Leading With Agility And Grit

Learning has always been important, and all leaders seem to concur that Learning is an imperative. When there is no learning, individuals and companies are bound to fail in the long run.

 

The early 2000s witnessed organisations moving away from Training and Development initiatives to Learning and Development initiatives. Learning has always been important, and all leaders seem to concur that Learning is an imperative, not a cliché. When there is no learning, individuals and companies are bound to fail in the long run. It is also evident that Talent is attracted to organisations that promise to invest in individual development, irrespective of whether or not they opt to stay.

 

The traditional approach to talent acquisition was based on academic credentials and industry experience. Such an approach was successful when jobs were structured, welldefined, and were more or less predictable with little leeway for change over an extended period. However, in today’s fluid business environment, it is essential to identify such Talent who can learn and grow as the job evolves. With disintermediation disrupting industries and organisations, the change variable has moved up exponentially.

 

The world is becoming smaller, more interconnected, and more intelligent, resulting in the need for companies to hire employees who can manage change in order to survive and thrive.

 

And this is where Learning Agility gains prominence as an essential competence in today’s digital world.

 

A Google search on Learning Agility returns more than 6 lakh results in less than thirty seconds. The important point to note here is the linkage of Learning Agility to High Potential. Learning agility looks at both current performance and long-term potential. The concept of learning agility has been used to describe individuals who possess skills such as openness, willingness to learn, and flexibility. In addition, a learning-agile person is curious about the world and has high tolerance for ambiguity, good people skills, vision, and innovation. (Eichinger & Lombardo, 2004).

 

Learning Ability, Learning Agility & Organisation Culture

 

Learning Ability is sometimes used interchangeably with Learning Agility. The distinction between the ability to learn from experience (Learning Agility) and how individuals learn (Learning Ability) is worth noting. The former has important implications for assessment and selection, while the latter affects how organisations design programmes and facilitate an individual’s learning.

 

Employee experiences form an environment and a culture that fosters learning agility, and the leadership in an organisation can assume a proactive role in creating intentional, positive employee experiences. To be effective, these experiences should enable employees to achieve their goals and succeed in their careers. The organisational focus should be on creating a culture with a “Fail fast and Learn fast” motto. An incident involving Lou Gerstner is an oftcited example of this motto. Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, had a young MBA managing a business and lost 2 million dollars in the venture. When Mr. Gerstner called this individual into his office, the MBA said, “I’m assuming you want my resignation?” Mr. Gerstner said, “I just invested 2 million dollars in your education. I don’t want you to quit, I want to know what you learned.”2

 

As an HR leader in your organisation, your organisational philosophy on innovation and creativity is a major driver of the company’s ability to develop and foster learning agility across employees. Some very important questions that must be asked in order to create a culture which fosters a workplace that ensures learning ability are mentioned below: -

 

◆ Is the culture of accepting and providing constructive (concrete, specific, and actionable) or destructive (vague, incomplete, untimely, or absent) in your organisation?

 

◆ Do you allow for mistakes and for people to learn from those mistakes?

 

◆ Are there timely feedback loops to enhance learning from education and experience?

 

◆ Do you explore patterns in organisational setbacks across the company in order to minimise barriers to success?

 

Grit

 

According to Angela Duckworth, Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit means having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out; not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working hard to make such a future a reality. Grit is living life like a marathon, not a sprint.

 

Given Grit’s direct correlation to achievement and success, is it right to say that all the talented employees are the ones who possess Grit naturally? The answer unfortunately is No! We know of many talented professionals who simply do not follow through on their commitments.

 

How does one then build grit in oneself? According to Angela, the one probable way to develop Grit is through developing a “Growth Mindset” in professionals. The Growth Mindset was an idea developed at the Stanford University by Carol S Dweck, and is a belief that an individual’s ability to learn is not fixed, and that it can change with effort. Grit places a premium on effort.

 

Learning Agility and Grit

 

The power of passion and perseverance can be labelled as Grit. Together, Learning Agility and Grit ensure that the chances of success for the employees rise exponentially, especially when they are faced with unpredictable situations where the normal way of doing things cannot work.

 

There is a school of thought that believes that in the current scenario, the breadth of expertise trumps depth. Grit and conscientiousness, they argue, could lead to poor performance when it impedes one’s ability to quickly change course, and adapt to new way of doing things or even doing different things altogether.

 

Having presented a contra viewpoint, the debate is open for the reader to weigh in. However, what is proven beyond doubt is that the driver of the digital world is a lifelong learner. It is for the reader to decide whether they are on the bus with grit or without it.

 

References: -

1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication 263217685_Leadership_Development_ Exploring_Clarifying_and_Expanding_ Our_Understanding_of_Learning_Agility

2. Learning Agility - The Impact on Recruitment and Retention - Linda S. Gravett Sheri A. Caldwell

3. Grit: the power of passion and perseverance | Angela Lee Duckworth

4. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ archive/2019/07/future-of-work-expertisenavy/590647/

5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/ article/pii/S0160289613000421

6. https://hbr.org/2017/05/the-talent-curse

7. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/ learning-for-a-living/

8. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/ leadership-mindsets-for-the-neweconomy/

 

Tanaz Mulla is a Human Resources professional currently working with a leading fashion retail organisation.

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