Learning Agility

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What are you going to put on your development plate this spring? Consider your learning agility. Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, is known for deliberately seeking out the unfamiliar and figuring out how to get things done when faced with new challenges. This is a key component of being an agile learner.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
John F. Kennedy


According to research on leadership derailment initially presented in The Lessons of Experience, by Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo and Ann Morrison, relying too heavily on past solutions without looking for new lessons can contribute to careers going off track. The extent to which you learn new things and use that learning to move forward is a strong predictor of career success.

The 2012 book by Victoria Swisher, Becoming an Agile Leader defines learning agility as “the willingness and ability to learn from experience, and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions.” This is different from traditional learning which helps with analysis, memory and comprehending new information. All of us have a level of both traditional and agile learning – the key in terms of development is to continue to differentiate between the two.

Agile learners are known for demonstrating the following characteristics…

  • Seeking out different experiences to learn from
  • Moving out of their comfort zone
  • Taking deeper insights from experiences – distilling the meaning and coming up with new principles or rules of thumb for the future
  • Reflecting fully on experiences and practicing this regularly
  • Relishing change and new ideas
  • Taking risks and learning from mistakes
  • Having a preference for variety

Consider how the above would describe you. What do you notice about yourself?

Learning Agility Factors

Learning agility can be developed and is known as a predictor of future performance in new roles and assignments. Since learning agility is behaviour-based, you can therefore observe it in your colleagues and assess your own use in some combination of the five factors developed at The Korn/Ferry Institute.

  1. Self-Awareness – knowing what you are good at and not so good at and actively addressing the not so good.
  2. Mental Agility – being a critical thinker who is comfortable with complexity, examining problems carefully and making fresh connections that you can make understandable to others.
  3. People Agility – you understand the value of getting things done through others and are an exceptional communicator who sees conflict as an opportunity rather than a problem.
  4. Change Agility – you like to experiment and can deal with the discomfort of change; you have a passion for ideas and are highly interested in continuous improvement.
  5. Results Agility – you deliver results in first-time situations through resourcefulness and having a significant presence that inspires others.

The key is to seek out feedback and reflect on one or two factors that you might want to add to your development plan this spring. Where do you want to sharpen your saw? What would be the impact? What experiences could provide practice? How will you apply lessons learned?


Becoming an Agile Leader: Know what to do…when you don’t know what to do, by Victoria Swisher, 2012
This is a very solid resource that includes practical tips on how to develop learning agility, how to avoid overusing the factors along with suggested readings. The publication also provides short portraits of well-known world leaders and their success differentiators.

Becoming an Agile Leader: Learning From Your Experiences, by Evelyn Orr, 2012
This guide is designed to be a hands-on tool for enhancing learning agility through the right experiences. It provides you with a series of exercises and questions to help guide your reflection on key experiences. This results in creating plans for future learning opportunities.

If you would like to learn more about how to assess learning agility and build solid development plans, be in touch with Latitude44.