Skip to content

UXL Blog

Creating Successful Leaders

Tag Archives: Learning Agility

Put learning agility into practice

Leaders who “refuse to let go of entrenched patterns or who do not recognize the nuances in different situations tend to derail.” This quote from the Center for Creative Leadership is absolutely true. In today’s global, interconnected market, leaders must be agile enough to navigate a diverse range of disciplines, cultures, and skill sets.

Learning agility is a term that often gets bandied around, but how, exactly, can a leader learn to be agile? How can this concept actually be put into practice?

First of all, learning agility is as much a mindset as it is a practice. For instance, if you’re in a rut with your career, it’s possible you aren’t taking full advantage of learning opportunities. There are many possible reasons for this: perhaps you’re afraid of failure, or worried about getting outside your area of comfort and expertise. However, without allowing yourself to encounter new experiences, you’ll have no shot at developing the necessary life skills to navigate through an increasingly interdisciplinary economy. You can’t expect different results from doing the same thing over and over again; Albert Einstein defined insanity as such.

So, to be agile in practice, you must first retrain your brain to be open to newness. It may not be comfortable at first, but hopefully you’ll find that new experiences are rarely as daunting as we build them up in our minds.

When aiming for “brain retraining,” consider four different attributes of learning agility (as discovered in a study by Colombia University): Innovating, Performing, Reflecting and Risking.

Innovating:

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.

Performing:

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.

Reflecting:

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?”

Risking

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. http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/LearningAgility.pdf

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , ,

Learning agility and using fear as a catalyst

When learning something new, we instinctively keep it close and secret until we feel confident that we’ve got it down pat. Usually this is because we feel embarrassed by our clumsiness with new skills. However, we can’t learn until we apply our skills, which means a bit of screwing up. You’ll find that even though screwing up might be hard on your ego, it’ll increase the rate at which you learn and respond in unique situations.

This is because of a special nerve in our bodies, called the vagus nerve. As Christopher Bergland explains in this article on Psychology Today, “When people say ‘trust your gut’ they are in many ways saying, ‘trust your vagus nerve.’ Visceral feelings and gut-instincts are literally emotional intuitions transferred up to your brain via the vagus nerve.”

Bergland goes on to say that we can teach ourselves to respond positively to the “gut-feeling” we get from the vagus nerve by being in tune with the loop between our bodies and minds and using this awareness to our advantage. Instead of choking under pressure, which comes from a negative response from the vagus nerve, we can control its signals and stay calm under stress.

Now, I’m not saying that you should go out and look for the most stressful situation you can find and purposely make your learning experience as intense as possible. Many people thrive under pressure, while others do much better using more gradual methods, and I understand that. I do want to encourage you to push the limits you think you have when you’re taking on something new, because:

  1. Most of us underestimate ourselves.
  2. Most of us overestimate the thing we’re learning.
  3. You won’t really know how true either of the above are until you go out and see for yourself.

Examples of diving in:

-Giving a presentation using material you’re new to. Of course, don’t do this at your next big, job-on-the-line presentation, but do try out new materials, approaches and styles when you have a less career-defining presentation.

-Teaching yourself a skill that is outside your normal set of skills. If you’re a numbers wiz, try out some of the good literature. If you’re an extrovert, try meditation. If you’re shy, try the above suggestion!

-Wearing your mistakes as badges, knowing that each falter invariably pushes you closer to mastery.

How do you deal with handling pressure? How does it impact your ability to learn?

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

Tags: , , , , , , ,

white-flag

Our society goes on and on about the power of persistence. We’ve all heard the story of Thomas Edison trying thousands of times before finally getting the light bulb right, or of Martin Luther King Jr. bringing about social change against enormous odds. We idolize figures who strive against great obstacles and persevere, unwilling to give up.

To be sure, persistence and resilience in the face of hardship are admirable characteristics. But many blame themselves unfairly for not having success with something that might not be feasible. There are circumstances that no amount of will power can impact, and these are the times when the courageous thing to do, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, would be to let it go and move on.

But you may be wondering, how do you know when to let it go? Wouldn’t we still be using gas lamps if Edison had let go of his vision to invent the incandescent light bulb?

It is tough to know when to count your losses when you’re right in the thick of it, be it a project or goal or what-have-you. Making it harder still is that social stigma of being a perceived failure. However, there are a few key questions you can ask yourself that will help you know if you should let it go (for now!), and help yourself in the long run.

1. Is my goal feasible? Ways to determine this: Do I have a detailed game plan? What are the concrete steps to achieving my goal? Can I do it on my own? If not, who have I enlisted for support?

2. Am I making progress? If you’re heart is truly in it, you’ll see results, even if they are miniscule. But if you find yourself drifting away, it may be because deep down this project isn’t right for you at this time, and there’s absolutely no shame in acknowledging that.

3. Has the process thus far had an overall positive or negative effect on my life? There’s healthy stress that motivates us to keep going, and then there’s unhealthy stress, which crosses over into other parts of our lives and brings our general happiness down. If the goal feels like a burden you cannot handle, then it may be time to let it go.

4. Do I really, truly, deep down want this?

Consider these questions, and be okay with setting things aside if that’s what you feel is best for you. Acknowledging that you may need to let it go for a bit shows great maturity and self-awareness, and that’s something to be proud of! Remember: in the long run, you’re preparing yourself for even greater success.

Tags: , , , , ,

busy calender good

According to this Harvard Business Review blog post, we’ve been thinking about it all wrong when we talk about time management. It’s like dieting vs. being healthy, says productivity expert Jordan Cohen. You may diet all you want, but that doesn’t necessarily make you healthier. In the same way, you can “manage time” to a tee, but this doesn’t automatically boost your productivity.

