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Learning agility: the “X” factor in identifying and developing future leaders

Vicki Swisher (Senior Director‐Intellectual Property Development, Korn/Ferry International, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)

Industrial and Commercial Training

ISSN: 0019-7858

Article publication date: 12 April 2013




Leaders of the future need to be better than the leaders they replace because the challenges are greater, the speed faster, the competition tougher, and the marketplace increasingly global. In short, the leaders of today and tomorrow must be agile leaders. They must be resourceful in the face of change, and above all, able to learn from experience. People with this ability perform well under first‐time, challenging conditions. This paper seeks to address these issues.


In a climate of challenging external forces, market conditions, and internal challenges – the question has to be asked: Who will lead? Who will shepherd the organization into the future, navigate the external pressures, effectively manage the increasing complexity, and ultimately guide the organization to win in the market? When thinking about leading the organization into the future, depth of expertise will certainly remain important. But to effectively navigate the uncertainties and growing complexity, and manage dilemmas effectively, people are needed who can tackle the new, the first‐time, the unknown – and with positive results. These are the people that can take on more broad roles and responsibilities.


Two major streams of research have studied what behaviors lead to executive success and, conversely, what causes an executive's career to derail. A common theme in the research was the extent to which the executives sought out diverse experiences and amassed multiple, repeatable lessons from them. Those lessons manifested as varied and expansive ways of looking at problems, and coming up with creative solutions.


Learning agility is much more than an abstract concept. It is a set of behaviors or competencies that can be observed and assessed. And, importantly, because it is behavior‐based, learning agility can be developed. Unlike a measure such as IQ, learning agility is not static and a motivated person can increase his or her learning agility. With learning agility, a person can better differentiate talent and develop it in a way that will fit personal career aspirations and benefit the organization as a whole. And, ultimately, ensure there is the right leadership that can adapt to change, address the unexpected and motivate and inspire those around them.



Swisher, V. (2013), "Learning agility: the “X” factor in identifying and developing future leaders", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 45 No. 3, pp. 139-142.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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