Qualities previously identified as the hallmarks of great leadership – such as vision, perseverance, and intelligence – remain critically important to organizational success. However, the rapidly changing landscape of businesses today increasingly requires leaders to be flexible, adaptable, and welcoming of the challenging situations at hand. This nimbleness and creativity has been termed “learning agility.”
In their book, The Leadership Machine, Michael Lombardo & Robert Eichinger describe how agile learners thrive in new and challenging situations and are constantly seeking learning opportunities. They like to experiment by applying fresh approaches to unfamiliar problems. Agile learners are calm and clear thinkers who use their newly acquired knowledge and repertoire of experiences to guide them. These types of learners are quick to make positive impacts on organizations by implementing refreshingly creative solutions.
Lombardo and Eichinger further deconstruct learning agility by describing its four key facets:
(1) People Agility: People who learn from experience, treat others with respect, and remain cool, calm, and collected in the face of change. These qualities are consistent with high emotional intelligence.
(2) Results Agility: People who drive others to achieve through inspirational leadership and perform well under pressure.
(3) Mental Agility: People who embrace complexity, ambiguity, and are comfortable with justifying their rationale in a situation.
(4) Change Agility: People who are comfortable with change, have a curiosity and genuine interest in learning, and enjoy the process of learning through experimentation.
According to Monci J. Williams in “Agility in Learning: An Essential for Evolving Organizations – and People,” on average, 60% of people in organizational populations are random or passive learners, which means that they learn as a matter of coincidence rather than habit, nature, or desire.
Approximately 30% of people are considered blocked learners, which means they are resistant to change but remain in roles where creativity and agility are not required. Interestingly, only 10% of most organizational populations are comprised of agile learners. It is these rare individuals who are most able to successfully lead through tumultuous times.
Identifying and nurturing these high-potential candidates is the key to establishing solid leadership in an organization. Agile learners will seek out opportunities to perform in unfamiliar situations. They often volunteer more frequently and do not shy from leadership and high-profile roles.
Help grow and challenge agile learners
• Offer opportunities to participate in areas of the organization outside of their expertise and subject area knowledge.
• Provide opportunities for temporary lateral moves and/or participation on task forces that require collaboration across many individuals or organizational areas.
• Enable participation on corrective projects, assignments with an entrepreneurial flavor, cross-functional opportunities and strategically-oriented efforts.
• Ensure an ongoing opportunity to engage in new experiences within the organization.
• Allow agile learners to continuously apply newly acquired knowledge and skills to fresh situations.
Identifying, grooming, and promoting agile learners to positions of leadership within an organization can be the key that ensures organizational success during volatile times.
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