The Only Thing Worse Than No Leadership is Poor Leadership

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The never-ending story. We’ve never worked on a story we’ve had to change so quickly and so often, but maybe that’s a description of where AI is today – nobody can tell you, hand on heart what the future is, but the board of OpenAI dangerously thought they could.

Mr AI himself, Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, has received a harsh and sudden boot. The hottest of tech firms seemed to be taking the world by storm, with the use of ChatGPT in millions of companies bringing in billions of revenues in quick succession. With all this in your favour, it begs the question, why has their leading voice been forced out?

There’s been no further information on the departure, but the rumour of several attempts to reinstate him as CEO is telling. This decision was abrupt and maybe not well thought through – the board may have lost confidence in Altman but completely underestimated what he meant to both the company and the industry at large. It perhaps wasn’t about them alone.

Sometimes the most able leaders aren’t appreciated for what they fully bring, I think this could be one of those times. Sam Altman has been a huge pioneer for AI, he might not have been thought to be the best CEO by the board, but his achievements speak volumes of what he could do if his strengths were backed to their full potential. The board’s decision left most employees worried and confused as to where they fit in – if the founding leader they trusted and admired wasn’t good enough, are they?

The board of the Microsoft-backed company have shown a lack of leadership and have taken the hit of being a lesson for all innovative companies to learn from. Altman’s biggest strength was seen to be having the contemporary knowledge about AI and what the future might hold to become the face of this nascent industry – almost a match made in heaven, and Microsoft clearly recognised that by investing in and backing his work, which had recently led to ChatGPT reaching 100 million weekly users. OpenAI have left themselves in a vulnerable position, Microsoft were an incredible investor to have, but they could become their greatest competitor themselves with Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s president, also leaving to partner with Altman in AI research.

The sacking leaves investors disturbed and worried. Aware of Altman being the face of AI, a new competitor is bound to form and leave OpenAI with more cost than revenue. Despite these concerns, OpenAI remain confident appointing Emmet Shear, co-founder of Twitch, as their interim Chief Executive. Shear has expressed his gratitude in a statement, saying “I took this job because I believe that OpenAI is one of the most important companies currently in existence.” Both Shear and OpenAI have been open with their plans to reform their management and leadership considering recent exits, however, it’s not going to be an easy journey – they need to appoint the right person for what’s left of the team, and not the job. Something that hasn’t been considered before.

For a while we have been seeing top talent being let go due to messy leadership, in many industries. As a football fanatic, it’s hard for me to not compare Altman’s situation to the Cristiano Ronaldo and Erik Ten Haag saga. Manchester United’s best talent and biggest asset was humiliated publicly – a sour end that couldn’t be saved. Recently showing he’s still got it, still scoring hat tricks for Portugal – it’s not dissimilar to what could be inevitable for AI’s growth, Altman has all eyes on him, and he now has the perfect backing from Microsoft with a familiar team around him.

Although there was a lack of trust and confidence from the OpenAI board, it’s become apparent that their decision hasn’t gone down well for the employees. 500 employees, including co-founder, Ilya Sutskever have signed a letter demanding Altman to be reinstated as the board are said to be “incapable of overseeing OpenAI.” Sutskever had the unfortunate responsibility of breaking the news to Sam Altman, which in hindsight has clearly made him fill up with regret.

Very late breaking news – we have just heard that Altman is back as CEO at OpenAI!

It’s hard to ignore the admiration that so many people have for Altman – he’s a leader that over 500 employees were prepared to risk their jobs for.

Former Chief Executive of Google, Eric Schmidt, a man who I have had the privilege of working with has expressed “Sam Altman is a hero of mine. He built a company from nothing to $90Bn in value and changed our collective world forever. I, and billions of people, will benefit from his future work – it’s going to be simply incredible.” This type of appreciation and idolisation isn’t because you’re an expert, it’s because you’re a great leader.

It’s worth remembering no team of identical people have ever won anything worthwhile.

The best teams are made up of many different people with many different attributes.

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