The must-have leadership quality = Learning Agility

An article by Kevin Cashman on Forbes has compared leadership today to ‘swimming in an unpredictable, treacherous lake’; as we dive in we are faced with the unpredictability of what may happen.  A constant, clear route which we believe, is actually always changing, uncertain and choices are often blurred.  The only constant is in fact, change, and the key to success is the ability to adapt to today’s volatile and ambiguous world.

What does the climate of constant change mean for leadership ability?  Research of nearly 1 million executives by Korn/Ferry International highlighted the necessity for managers to be ‘learning agile’, by focusing on some key leadership skills areas…  An agile leader needs to be able to have the ‘integrative capability’ to sift clearly through information and ideas and combine these to develop innovative and fresh concepts.  Equally as important is the confidence to be decisive, even if transparent data is not available.  We have all probably read many an article which describes the qualities of a successful leader involving openness, authentic listening and adaptability.  However, the important part to note is that these qualities are as significant as they are, because they will ensure a leader is agile in embracing any ambiguity which derives from workplace and team discussions and situations.

The subject of learning agility is best described in this article on Forbes as ‘knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do’. Learning agility entails being able to learn something from one situation and transfer and apply this to a completely different situation.  The constantly changing and transforming environment means leaders need to be well accustomed to this concept of learning agility so they can learn, adapt and apply themselves.

Research by Korn Ferry looked into what dimensions learning agile leaders need to possess…  No matter what the profile of a leader was, e.g. Problem Solver, Champion or Thought Leader, the following five qualities were found to be crucial to success in leadership learning agility:

  • Mental Agility: to be able to tackle complex problems and observe these from different viewpoints to develop a variety of potentials
  • People Agility: understanding and relating to people, including those with differing opinions.  Also managing complex team situations and still ensuring high performance
  • Change Agility: flexibility and openness with experimentation; viewing change as an exciting opportunity
  • Results Agility: being a leader who not only inspires teams, but demonstrates belief in themselves and their team to increase confidence, which in turn results in delivery of results in unique situations
  • Self-Awareness: taking the time to reflect and demonstrate solid awareness of yourself; knowing your strengths, weaknesses and impact on others

Learning agility in leadership is a key factor to focus on and developing yourself through the dimensions and qualities discussed above, will not only ensure sustainable potential in a strategic organisational approach, but also from a personnel team-based standpoint.  As quoted in this article on Forbes, learning agility has many productive benefits for the workplace, “A person who is learning agile has more lessons, more tools, and more solutions to draw on when faced with new business challenges.” (Hallenbeck, Swisher, and Orr, July 2011).  Develop your learning agility and put yourself on the road to leadership success!

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