A key factor that separates good leaders from great leaders is the ability to be an agile learner. Learning agility is a competency which describes a person’s speed to learn under new and challenging conditions. Take the newly hired VP of Marketing who was charged with better defining the brand for her company. After conducting a brand audit, she discovered that no real brand had ever been established and that the competition was “eating our lunch” as a result. Finding herself in a unique situation, this VP was able to collect relevant data, analyze the situation and use her experience and ability to successfully engage the company in branding itself and launch a campaign to communicate the brand to the company’s target market.
Like the VP of Marketing, people with strong learning agility are quick studies. They aren’t afraid to jump into a challenging situation, understand the complexity and act quickly. Agile learners take lessons learned from their past and apply them to new and different situations. Learning agility isn’t an academic skill. Rather it involves a person’s ability to quickly study a new problem and use their own learning process to gain an in depth understanding before making a decision. When the decision is made, they aren’t afraid to be proactive and take a calculated risk.
Learning agility is often not addressed as a factor in hiring and developing people in leadership roles. It’s not that the organization doesn’t want agile learners. They just don’t have that competency on their radar screen. They do however notice its absence, sometimes when it’s too late.
What does learning agility look like? Research indicates that individuals high in learning agility display the following characteristics:
- Critical thinking where the individual is comfortable with complexity, can examine problems in depth, and apply past experiences to new and changing situations.
- Self-awareness where the individual understands their own strengths and weaknesses and how others perceive them.
- Relationship building where the individual displays skill in relating to others in meaningful ways.
- Embracing change where the individual enjoys exploring new situations, likes to experiment, and can effectively deal with the ambiguity of change.
- Results driven where the individual delivers results in new situations by engaging others and building their confidence to execute effectively.