Blog Feature

Mind be Nimble, Mind be Quick!
Agile Learning for Business Leaders

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What do you do when you’re faced with a situation where you don’t know the answer? Think carefully . . . how did you just react to that question? Did you feel curious and empowered, or stressed and overwhelmed? If you felt curious rather than stressed, then you may be a breed of leader who has the skills of an “agile learner”. Researchers Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger explored this trait in their book The Leadership Machine. Their research found that the key traits of agile learners include characteristics such as:

  • The ability to thrive in new and difficult situations
  • The ability to learn and quickly apply new knowledge
  • A sense of curiosity and a desire to experiment
  • High emotional intelligence – they know themselves well and seek regular constructive feedback

The key outcome of these traits is that agile learners deliver results, even in new situations.

In Executive Education at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, we’ve had several clients interested in giving their employees the tools to become more innovative. When it comes to innovation, some critical skills to develop are the ability to be curious, to have a beginners mind, and to move beyond the comfort zone of feeling competent and confident as we continue to do what we know how to do. Sound familiar?

These are also cornerstone traits of the agile learner: being comfortable taking risks, trying new things and applying what we’ve learned in a different way. It’s about being adaptable and resilient in the face of change (if you’d like to increase your readiness to learn, you might read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck).

Sound great, right? Unfortunately, the characteristics of agile learners are not universal, and some of us have to cultivate those skills more than others. So, what can we do to become agile learners?

  1. New experiences. Seek out new experiences and be willing to learn from those experiences. Push yourself beyond your immediate comfort zone and see where it takes you- you might be surprised at what you’re capable of!
  2. Self-awareness. You’ll never be able to improve if all you ever hear is “Great job!” Build your self-awareness by seeking out and using feedback such as 360 feedback tools, mentoring and/or coaching. Listen to that feedback and don’t take it as criticism. Rather, see it as an opportunity to raise the bar and challenge yourself to get to the top of your game.
  3. Educate yourself. Attend action learning executive education programs that build practice of uncertainty, adaptability and new challenges into the learning environment.

Long-term success as a leader depends largely on a readiness and ability to learn. It enables us to acquire new behaviors quickly and effectively, which ultimately builds adaptability and resilience. In the constant churn of today’s business environment, developing the skills of an agile learner is more important than ever before. It’s time to start pushing the envelope!

*To learn more about programs to help you or your team develop the skills of an agile learner, contact Wendy Beecham, Managing Director UC Davis Executive Education.


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