Learning Agility: Leaders Should Constantly Adapt

By: Michael Grubich, Managing Partner, LAK Group


Learning Agility is defined as: the ability and willingness to learn from experience and then apply that learning to perform successfully in new situations.  People who are “learning agile” seek out experiences in which they gain additional knowledge.  They excel when addressing complex problems and challenges aligned with new, diverse experiences.

Research from the Center for Creative Leadership has determined that we have long known that a major difference between successful people and those whose careers falter is their ability to make meaning from their experiences.  As a result, the focus of organization and talent professionals must shift to finding and developing people who consistently demonstrate the ability to replace skills, perspectives, and ideas that are no longer relevant, and learn new ones that are.

Agile leaders demonstrate a similar capability in that they can effectively lead people though a wide range of circumstances.  They can tolerate ambiguity, transition effectively through change, and they are able to translate complex situations into clear and specific actions.

There any many examples of leaders having to adapt to a new environment or some radical shift in the organization.  Whether it is engaging a new team in a new country, reorganizing a department or business, shifting to a new work space, or adjusting to a change in manager or company, we have to be able to shift from old behaviors to learning new ones that align with the new situation.  It has become more important than ever that companies identify, select, and develop people (not just leaders) who are able to learn, adapt, and apply themselves in constantly changing conditions.

Here are some simple tips to help develop your learning agility.

  1. Reflect:Take the time to seek feedback.  Avoid getting defensive when you receive feedback … feedback is a gift, not a penalty.  Used effectively, feedback helps individuals evaluate themselves and focus energy on making the appropriate changes.
  2. Seek to Understand:Start by asking questions to understand rather than always trying to be understood.  When faced with a new challenge, try to understand similarities from the past and how they relate to new situations.
  3. Genuine Curiosity: Ask questions starting with, “What do you think?” versus, “Don’t you think …”  Show that you are genuinely interested in, not simply hearing, but, understanding other points of view.  Purposely surround yourself with diverse individuals to stretch your thinking and bolster curiosity.
  4. Be Motivated: You have to want to learn.  Be willing to participate in the learning process.  Try something on a food menu that you would never have tried before.  Visit a country that is not on your bucket list.  Put yourself out there, be vulnerable.

Agile leaders are inclusive, demonstrating an openness to new ideas and innovations.  They possess most of the tools needed to inspire others and become an agent for change within an organization.  They show a flexibility to take quick action and demonstrate a level of resilience necessary to adapt to any situation.  All these behaviors lead to higher engagement, more trust, and stronger relationships.  In essence, agile leaders become a “talent magnet”, someone others want to follow.


 LAK Group believes people are the competitive differentiator for organizations and communities. Our purpose is to transform careers, cultures & organizations from selection through succession.  We partner with companies to create and execute integrated talent strategies which improve business performance, advance the capabilities of leaders and transform the careers of employees.