Why Learning Agility Key to Success & Competency

From the quotes which I love it, this one for Dr. Taha Hussein the Dean of Arabic Literature 

Woe to the student if he feels proud of himself.

in this quote he advises you to learn, not just learning, but continuous learning. To succeed in our volatile, complex, ambiguous business world, there is no choice but to master the ability to adapt and learn. (Cashman, K – Forbes Magazine) as a consequence for those changes learning agility concept began to emerge to cope with those changes. In most businesses, this skill is considered one of the most important factors in great leadership. To be effective, leaders must demonstrate the flexibility and agility to adapt their behaviors as situations change.


What is learning agility? 

According to the research team at Teachers College, Columbia University, learning agility is a mindset and corresponding collection of practices that allow us to continually develop, grow, and utilize new strategies that will equip us for the complex problems in our organizations.

To further define by, Dr. W. Warner Burke of the Teachers College at Columbia University, broke it down into 9 dimensions:

Flexibility (open to new ideas and solutions), Interpersonal Risk-taking (discussing differences in opinions), Performance Risk-taking (taking on novel challenges), Experimenting (trying new behaviors), Speed (acting quickly), Collaborating, Information Gathering, Feedback Seeking, Reflecting.

Simply put, a learning agile individual is someone who has the ability to learn new things and easily adapt to changes and make the most of it. According to this view, high learning agile individuals learn the “right lessons” from experience and apply those lessons to novel situations. People who are highly learning agile continuously seek out new challenges, actively seek feedback from others to grow and develop, tend to self-reflect, and evaluate their experiences and draw practical conclusions.


Learning agility & leadership development 

“Michael Lombardo & Robert Eichinger” published an article entitled, “High Potentials as High Learners.” It highlighted the concept of learning agility, and presented their findings on the relationship between learning agility and leadership potential. The authors theorized that potential cannot be fully detected from what an individual already demonstrates on the job. Rather, it requires the individual do something new or different. In their view, potential involves learning new skills to perform in novel, and, very often, first-time situations.The practical implication is that organizations should assess learning agility to identify individuals who have the potential required for future positions.

Imagine that you’re being promoted from a Hr training coordinator to a Hr training manager Or maybe you’re moving over to another career path entirely. How do you know that you’ll be good at your new job? Short answer: you don’t!

So, you’ll need to be able to think on your step and make the best in-the-moment decisions to perform well in unfamiliar situations. You’ll need to be an agile learner. But hang on! Isn’t that something that’s hardwired into a few lucky people from the get-go? Sure. The behavioral components of learning agility, though, can be learned. Here’s how.

5 factors of learning agility “Korn Ferry”

5 factors of learning agility
5 factors of learning agility

1- Mental Agility

thus refers to mental quickness and sharpness. Individuals who are mentally agile often display the following attributes:

  1. They are comfortable with the uncomfortable.
  2. Find ease in complexity.
  3. Quickly, yet carefully, examine problems.
  4. Explains complex issues in a simple way so others can understand.

2-People Agility

Describes people who know themselves well, learn from experience, treat others constructively, and are open to people who have different backgrounds and opinions. They always seek to properly understand what others mean and take the opinions of others seriously. It is therefore easier for them to establish contact with others and they learn more from the input of others. Moreover, they can more easily adjust to people from different cultures, for example, and other people share more with them.

3- Change Agility

Describes people who are constantly curious, and this curiosity is stirred precisely by new and unfamiliar things. They like to experiment and try things out, and have a passion for new experiences. As a result, they experience more. They can learn more from their experiences because they are intrinsically motivated to investigate matters and enjoy dealing with issues that they are not yet familiar with.

4- Results Agility

Describes people who get results under tough conditions, inspires others to perform beyond normal, and exhibit the sort of presence that builds confidence in others.

5- Self-Awareness

Describe People whose aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. They are often critical of their own performance and conduct. They therefore focus more on how they can do things better and their general willingness to learn is greater.
Someone who is aware of the possibilities of improving a personal quality or becoming better at doing something will learn more effectively than someone who is easily satisfied with his or her own performance.

Key characteristics of highly agile learners

According to a recent white paper titled Learning about learning agility from the Columbia University’s Teachers College, people who are learning agile usually exhibit the following six characteristics:
1- remain calm in the face of difficulty.
2- take time to reflect on their experiences.
3- purposefully put themselves in challenging situations.
4- open to learning.
5- resist the temptation to become defensive in the face of adversity.
I can’t stress enough that learning agility is what we call “the magic multiplier” of potential because it doesn’t predict who is a high potential by itself.
the magic multiplier of potential is learning agility
the magic multiplier of potential is learning agility
There are plenty of people who are learning agile, but are not motivated and driven to get to the top of the organization.  They are not willing to make the sacrifices and trade-offs needed to the get to the top.  On the other hand, there are plenty of smart and motivated individuals who do not learn from their experiences and stumble and fall when faced with a new and challenging assignment.


70 – 20 – 10 key of your development path

70-20-10 learning model

 – 70% of learning is experiential. It happens through daily tasks, challenges and practice.

 – 20% of learning is social. It happens with and through other people, like coworkers.

– 10% of learning is formal. It happens through structured training courses and programs.

Ultimately, learning agility is not just for entrepreneurs, leaders or entrepreneurs, because we all need to learn resilient individuals. In complex world today Agility in learning will greatly help us meet new challenges, problems and issues, as it is something that leads us to learn and adapt constantly in this world.
We can all strive to be more flexible in learning as long as we allow ourselves to be creative and be brave about going out of the comfort zone , the smooth seas don’t make good sailors.

Islam Helmy

Hr training and development manager, Business development manager, Digital marketing trainer assistant, Co-founder of Training Bakers

3 thoughts on “Why Learning Agility Key to Success & Competency

  • January 15, 2019 at 12:18 am

    Going to debate more on this post? I suspect you’re holding back some of your jucier lines of thinking, but I for one, enjoy reading them 🙂

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