Learning Agility: Why it matters for executive success

Learning Agility refers to the ability and willingness to quickly adapt. The concept was derived from systematic research over several years into the careers of highly effective business leaders.

These leaders were found to share important characteristics that set them apart. Keen observers of what was going on around them, they were intellectually curious, flexible and adventurous.

Reflective about their experiences, they frequently made creative connections between apparently unrelated pieces of information and they had a preference for bold and new solutions to problems.

Learning Agility Dimensions

Further studies revealed some interesting facts about those who had greater Learning Agility – not only did they get promoted faster and more often than others, but they were significantly more successful after they were promoted.

Learning Agility has since been widely accepted as a key indicator of potential, and interest in Korn Ferry’s multidimensional model as a way to develop leadership capability and performance has grown.

This is the first of five blogs on why Learning Agility matters for executive success, each focusing on one of the agility dimensions – mental, people, change, results and self-knowledge – with tips for enhancing Learning Agility for yourself and others.

Learning Agility in the 2020’s

The qualities associated with Learning Agility have taken on new currency in today’s complex and dynamic business environment where change and uncertainty are the norms.

Significant shifts in technology, globalisation and social trends require organisations to transform the way they do business to stay relevant in their markets. Over the next decade, the organisations most likely to succeed will be those that are nimble and adaptable.

The guidance of forward-thinking and strategic leaders will be essential. You’ll know them when you see them – they embrace complexity, examine problems in unique and unusual ways and are open-minded toward ideas and people. In other words, they are learning agile.

Developing Learning Agility

A commonly asked question is – can people develop their Learning Agility? Whilst it’s a relatively stable attribute, Learning Agility is defined in terms of behaviours. So, the answer is yes. Conscious and deliberate practise of those behaviours will enable people to enhance their Learning Agility.

As a starting point, a person should be on the lookout for opportunities to learn and grow or, even better, embrace the concept of learning as a lifelong journey. In her book Mindset: The Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck described this as having a ‘growth mindset’ which she says is the key for realising one’s full potential.

Mental Agility

This dimension of Learning Agility concerns the way people deal with concepts and ideas. Being mentally agile is primarily about being curious and inquisitive – searching for the new, exploring the unknown, taking time to think things through and looking for themes within and across situations.

A person with this orientation doesn’t stop at obvious answers to problems but looks below the surface for underlying causes, drilling down into complex issues to simplify and make sense of them.

About Curiosity

A Google search today on ‘curiosity’ resulted in 122 million results. Seems like a lot of people are writing about it! Narrow the search by adding the word ‘executive’ and there are still 44 million results. Impressive.

One of the top results points to a feature on curiosity published in Harvard Business Review (2018), highlighting that curiosity is vital to an organisation’s performance.

The author says curiosity helps leaders and employees come up with more creative solutions to external pressures. It enables leaders to gain more respect from their followers and inspires employees to develop more trusting and collaborative relationships with colleagues.

Sounds good? Well, of course, there’s a trap. Although leaders say they value inquisitive minds, in practice they may stifle curiosity. It was reported that about 70 per cent of employees who were surveyed said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.

Tips for increasing Mental Agility

  • Challenge yourself to think about how curious and creative you are. Over the last week, what was the balance between the solutions you provided and questions you asked?
  • Questions are the fuel for new ideas, so start and keep asking why, how and what. Listen to the answers carefully, suspending judgement as you do.
  • Encourage curiosity and learning by reviewing events and outcomes, posing the right questions. Why did that happen? What can we learn from that?
  • Become an observer of agile thinking, listen to people talking and note the words and phrases that reveal a ‘growth’ mindset versus a ‘fixed’ one.
  • Reflect on questions asked in your organisation. Are they encouraged or are they seen as a challenge to authority? Do your people explore ideas with each other or are they too task-focused to take the time? What do you need to do to enable creative and innovative thought?

Last Words

If you are looking for inspiration on what it means to be curious and creative, try reading A Curious Mind, written by Oscar-winning film producer Brian Grazer.

Having practised ‘curiosity conversations’ for years with people outside his industry, he describes curiosity as having many shades and intensities that serve different purposes. A great read!

Continue ReadingLearning Agility: Why it matters for executive success

Developing your next generation of leaders

Do you have a model of leadership competency needed for your business to succeed? If so, you are probably using it to shape the development of your next generation of leaders.

