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Learning Agility – Depth vs. Breadth

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In the quest to identify high-potential talent, many organizations are turning to a construct called Learning Agility.  Learning Agility is a key attribute of having potential, but it is not synonymous with potential.

I like to think of Learning Agility as depth versus breadth.

  • Technical or managerial experts
  • Superior performers year after year
  • Trusted resources within the organization
  • Difficult to replace in kind
  • Widely recognized outside the company
  • Love what they do, may not aspire to broader management
  • Agile learners
  • Promotable outside their areas
  • Candidates for senior general management positions
  • Easily learn new functions
  • Like to try different approaches
  • Highly curious
  • Deal well with ambiguity and complexity
  • Impatient, don't accept the status quo
  • Push the envelope but willing to take the heat

Some individuals are going to chart their career path as deep technical experts. They excel in their functional area and are by all accounts “top performers” in their organizations. They tend to do well in situations that are similar to things they have done before and enjoy being experts. Those who focus on breadth, on the other hand, tend to get bored more easily and need variety and new challenges. They excel in first-time and new situations by using what they learned in previous situations and adapting it to fit the current situation.

Studies have repeatedly shown that the ability to learn from experience is what differentiates successful executives from unsuccessful ones. Learning Agility is used to describe those who have openness and a willingness to learn. These future leaders have a curiosity about the world and an enthusiasm to experience new things; they also have good people skills and a high tolerance for ambiguity.

Learning Agility as defined by Korn/Ferry Lominger is the willingness and ability to learn from one’s experience and then apply those learnings to new and first-time situations. If you think about what a high potential must do in terms of moving into new functional areas, stretch assignments, and unchartered waters, this ability to leverage their learnings and figure out what to do when they don’t know what to do is crucial for success.

Meet the Author

David Weller

Senior Partner

For the past 25 years, David has had a passion for helping clients take the guesswork out of their hiring and development practices.

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