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In today’s complex and ambiguous business environment, one of the most powerful competitive advantages a leader can have is what is known as “learning agility.” The evidence is compelling: Companies whose senior leaders are agile learners have 25 percent higher profit margins than their counterparts, according to research by Korn Ferry (2014 and 2019).
So what is learning agility? Can executive coaching help you or your employees develop learning agility? And how can you recognize it in employees and prospective employees?
What is learning agility?
Learning agility is an individual’s ability and willingness to learn from their work experiences and then apply those lessons to perform well in new and challenging leadership situations. Learning agility is not an academic skill; instead it is the ability to study a new problem quickly to gain in-depth understanding before making a decision. They have a more innate sense of curiosity, or for dancing with the unfamiliar or unexpected.
"Leaders must ensure that their organizations are finding and developing agile learners while also creating a culture that supports continuous learning"
Said differently, individuals who are agile learners can “let go” of skills, perspectives, and ideas that are no longer relevant and learn new ones that will allow them to make an immediate difference in an ever-changing business climate.
Agile learners share these characteristics:
• acquire new skills continually,
• learn from their experiences,
• embrace new challenges,
• perform well in changing conditions,
• are open-minded and adaptable.
In business, agile learners are able to pivot quickly and with confidence when facing realities such as new technologies, mergers and acquisitions, competition from start-ups, and a younger workforce that prioritizes ongoing development opportunities. On the flip side, individuals who are not agile learners tend to avoid learning opportunities. And they often react defensively when challenged or given critical feedback. (Senior leaders who feel they have “earned their stripes” are often guilty of these non-agile tendencies.)
The good news is that it is possible to develop learning agility.
Learning agility and leadership development
Research by organizations such as the Korn Ferry Institute and the Center for Creative Leadership shows that an individual’s ability to learn and adapt continuously is far more likely to predict their leadership success than traditional indicators such as past performance and demonstrated skills and abilities. That’s one reason why assessing for and developing learning agility is rising fast to the top of learning and development (L&D) program priorities and leadership development investments.
A first step to developing learning agility is to assess for it. At The Workplace Coach, our leadership development coaches guide our clients in using and interpreting a learning assessment tool called TALENTx7® Assessment. TALENTx7® Assessment measures seven facets of learning agility:
• interpersonal acumen
• cognitive perspective
• environmental mindfulness
• drive to excel
• change alacrity
• feedback responsiveness.
Our leadership coaches unpack the results of the assessment report for our clients and guide them in using the results to enhance their learning agility and higher-level leadership capabilities as well as those of their employees and teammates. Our career coaches also work with individual clients to help them develop their growth mindset as a critical step in planning and directing their career trajectories.
Supporting learning agility is key to retaining talent
Leaders today must be more agile learners. They also must ensure that their organizations are finding and developing agile learners while also creating a culture that supports continuous learning.
Today’s younger and up-and-coming leaders value growth and development more than previous generations of leaders. They are focused on learning new skills, acquiring new knowledge, and growing individually and collectively as teams and organizations.
The mandate to invest in the learning agility of your organization’s future leaders is evident when you consider the fact that the cost of replacing an individual employee and next leader can be as high as two times the employee’s annual salary. And, the development of one’s learning agility is a differentiator for your company’s high-potential population.
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