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Creating Learning Agile Leaders

02 May 2018
Research from Korn/Ferry Institute assessed nearly 1 million executives and found that the higher up the corporate ladder an individual goes, the more at home they become with uncertainty and change. This is where being Learning Agile comes into play, especially for leadership.

Sports fans around the world will tell you that agility is rated as one of the most keenly appreciated skills a sportsperson can display. The ability to be flexible in the face of what is thrown at them is of paramount importance. The same skill of agility is extremely important for improving learning in a business environment. Business, as in life, is not all plain sailing. It is sometimes a treacherous place, where you never know what is going to happen next, hence why being Learning Agile has become such an important quality to possess. In a position of power it is you who is looked upon to make the decisions (sometimes without knowing the full details) and it is up to you to lead.

Learning Agile Leaders

Learning agility is described by Korn/Ferry Institute as ‘knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.’ They go on to say that Learning agility is a key indicator for leadership potential because Learning Agile individuals ‘excel at absorbing information from their experience and then extrapolating from those to navigate unfamiliar situations.’ Therefore, in an increasingly turbulent business environment having the ability to learn and adapt and apply yourself in constantly changing circumstances is the best way to ensure you and your leadership team do not become stagnated.

There are 4 main types of agility that Learning Agile Leaders have:

  • Agility with Others –Agile Leaders will have the ability to relate well with others which is easy in good times however they still can relate to them in tough situations.
  • Mentally Agile – Agile Leaders will have the mental ability to delve deep into complex issues and create new possibilities from them.
  • Agility with Results – Most leaders can deliver results in a repetitive cycle in an area they know well. Learning Agile Leaders deliver results at the first time of asking in new and changing environments by inspiring their team and building confidence.
  • Agility in Change – Learning Agile Leaders enjoy change they like the perceived challenge of change and can deal with uncertainty. They view change as a chance to learn.

Research has also identified that there are four very specific behaviours that Learning Agile Leaders have that enables them to constantly learn and progress.

  • Innovation – These leaders constantly want to challenge beliefs and find unique ways of completing tasks. They examine the status-quo from different angles to try and see if there are new and better ways of working. This leader is constantly seeking new experiences for them to begin to innovate.
  • Risk – There is always an element of risk for these leaders. This risk comes from the want to try new ways of working, and to experience new roles. They use what is called ‘Progressive-Risk’ they do not throw caution to the wind but understand that risk leads to possibility. These leaders put themselves forward for tasks that may not have success guaranteed but there is the possibility of learning, as in the saying ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’.
  • Reflection – Just because a Learning Agile Leader has new experiences does not mean they will learn from them. A constant need for reflection is necessary, they will look for feedback and process what has gone well and where there needs to be improvements, be it with their own behaviours or their actions. By reflecting these leaders become more insightful.
  • Performance – The most learning comes from being in the thick of it and performing a new task or challenge. To learn from these circumstances, the individual must be able to stay on task, not get flustered by the new challenge and be able to perform. The Learning Agile Leader will be able to pick up the new skills required and perform them quicker than their less agile colleagues.

In addition to these four specific behaviours that a Learning Agile individual will have, there is one behaviour that they must avoid:

  • Defensive – A defining principal for learning is being open, be it to new experiences or receptive to feedback. For these individuals they like to seek feedback as it is a chance to validate their progress and processes; they are then able to build upon what has gone well and identify where they need further development. A non-agile learner will be defensive when they are challenged or critiqued. This will put them directly at odds with progression through learning.

How can you develop into an Agile Learner?

  • Innovation – Take any opportunity to seek out new ways to operate. Ask yourself questions such as ‘What more could I be doing?’ ‘What different ways can I approach this task?’ Get yourself into the mindset of looking to innovate where you can.
  • Risk – Look to find tasks where you are not guaranteed success, try to find areas where you will test yourself.
  • Reflection – Ask yourself ‘What if’ questions and think through ways in which tasks would have turned out differently if you had used a different approach. Regularly seek feedback from colleagues and ask them specific questions as to how they felt you approached a task such as ‘What two areas should I improve on for the next task?’. This way you can be sure they will give specific and actionable feedback.
  • Performance – When dealing with a new or complex task, try to find the similarities in this task to that of tasks you have successfully completed. Be deliberate in what you do; don’t simply react in a knee-jerk way. Understand the task at hand fully before rushing to complete it.

Learning Agility is a skill. Like any skill it can be developed and honed over time. It takes time, effort and practice you need to consistently make sure what you are doing is working toward your goal. However, once you have become plugged into this mind-set you will see any chance to learn as an opportunity not to be missed. 

 

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