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Learning Agility ID: Insight into Successful Leadership, Part Two

Posted By Genevieve Fraser, Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Updated: Monday, December 4, 2017

ASAP Media continues its coverage of “The Future Belongs to the Learning-Agile, a session presented Sept. 15 by Jim Peters at the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference. Peters is a senior partner in Korn/Ferry International's Leadership and Talent Consulting group. His core message: individuals and/or organizations most adaptable to change are the ones best positioned to survive in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world.


At this point in the session, Peters introduced the attendees to a “Learning Agility Assessment Chart,” where characteristics such as self-assured to self-awareness were graded on a continuum. Other items at each end of the continuum included “depth mental agility” to “breadth mental agility,” “consistent people agility” to “flexible people agility,” “structured change agility” to “experimental change agility,” and “dependable results agility” to “resourceful results agility.” The talent was then scored as a depth learner, expandable learner, or a breadth learner.

Learning agility is based on ability and willingness to learn from experience under first-time conditions, Peters continued, referencing the charts and where people placed themselves and historic figures, such as Mozart, da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin.  “It’s not related to IQ. There’s a difference between traditional learning in comparison to agile learning characteristics. By navigating waters of external forces, agile leaders make a difference. They seek out and have more diverse experiences which enable them to handle challenges. They reflect, gain insight, and distill to apply to situations that may have underlying principles that need that sort of approach.”

Executives who derailed had blind spots—have untested or underdeveloped competencies. In extreme cases, some executives are not able to give up control.  Peters warned against putting people into experiences they haven’t the know-how to deal with. From 35 to 54 is the prime age of functional leaders. But today, too often top executives and even CEOs are found among MBAs that are young and clueless. Their talent may help them with high performance but not agility.

Peters cited that research shows organizations are experiencing a 56% shortage of key positions. Some 48% of companies have no process in place for appropriately selecting candidates and 40% of high potential candidates promoted into a new assignment failed! He admonished the attendees to think about the risk to their organization and the damage to the talent’s future if he/she is shuttled into a position for which the professional is ill suited. Most executives send people to take a course to expand. Yet, research shows that 70% learn from assignments; 20% learn from people, and 10% from courses.

Some companies ID CEOs decades earlier, he stated. “They look for an aptitude for logic and reasoning, a problem solver with a track record and leadership ability. They focus on strengths, but should not ignore weaknesses. Instead, they should create a workaround, so it won’t cause problems. A serious candidate must be able to learn from experience and adjust and must be self-aware. Avoid the hierarchical talent who believes ‘I’m the leader and don’t care how others are responding around me.’”

Financial people believe IQ is the key to success, Peters warned. Select those with learning agility. Mental agility is about problem solving, not IQ. Remember, there are narrow problems and broad problems (depth and breadth).

“People who are endowed with agility are good at reading people. (Steve Jobs could zoom in to see what you were bad at and use it against you.) Agility does not mean you like change, but rather that you understand it and are willing to take heat to work it through, as opposed to some others who would dig in their heels,” he said.

Tags:  Agile learners  agility  alliance managers  Complex and Ambiguous)  creative problem solvers  executives  expandable learner  Jim Peters  Korn-Ferry International  Leadership and Talent Consulting  Learning Agility Assessment Chart  talent  Uncertain  VUCA (Volatile 

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