Build Your Leadership Superpowers With Learning Agility


Agility is a word that comes to mind more frequently when thinking about athletes rather than business leaders. However, the same nimbleness and dexterity that makes for a great sportsperson, capable of adapting to changes on the field or court, also translates to excellence in leadership because organizations today are anything but static.


For me, agility starts with a continuous learning mindset. In fact, as an executive coach, I encourage my clients to develop their learning agility. Researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership found that “The ability to learn from experience is also a critical predictor of success as a leader.” While an article from Harvard Business Review states the four pillars of learning agility are innovating, performing, reflecting and risking. The good news is with a little attention and intention, you can increase your aptitude for learning agility. Here's how:


1. Be curious.

First, get curious about what you don’t know or what you haven’t experienced yet that you need to prepare you for the next opportunity. Use curiosity as a tool for self-reflection and planning. Try new things that feed your personal and professional interests to gain a broader perspective. Depending on where you are in your career and your career goals, you may discover technical skills that you want to master or you may be focused on developing greater emotional intelligence.


A learning mindset enables you to take in new information about yourself, your abilities and your environment. It is also likely to boost your emotional intelligence because you are tuned in to observing and responding to the needs and capabilities of the people you work with.


2. Ask for feedback and use it to fuel your growth.

Of course, curiosity alone isn’t enough to become a leadership superhero. Applying what you have learned is what will transform your leadership.


One of my clients is an IT leader in the healthcare industry. Her 360 feedback revealed that senior leaders, including the CEO, found her to be reticent in meetings and everyone wanted her to speak up more. Throughout our coaching engagement, we worked on building her confidence, finding her voice and getting her out of her comfort zone in small, strategic steps. Her growth plan involved attending multi-day workshops on women in leadership and simultaneously leading an action learning project with internal sponsors and mentors. As a result, my client took greater initiative and her efforts were recognized. She had done the learning to succeed in her role.


This is the time to seek feedback on your newly developed skills. Ask your peers, mentors and leaders what they are noticing about your approach to work and its impact on your relationships with others and your contributions toward business goals. Being receptive to feedback is an essential attribute of people who demonstrate high learning agility.


For organizations, identifying employees with high learning agility is an important part of the talent assessment process.


As noted above, learning agility is a key indicator of leadership potential and success. Research from Korn Ferry found that “executives with high levels of learning agility, tolerance for ambiguity, empathy and social fluidity are five times more likely to be highly engaged.” The same research found that companies with learning-agile leaders had 25% higher profit margins than their peers. Historically agility has been ignored because it can be more difficult to measure and it falls outside traditional talent management frameworks.


Organizations that are going through a succession planning process can use talent development conversations to assess learning agility and even curiosity as useful data points to supplement other elements of talent evaluation and promotion potential.

No capes, costumes or fancy footwork are required to get better at learning agility, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a leadership superpower. Tap into your agility by expanding your perspective, seeking out new information, taking considered risks, reflecting on how what you have learned in the past may translate to the current situation and acting on feedback.


*This article first appeared on Forbes.

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