In times of change, leaders need to be more agile than ever. Adapting to new business strategies, working across cultures, dealing with temporary virtual teams, and taking on new assignments all demand that leaders be flexible and agile. But what does being “agile” mean? Are some leaders better at this than others and, if so, how did they get to be that way? Researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) and Teachers College, Columbia University investigated these questions resulting in some important conclusions for leaders who wish to thrive in today’s turbulent times.

What You Will Learn from This Paper:

Innovating: They are not afraid to challenge the status quo.

Performing: They remain calm in the face of difficulty.

Reflecting: They take time to reflect on their experiences.

Risking: They purposefully put themselves in challenging situations.

Defending: They are simply open to learning and resist the temptation to become defensive in the face of adversity.

Of these five facets of learning agility, leaders consistently report risk-taking to be the hardest to enact within their organizations.

Learning-agile individuals tend to be more social, creative, focused, and resilient. They are less interested in accommodating others and are not afraid to challenge norms.

Learning-agile behaviors matter to others; managers seem to value those who are less defensive and who are open to feedback; peers and direct reports appear to value those who are more reflective and willing to change.

About the Authors:

Adam Mitchinson is currently pursuing his PhD in social-organizational psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also received his master’s degree in the same field. In addition to the project outlined in this paper, Adam is actively involved in research on understanding paradox in leadership, specifically how leaders can embody both behavioral flexibility and authenticity in stressful work environments. Adam also does consulting work specializing in individual, group, and organizational assessment and development.

Robert Morris, PhD, earned his PhD in social-organizational psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University, and is a former member of W. Warner Burke’s Doctoral Research Group. He is passionate about improving leader selection and development practices, and he has been actively involved in this field for the past six years. Dr. Morris is currently the general manager of YSC, New York, a business psychology consultancy specializing in leader assessment and executive development.

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