What is the purpose of leadership development programs? The reasons vary by organization, but they often include learning:

  • “How we do things here”: Participants learn about the culture of the organization.
  • “What you’ll need to know”: Leadership development in this case is a rite of passage just before or just after someone has received additional responsibilities.
  • “How and where to begin”: This training involves receiving feedback about how leaders sees themselves and how others see them. People tend to be more open to change when they are beginning something they haven’t done before.

Assuming one or more of these reasons apply to your leadership development program, it’s important to ask yourself, “How might a learning agility inventory add value to the program?” and, “How should I integrate it into the rest of the existing content?”

Learning agility is the ability to figure out what to do in a new situation. Does that sound like a situation someone who is about to be or has just been promoted might find himself or herself in? Of course.

How does a person who has never had to delegate tasks, or who suddenly has four teams but only previously managed one, prepare for this kind of situation? How can he or she be effective in this new role?

Some people might say trial and error and others that you learn by doing. I don’t disagree with either, but there is a way to accelerate that learning curve and minimize the number of mistakes the person makes: developing learning agility.

People with the highest potential will face new and different situations and, in those situations, will need to use the nine dimensions of learning agility: speed, flexibility, feedback-seeking, interpersonal risk-taking, performance risk-taking, information-gathering, collaborating, experimenting and reflecting.

How should leadership development programs use a learning agility inventory? I put it at the beginning of the program, right after sharing the objectives, expectations and agenda, so it is the first piece of content to which learners are exposed.

The rationale is that the participants have just received – or are about to receive – additional responsibilities. They are going to be asked to learn a bunch of stuff they probably don’t currently know or, if they do, don’t execute with ease or effectively. A learning agility inventory will give them information about what they tend to do in those situations.

First, define these nine dimensions. Then, show learners a concrete example of how someone might use a particular dimension when he or she is learning something new. Show them what the assessment results will look like, and then give them their results. Often, I will ask participants to make predictions about their results before I tell them what they actually are. Comparing their predictions with their results may give you some insights into differences between how people see themselves and what the assessment says. Finally, validate the results with the participant.

If a learner sees herself as good at collaborating, for example, and her results show a low score in this area, how would you reconcile those differences? I ask participants to give specific examples of how they have demonstrated the dimension in which they received contradictory results. Sometimes, they define the dimension differently than the assessment does, and it is just a question of clarifying that difference. Sometimes, people want to see themselves differently. It’s important to work though that challenge if the person is to be open to change.

I try to give participants time and materials on which they can record their concerns. Normally, they will not have an issue with all nine learning agility dimensions. It may be two or three, which is more manageable.

The benefit of integrating a learning agility inventory with other content in your program is that there may be opportunities for the participant to validate the assessment results or try out new behaviors. For learners to commit to increasing their learning agility, they need:

  • Acceptance that the results are accurate
  • Clarity on which aspect of the dimension needs improvement
  • A specific objective or project assignment
  • Awareness that they can leverage the dimension on the project or objective
  • Commitment to making the change

Next month, I will look at working with teams on learning agility.