Learning Agility – the “X-Factor” of our future leaders

Challenges, speed and competition in the marketplace never cease to increase. With this ever-trend of more-and-more and harder-and-faster, future leaders will need more than ever to have Learning Agility. The subject of #ASTD2012 session #SU218 with Vicki Swisher of Korn/Ferry International…


Before we start, here is a screenshot from the awesome ASTD2012 iPad app where I followed Vicki’s presentation: Learning Agility is defined as…


It can be used to distinguish between high performers and high potentials – people who might be suitable for leadership roles in the future


What does Learning Agility look like?

One of the things that people with Learning Agility do is to question their mental models. They kill sacred cows. During the session, Vicki asked us to consider and draw a particular situation: “Two men are found dead in a cabin in the woods.”

Here’s what I drew:


Vicki then asked: “How did they die?” It turns out that they didn’t die from a gas-leak (as you might think from my drawing!) They died in a plane-crash!

If you (like I) immediately associated “cabin” with a wood cabin, then you probably failed to make the “fresh-connection” required to come to the answer. Making “fresh-connections” is a key part of Learning Agility.


In addition, people with Learning Agility:

  • Are curious quick thinkers
  • Work with good basic-principles (rather than pure analysis of “facts”) …a bit like the “Elementary Worldly Wisdom” Charlie Mungur is known for
  • Seek diverse experiences to learn from, rather than sticking only to what they already know


2 reasons why Learning Agility so important (today)

  • Jobs are getting bigger and the supply of talent is getting smaller
  • People are getting to senior management functions much earlier than in the past. As a such, their experience is not so high. But they still need to be able to perform in senior roles.


Vicki Swisher also gave some ideas about how we can develop Learning Agility. Since its a behaviour, Learning Agility is something that can be observed AND developed. We need to develop people in 4 key areas:

  • Mental agility – curiosity, the ability to think differently, to be creative
  • People agility – the ability to seek out, connect to, learn from and work with other people; active empathy
  • Change agility – not being afraid of red monkeys, open to change, asking open questions to look for new solutions, able to adapt
  • Results agility – motivation for and skill for tough challenges, resourceful, willing to be pushed out of own comfort zone


..and we need to develop them differently: High-potential future-leaders need to be given a wide breadth (not depth) of learning opportunities and challenges. Let them lead diverse projects, build in job-rotation opportunities, assign them coaches from across the business….



As a side-comment, chatting with my Japanese neighbour Noriaki “Wassie” Washimi it occurred to us that HR and Learning people absolutely must have Learning Agility if they are to successfully work across a broad-spectrum of business areas and issues.

So: Go. Develop. Be agile.


Thanks for reading
Follow me on Twitter
…or visit www.infinitelearning.be



Published by Dan Steer

Wandering corporate trainer, learning and development consultant, conference speaker and professional El-Magico. I help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating Infinite Learning © opportunities. The world would be a better place if everyone was doing what he loved and doing it well. I am working to bring out the "El Magico" in everybody. Training in presentation and communication skills, leadership, social media for learning and marketing, learning and development management + personal effectiveness.

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