The concept of learning agility originated in studies into the skills of highly effective leaders and an exploration into how they acquired those skills. It was found that they demonstrated strong and similar patterns in how they learned from experience.
These leaders were found to derive more meaning from their experiences because they were inherently curious and reflective, evaluating their experiences and drawing practical conclusions. The ability to process experiences has been described as the signature skill of successful leaders and the name given to describe it is learning agility.
Learning agility is defined as the ability and willingness to derive meaning from all kinds of experience and apply their learning in new and different situations. It is not to be confused with general intelligence which is related to traditional learning of technical information and skills.
Given time and practice, most people can become better leaders but learning agile people master the task faster and more completely. They are constantly on the lookout for new challenges, have a sense of purpose and actively seek feedback from others though pivotal conversations on their growth and development.
Korn Ferry has been at the cutting edge of research into learning agility for three decades. During this time, they have clearly demonstrated that learning agility is the single best indicator of a person’s potential to grow and perform well in leadership roles.
They have identified that learning agility is evident in five key areas:
- Mental agility – the ability to embrace complexity, examine problem-solving in unique ways and maintain curiosity.
- People agility – being open-minded toward others, bringing out the best in people when leading teams and enjoying the interaction with diverse groups.
- Change agility – willing to lead transformation efforts and continuously explore new options.
- Results agility – delivering results in tough situations and inspiring others to achieve more than they thought possible in the business environment.
- Self-awareness – being reflective, understanding strengths and weaknesses, seeking feedback and higher levels of personal insight.
Going hand-in-hand with learning agility is leadership maturity, the kind of vertical leadership development that involves updating or expanding an agile leader’s mindset and mental models.
Organisations can use both to broaden the thinking of high potential leaders and provide them with exposure to different perspectives and experiences that will give them the wisdom and level of agility they need as strategic leaders.