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Creating Successful Leaders

For the month of July, I’ve been focusing on learning agility. Last week’s post introduced the concept and gave a brief overview. This week, I’ll go into more detail as to how learning agility applies to your day-to-day leadership skills.

According to The Center for Creative Leadership, a research group out of the Teacher’s College at Columbia University, learning agility can be demonstrated in four attributes: Innovating, Performing, Reflecting and Risking.


This refers to challenging the status quo. Instead of going along with what’s worked in the past, an innovative leader embraces new challenges and is open to new ideas. An innovator asks questions, takes on new tasks and experiences to increase their perspective, and constantly tries to approach issues from multiple angles.


To possess learning agility, you must be able to perform under  stress and deal with the inevitable ambiguous or unfamiliar situation as it arises. An agile learner does this by staying present, engaged and a keen observer of new information. This includes listening skills; a good performer must embrace, not avoid, verbal instruction.


This goes beyond simply thinking about the new things you’ve learned. Reflecting means using new information, skills and experiences to generate a deeper insight into yourself, those around you and any problems you’ll face. Good reflection should always ask the question, “What kinds of changes do need to make in order to  accommodate  these new experiences?”


Learning agility is a body of skills and attributes that can be boiled down to one character trait: the ability to put yourself out there. This means that you volunteer for opportunities that don’t guarantee success. In fact, an agile learner values the experience of failure, as it is a much better catalyst for growth than continual success. Risk here means risk that leads to opportunity, not thrill seeking.

If these attributes don’t describe the way you operate, don’t panic. “Being open to failure” isn’t natural, fun or frankly, very common. Don’t think of these traits as a list of must-do’s in order to be successful. To put it in perspective, these are the conclusions derived from studying a large and diverse group of leaders; no one leader perfectly reflects all these qualities.

That said, staying humble and open to change is the most important starting point to attaining agility in leadership and learning. If you can do that, the rest will follow.

Mitchinson, Adam and Robert Morris, Ph.d. “Learning About Learning Agility.” Teachers College, Colombia University, April 2012.


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