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Building learning agility for long term success

Building learning agility – for long term success

Agility and the abillity to learn fast are key attributes for succes - not just for the high potentials but for everyone in your business.

Without this agility, people will not be able to embrace incremental changes in your business or the game changers brought about through artificial intelligence, market disrupters and evolving global markets.  So, as a leader, how do you develop learning agility for yourself and your team?

Understanding how your mindset influences your ability to learn is key.  Carol Dweck (a renowned psychologist) identified significant differences between those with a fixed or a growth mindset. 

A fixed mindset is based on the belief that out our intelligence and skills are pretty much set.  This drives behaviours which are all about proving that you’re good enough, such as sticking with what you know, avoiding situations where you may not be able to succeed, assuming that setbacks are proof that you can’t do things, and feeling threatened by the success of others.  In business terms this leads to a fear of trying new things, an inability to adapt quickly to changes – and that’s bad news. 

On the other hand, the growth mindset is based on a belief that you can always do better.   The focus is all about improving what you do and how you do it.  Learning is a primary motivator which drives behaviours of curiosity, innovation, reflection and collaboration.  These are the behaviours that organisations desperately need to drive long term success.

Our research shows that some leaders already have a growth mindset.  These are the leaders who seek feedback, constantly reflect on their impact and take action to change and grow.  These are the leaders who are on-track to achieve and expand their potential.  What is more, these leaders build a growth mindset in their teams – they encourage others to grow, to develop and to contribute more. 

There’s another group who have a mixed mindset.  They know that they can grow and develop, but they feel too overwhelmed with their day job to invest any effort in it.  Development never quite reaches the top of the to-do list.  As a consequence, they can stagnate.  Sure, they will be able to respond to changes, but they are unlikely to be driving the changes from the front, unlikely to be thinking through what they can do to shape events.

The biggest group we found were operating largely within a fixed mindset.  They are busy doing what they have always done.  Focused on showing they are doing a good job, they rarely step back to consider what they could do differently or how changes in their behaviour could drive major improvements.  Although these people can perform brilliantly in their current role, they probably don’t have the agility to step into different roles or to respond well to a significant shift in the market.

We also found another problem.  Lots of organisational practice actually encourages a fixed mindset.  For example, leaders who are really successful in a business area become too valuable to move – and then they stagnate, becoming set in their ways and unable to take on new challenges.  Consider also how little we measure and reward learning – our focus solely on the end result sends the message that this is all that matters. 

So, what can we do?  How can we encourage ourselves and others to move towards a growth mindset and build our learning agility? 

First step is a bit of reflectionif you’re honest with yourself, how much time do you spend proving you’re good rather than improving how good you are?  When you ask for feedback, is it to confirm your strengths or do you look for people who will share an honest opinion?  The chances are it depends on the situation and who you’re with – but as with all personal change, it helps to start noticing what’s really going on.

Next you can start to adopt growth mindset behaviours, becoming a conscious learner – and encouraging others to do the same.

Reflect on your performance: Make it a habit to regularly ask yourself what went well, what didn’t go so well, what will you do differently next time. Then put it into practice and reflect again…

Broaden your perspective: Seek out alternative views, look for new experiences, be curious, do something different and use these to draw out new insights and to stay fresh.

Value learning: Be serious about the importance of learning, for yourself and others.  At the end of a project or tasks, don’t just talk about the end result, talk about what has been learnt and how it can be applied.

If you’ve read this far you are probably of the growth mindset and perhaps your biggest leadership contribution could be in helping others to develop their learning agility too ....

Comments on this Post

Philip Lindsay on 20th October 2017

Nice post - emphasising important points for the ongoing development (and effectiveness) of everyone whether leaders or followers/in work or not. Reg Revens' insights on active learning are reflected here - insights from half a century ago. I hope that this post helps everyone to have the courage to embrace 'learning' as a habit to avoid stagnation - and encourages organisations to promote learning and experimentation as a way forward.

Tracey Skoyles on 14th October 2017

I did read to the end and would like to think I have a growth mindset. I am conscious though that a mixed mindset is very much a competitor as the pace of change ramps up. There is good advice in this article to help keep that growth mindset to the fore. Thanks!

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