If not, you may be putting your business and your most promising people at risk as they navigate their way to becoming the leaders of tomorrow.

Many organisations struggle with building the depth and breadth of leadership talent they need for the future. They may have identified their best performers, carefully chosen some courses for them and developed a list of promotion opportunities.

But, somehow it doesn’t all come together and there may be a nagging doubt on the return on investment in time and effort.

So, how do you create the conditions where the people who can lead your organisation into the future can be nurtured and developed?

This may seem a simple question, but the answer is complex. Your organisation’s culture and way of operating, existing development practices and the aspirations of your people need to be taken into account.

Adults are motivated to learn something if it has value to them. Therefore, a program that will equip aspiring leaders with the skills they need to achieve their career goals will have great appeal.

Learning needs to be as practical as possible, providing tools and techniques for leading and managing that can be applied immediately. If the learning is delivered in a modular format so they can try out the skills and report back on progress, even better.

Our suggestions for engaging your leaders of the future in meaningful development are:

  • Use your business goals and challenges to define the capability future leaders need to succeed.
  • Devise a program that communicates and focuses on building this capability.
  • Select the right assessments to help participants heighten their self-awareness.
  • Design learning experiences that integrate seamlessly with the responsibilities and work schedules of the participants.
  • Assign participants to projects of significance to the success of your organisation.
  • Turn up the intensity of the learning by involving senior leaders in mentoring participants.
Continue ReadingDeveloping your next generation of leaders

Do you know the leadership gaps in your organisation?

In today’s volatile business environment, leaders are being challenged more than ever to adapt to new realities and lead ongoing change. But, do they have what it takes?

We were recently asked by one of our global clients to determine the most common development needs from assessments completed by 30 people in preparation for an advanced leadership development program.

It set us thinking. Could we go broader and identify trends across our 360-feedback database?

Indeed, we could. And we found the results of our analysis fascinating.

Here is a brief summary that we hope will trigger some reflection and insights for you and your organisation.

Drawing on Korn Ferry’s global competency framework, we examined data gathered for 226 leaders who participated in Voices 360-feedback across Australia and New Zealand. With input from over 2,000 raters, these individuals work in senior management and executive roles in a range of public, private and government organisations.

We compared what people thought was important for these leaders to be successful in their roles with the level of skill they currently demonstrate. Three competencies immediately jumped out where there was a significant leadership gap – importance was high and skill was low.

  • Builds Effective Teams – Defined as developing strong-identity teams that apply diverse skills to achieve common goals.
  • Directs Work – Defined as giving direction, delegating, and removing obstacles in order to get work done.
  • Drives Engagement – Defined as creating a climate where people are motivated to do their best to help the organisation achieve its objectives.

In combination, these competencies are directly related to leveraging talent and inspiring people through a sense of purpose and belonging. As core leadership skills, they have a profound impact on the way people relate to each other and their organisation, as well as the discretionary effort they put into doing their work.

When faced with continuous change, people look for something to hold on to. They want to cut through uncertainty, understand what needs to be done and feel part of something bigger than themselves.

If leaders are unable to create an environment where people feel committed and empowered to perform, there can be significant consequences to business performance in both bottom-line results and staff engagement.

We think the results of our analysis are important because it’s not the first time we have seen them. They align with Korn Ferry’s global competency research findings that were released in 2017.

There, we saw that skill level in these three competencies was actually lower for executives than managers. Yet, two were found to be significant to performance at the executive level (Builds Effective Teams and Directs Work).

In our view, Builds Effective Teams warrants special attention because we have seen it steadily growing in importance over the last decade according to our 360-feedback data. People are increasingly recognising there are substantial benefits when teams are set up for success.

However, skill in developing a well-functioning team has not kept pace with demand. Not surprisingly, this competency rates high on Korn Ferry’s Developmental Difficulty Index, meaning it is a more complex skill to acquire, compared to other competencies in the framework. In addition, Failure to Build a Team has been identified by Korn Ferry as one of ten potential career stallers for leaders.

Our conclusion is that the current strength in these areas is not sufficient for optimum effectiveness in leadership roles today. What’s your experience? Does your organisation have a leadership gap in any of these areas?

If so, you may be thinking about what can be done to improve the situation. The good news is that plenty of resources are available to build capability in each of the three competencies.

Continue ReadingDo you know the leadership gaps in your organisation?