Leadership is known to be one of the most important factors influencing worker productivity. Perhaps this is why, despite over 100 years of research, efforts still continue to find the keys to effective leadership.
The more senior a leader, the greater the impact of their actions. It might be expected that senior leaders, with their considerable experience, would perform to a high level. However, research has found that up to one-third of senior executives derailed – either failing in their role or failing to reach the level expected of them.
What contributes to executive success?
All executives studied were smart, ambitious, identified to have high potential and had a record of achievement – up to a point. However, three factors differentiated successful executives from their derailed colleagues:
· A broad array of job experiences
· Taking responsibility for mistakes
· Willing to let go of old and latch on to new
These characteristics set the foundation for the concept of learning agility.
What is learning agility?
Learning agility is the ability and willingness to learn quickly, and then apply the right lessons to perform well in new and challenging leadership situations. The most comprehensive conceptualisation of learning agility has seven facets:
Understanding others and being able to work well with a diversity of people, instilling confidence and using others constructively to accomplish goals.
Successful leaders recognize and utilise others strengths and are adept at getting the best out of people
Conceptualising issues differently, examining problems from a high level, unique and strategic perspective.
Successful leaders see the big picture, anticipating how actions will impact the wider organisation
Being fully observant of one’s environment, attentive to changing conditions and approaching in a non-judgmental manner, and regulating one’s emotions effectively.
Successful leaders notice what is happening around them – a prerequisite for an effective and timely response
Drive to Excel
Motivated by challenge, seeking difficult assignments, resourceful, and getting things done.
Successful leaders relish achieving results regardless of the challenges involved
Understanding oneself accurately, one’s capabilities, weaknesses, beliefs, values, and personal goals.
Successful leaders can leverage their strengths and are aware of their blind spots, allowing development or strategies to mitigate risk
Curious, eager to learn, open-minded to new situations, and continually seek innovative (at time risky) approaches to perform.
Successful leaders relish new ideas and innovative ways of working-they are key to an organisation being able to adapt as environmental demands change
Actively soliciting and accepting feedback, contemplating its merits, and taking corrective actions.
Successful leaders don’t wait for feedback – they seek it and take selective action, accelerating their own development
Does everyone need learning agility?
Learning agility is typically measured on a continuum between technical orientation or leadership orientation. People with a technical orientation add value to an organisation by ensuring consistent high-quality output. Those with a leadership orientation add value by getting the best out of their people to deliver ambitious new ideas in response to changing environments.
Technical and leadership orientations are complementary – effective organisations require both.
Why is learning agility relevant now?
Learning agility has a strong relationship with both leadership performance and leadership potential, far stronger than the link between intelligence and leadership performance.2,3 It could be argued that these seven facets have always been hallmarks of effective leaders.
However, to be successful when the pace of change is faster than ever before and continuing to accelerate will require more from leaders. Learning agility¾the ability and willingness to learn quickly, and then apply the right lessons to perform well in new and challenging leadership situations¾is likely to be of increasing importance in this context.
In Part 2, we will look at learning agility and leadership in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world.
The TALENTx7 Assessment® is a comprehensive measure of learning agility. For more information on the TALENTx7 and how it can benefit your organisation, contact Stephen Macdonald for an informal discussion (Stephen@thekayagroup.com).