive yet when the Jetsons debuted in the 1960s. The Jetsons theme song is not one that you forget. But what about the technologies on the Jetsons that exist today like video calls, robotic assistance with house cleaning, smart watches, 3D printed food, etc. The show was a great window into the future and teaches leaders of today an important lesson about considering technologies for their future.

The acceleration and utilization of automation and robotics will require a new type of strategic business leader to emerge -- one who is less of a bureaucrat and more of a strategic integrator of humans and disruptive automation. What automation could be on the horizon that could disrupt your business and organization?

In this article I will discuss some innovations in development and testing phases that will likely disrupt current markets and individual lifestyles. Then I want to share with you some research about the leadership skills necessary in the age of automation and robotics and discuss how leaders and organizations can transform to meet this leadership challenge.


We are likely only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to disruptive automation. The following are just a few examples of automation and robotics that could change entire industries:

Remote Robot-Assisted Surgery

Using robotic assistance in surgery is becoming more common. This will make specialized surgeries more available in many parts of the world. The surgeon with the specialized expertise will be in a central technology center performing the surgery with robotic assistance at the patient's location.

I saw a presentation by Dr. Daniel Kim, Professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Dr. Kim is leading the development of microsurgical robotic technology. One application of this would be to perform pre-natal surgery to repair the congenital defect in the spinal column of fetuses with spina bifida. Watch the video about this ground-breaking tele-robotic surgery technology.

Self Driving Cars

What we consider a normal lifestyle today could be turned on its head over the next 10 to 15 years. Self-driving car technology could have permanent disruptive effects on many industries. Ford and Uber have plans for us to see their self-driving cars on the street by around 2021.

At a recent automation and robotics workshop I attended, one of the speakers talked about the transition to these self driving vehicles. He shared that 90% of car accidents are due to human error and there are 15 million U.S. jobs that involve operating a vehicle. It is expected that the adoption rate of the use of self-driving cars will accelerate as trust in self-driving begins to win out over the dangers of distracted driving. Also, we don't think about how our car is idle most of the day. When my only time in the car for a day is to drive back and forth to work, 45 minutes each way, my car on a normal work day is idle 94% of the day.

The Uber self driving platform not only results in greater car utilization but also changes the relationship between the worker's home and workplace. Watch the video about Uber's testing of these self driving cars in Pittsburgh. Cars could then be a mobile workplace, without distracted driving, to do calls, have video conferences and send messages. In a recent forum of business leaders that I attended, one executive of a mobility organization shared that self driving cars will allow people to live farther away from work as a result. In the future, houses may not need garages either.

Exoskeletal Technology

This technology is an external suit that supports, strengthens and protects a human's body. Robotic exoskeletons can help paralyzed people with mobility. For example, Robogloves are exoskeletal gloves that provide the user with additional strength of up to 15 pounds of force while providing grasp assistance. One of the applications of this technology will be in the everyday lives of the elderly. Elderly people with arthritis and loss of strength could find these quite useful in their everyday lives. Watch a video about Robogloves developed by NASA and General Motors.


The Harvard Business Review published an article on November 2, 2016 titled, "How Artificial Intelligence Will Redefine Management." I recommend you read this article about research on the workplace and how it will affect leadership development in the age of automation and robotics.

One of the key learnings for me was about the leadership skills in today's workplace that will have less impact in the workplace of tomorrow. According to the survey discussed in the article, 54% of a leader's time is currently dedicated to repetitive administrative or control activities. Because many of those tasks can and will be automated and because the marketplace, a leaders job will be less about managing people doing repetitive activities and more about using automation to do repetitive activities to increase the organization's ability to achieve a competitive advantage. Therefore leaders will have to become more agile and more strategic for the disruptive market place where the following leadership skills will have greater value:

  • Strategic and Market Thinking -- Mid-level and senior leaders will have to influence the organization's business/market strategy, not just how the strategy is executed.
  • Automation Integration -- Leaders will need to understand the technology and algorithms well enough to integrate the automation safely into how products and services are delivered to customers.
  • Data Interpretation -- As sensors and intelligent systems capture more and more data, leaders' use of data will have to be more interpretive (rather than analytical) and more strategic -- like how professional baseball teams strategically use "Moneyball" analytics to gain an advantage over their opponent.
  • Design and Experiments -- Leaders need to be able to think creatively in design terms and embrace experimental opportunities to profitably disrupt the tried and true ways of doing things for the last 15 years.
  • Collaboration and Networking -- Leaders in this environment need to become much better at business opportunity mining (to discover potential business opportunities) and qualifying those business opportunities (to ensure a strategic fit and where investments can maximize return). Information gathering through collaborative relationships/networks can help synthesize published and non-published information -- to mine and qualify those automation opportunities that could impact the future of the products and services being delivered.


I know many of you are thinking, "This doesn't apply to me yet because the automation in my industry is more incremental than disruptive." The million (or billion) dollar question for many mid-tier and large organizations is not "if," but "when." Some of you also might be thinking, "We already are using robotics and automation in our business." You may have a head start but your challenge is the same. Remember Motorola made the first cell phone. I don't see a lot of people walking around with Motorola cell phones these days.

The question for business executives is when to invest in automation technology and when to invest in developing leaders to be ready for the business opportunities associated with automation and robotics. Of course this is a case by case, company by company decision. Consider how you could integrate the development of these leadership skills into your current leadership programs and one-on-one coaching.

The following are my recommendations for how you can develop your leaders today to prepare for the acceleration of automation opportunities in the workplace and business markets:

RECOMMENDATION 1: The executive leadership team should regularly assess the business opportunity funnel of possible automation and robotics opportunities

RECOMMENDATION 2: Provide coaching to high potential leaders to achieve breakthroughs in the disruptive leadership skills discussed above. Consider an assessment like Birkman Perspectives to coach the leader on how their unconventional/conventional mindset is likely to influence the company's strategic business direction. (If you would like to learn more about Birkman Perspectives, you can read my Goodfriend Insights from March 2017 titled, "Cutting Edge Perspectives.")

RECOMMENDATION 3: Integrate the disruptive leadership competencies described above into your leadership development program. Consider including a "Shark Tank" style leadership challenge so participants can make compelling business cases about robotics and automation opportunities -- like we do in the Teamwork Sharks Leadership Challenge.

RECOMMENDATION 4: Meet with your high potential leaders semiannually to assess their progress and plans in building their strategic network.

RECOMMENDATION 5: Develop a process for prioritization, startup and governance of the "portfolio" of cross-functional automation and robotics business opportunities.

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The era of the Jetsons is upon us. Are your executives and next generation of leaders ready?

Mike Goodfriend is a Teamwork Engineer and, Leadership Coach. He is also the creator of the Teamwork Sharks and author of "Breakthrough Time" -- a time travel business novel about how the Teamwork Sharks help a company take advantage of a breakthrough innovation. Mike is also a Birkman Master Certified Professional (BMCP) and has been Birkman certified for more than 30 years. He was one of the first to be certified in Birkman Perspectives -- a new report that helps leaders better understand their unique approach to being a strategic leader. Mike Goodfriend can be reached at 713-789-6840 or via email at

© Goodfriend & Associates, Inc., 2017

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