For the last few months, I’ve been writing a series of Insights about learning agility and the work that my firm, EASI·Consult, has done on the topic with Warner Burke, Ph.D., a professor and researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Burke has created and validated a test that measures learning agility, appropriately called the Burke Learning Agility Inventory (Burke LAI). Learning agility is seen as being closely related to leadership potential. There are nine dimensions to the Burke LAI:
- Performance Risk Taking
- Interpersonal Risk Taking
- Information Gathering
- Feedback Seeking.
In this series on learning agility, I’m providing a close-up view of what each of the nine dimension looks like in situations at work. In this column, I’m going to address Flexibility.
Burke defines Flexibility as being open to new ideas and proposing new solutions.
Here’s an example of Flexibility from Presidents and Their Generals by Matthew Moten. In this section of Moten’s book, John Fitzgerald Kennedy has assumed the presidency and must address some issues he inherits from President Dwight Eisenhower.
“Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with Castro’s communist regime, leaving Kennedy as one adviser put it, holding ‘a grenade with the pin pulled.’ Ike’s CIA had been planning an invasion of Cuba and training anti-Castro Cuban expatriates for the task. … Although the Joint Chiefs had analyzed the CIA’s planning and found it slipshod, they muted their criticism. …On April 17, 1961, less than two months into Kennedy’s term, thirteen hundred Cuban exiles landed in the Bay of Pigs and found themselves surrounded by fifteen times as many Castro Forces.
“The debacle humiliated the young president, who took personal responsibility and then fired the top two men in the CIA. He felt that both the CIA and the JCS had tried to manipulate him to take an unwise military action, and vowed never again to be ‘overawed by professional military advice.’
“Soon after the Bay of Pigs debacle, Kennedy called on Maxwell Taylor to investigate the failed operations. Taylor chaired a group whose final report sprayed blame around the government, from the CIA to the JCS to the NSC. The president took the [Taylor] memo and ‘rushed off to the Pentagon’ to talk with the Joint Chiefs.
“JFK told the skeptical group that he wanted their advice to ‘come to him directly and unfiltered.’ He thought of them, he said, ‘as more than military specialists.
“ …Their advice ‘could not and should not be purely military, as political, economic and other factors always impinged on a national security decision.’ … Shortly thereafter, Kennedy recalled Taylor to active duty as a four-star general and appointed him military representative to the president, an entirely new position. …Taylor became Kennedy’s general.”
In the example, Kennedy demonstrated an openness to new ideas from Eisenhower, the Joint Chiefs and Maxwell Taylor. He ultimately creates a new role for Taylor to best support him as president.
Now let’s return to learning agility and Flexibility. I’m going to take you through a fictitious example involving a woman named Mary who works for a company in its accounts receivable department. Up to the point illustrated by this example, Mary has not shown much Flexibility.
Mary was the head of accounts receivable and had been for 10 years. The company had a paper-based system and invoices were all sent at once at the end of the month. There was a plan to automate this system by the end of the year. Dwayne was responsible for accounts payable. Dwayne was in his early 20s and very savvy with technology. He had volunteered a year ago to automate accounts payable. Dwayne is seen as having the potential to become a CFO. With the automation of his area, he has volunteered to participate in a few ask forces as he has time to spare. He would love to help Mary get a head start of her automation, but she is not interested.
In our second example, Mary is introduced to the Burke Learning Agility Inventory (Burke LAI) during an offsite workshop with the finance group.
At the finance group’s annual offsite meeting, they always have a professional development subject. This year it is the Burke LAI. Mary’s lowest score was on Flexibility. The next day in her one-on-one session with her boss, he asks about her Burke LAI results. She shows her boss the feedback report. They are both drawn to her Flexibility score. The boss asks Mary if she thinks it is accurate. She thinks about it and nods her head yes. He asks if this is something she wants to work on. Mary is willing to listen to her boss and his ideas as long as they don’t mean more work for her.
Mary and her boss talk about asking Dwayne to spend time in her area so that he can make suggestions of things she can do now to get ready for the upcoming automation. No changes will be made without her agreement. The three of them will meet monthly to review progress. The automation could be accelerated to September, in which case Mary could take the last two weeks of December off to spend the holidays with her son in London.
This is an example of Flexibility in action.
EASI•Consult® works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI•Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI•Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email [email protected] or call (800) 922-EASI.