This certainly made me raise my eyebrows upon reading it. After all, the concept of time management is considered a given in business and leadership circles. But when I thought about it more, I realized there’s truth to this. Time isn’t what you need to rearrange in order to succeed. Time is the constant. When we talk about time management, then, what we’re really talking about is managing our workload. If we rely too heavily on managing our time, we run the risk of neglecting the real problems we run up against when our workload overpowers us.

Solutions to workload management are:

Saying no. You have the power to turn things down, even though this is something that is tricky for a lot of people. If you’re scrambling to get anything done, if you’re having trouble taking care of basic things in your personal life, or if you don’t have free time where you can relax, then you have over-scheduled yourself.

Experimenting with different workload management practices. The saying goes that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you consistently find yourself drowning in work, seek out new self-management approaches. Mix it up. Change your schedule. Don’t settle on one “right way” to get things done, because you need to be able to adapt and get outside of your comfort zone in order to succeed.

Keeping track of what works for you, and what needs to change. Piggybacking in the above point, we are creatures of habit, and often we find ourselves deeply entrenched in bad habits without even realizing it. If you struggle with being on time, pay attention to behavioral patterns that might be the real reason for your tardiness. Look over your week and take note of where you succeeded to meet your goals, and where you fell short. Ask yourself what you might change to do better next week.

There are many resources available to help you find work load management ideas and insights. For starters, check out the Mindtools website. It has quizzes, goal-setting resources and scheduling advice.

Have a great week!

 

Tags: , , , , ,

bookshelf_header

As you take your summer trip, lay out on the beach, or simply lounge in your backyard, a great book can really be the icing on the cake.

I’m often asked what I’m reading as it relates to business and leadership, so I thought I’d share a few of my personal favorites on the subject. Since it’s summer, I kept the textbooks off the list. But don’t be fooled: While they may be “light” reading, the insights they carry pack a punch.

1. Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown.

daringgreatly_final525-resized-600Brown shares an idea that at first seems counterintuitive: that we draw courage from being vulnerable. But in her engaging style, she soon demonstrates how this simple principle can transform the way we take risks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. The Art of Procrastination, by John Perry

the art of procrastinationThis book is short and sweet, but it tackles that challenge we all face. Namely, how do we battle that urge to put important things off? Perry suggests that we shouldn’t try to stop procrastinating all together, but that we can learn to use procrastination as a tool to our advantage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Love Leadership, by John Hope Bryant

love leadershipBryant elegantly lays out why leading with love is the most powerful way to lead. Packed with personal stories that really drive the message home, this book has had a great impact on me, as it has helped me grow into a compassionate leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni

5dysfunctionsWritten as a fable about one terribly dysfunctional fictional company, Lencioni reveals his five dysfunctions–absence of trust; fear of conflict; lack of committment; avoidance of accountability; and inattention to results–with engrossing characters and stories. We learn how teams should operate by seeing a demonstration of all the wrong behaviors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy reading!

 

 

Tags: , , , , ,

In this snippet from one of her talks, Dr. Sheila Murray Bethel gives us her five characteristics every good leader needs.

Her five F’s are:

Fast

Focused

Flexible

Fluid

Futurized 

I like how she not only establishes some very important leadership attributes, but also stresses the importance of being able to jump from one skill to the next. In a leadership role, you need to be fast on your feet as things develop on the fly. At the same time, you must stay focused on the project and on the people working with you. The attribute that lets you do this is flexibility. You must be able to be on high gear in one moment, then slow it down to address the needs of an individual, and then turn it back on high gear.

From experience, I can tell you that all this running around and focusing on all the various needs of the organization gets exhausting. Many leaders burn out pretty quickly. This is why I think Dr. Bethel’s last point, being futurized, is a very fitting point to end on. Having vision and being forward-thinking are what keep you centered and motivated. So, while you might get tired from all the running around and changing gears to address new developments as they pop up, you won’t burn out, because you know what you’re working toward.

What are your thoughts on Dr. Bethel’s five F’s? What kind of leadership principles are on your list?

Have a great week, it looks like spring is finally upon us!

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

building-blocks

For those of you just getting started on your career, or for those who may be in a transitionary period, you may be running up against the “catch-22” of the job hunt. You know what I’m talking about, that annoying part of a job advertisement that says “entry level position,” followed directly by “three years of experience required.”

Here are a few tried-and-true ways to get the career ball rolling. Remember, the beginning of anyone’s career is often sluggish, so it’s imperative that you follow the Three P’s, and stay patient, persistent and positive.

1. Take Any Opportunity That Comes Your Way.

Even if it’s volunteer work or an unpaid internship, if it has anything to do with your field, say yes. You can’t afford to be too picky at first. Any experience looks great on a resume, but more importantly, any experience equips you with the confidence in yourself to meet your career goals.

2. Be Conscious of Your Personal Brand.

What are your strengths? Where do your interests lie? How do these apply to the field you’d like to break into? How will employers perceive you, and more importantly, how are you demonstrating your skills and strengths? These are questions that you must be able to answer in order to be a competitive prospective employee.

3. Network, network, network!

Do informational interviews. Follow up on leads. Keep your LinkedIn profile and your resume current. You never know if and when you’ll encounter the big breakthrough, so be ready at all times.

4. Don’t Be Discouraged.

Sometimes the market is just plain old tough tough, and that’s not your fault. All you can do is your best. Don’t let a bad economy make you feel like you’re not qualified. Staying proactive even in when jobs are scarce will show employers your resilience, which will help you land the job when the time comes.

5. Take Advantage of the Internet.

We live in a unique time: the information age. There are countless online resources at your disposal, including social media sites, job listings, blogs, and event notifications. Keep your eyes peeled and learn all you can.

Good luck!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: