Were they learning agile and, if so, how?
What, if anything, do three legendary inventors and three statesmen have in common?
As part of this year’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) class, my fellow participants and I focused on six different leaders class organizers felt changed the world: Thomas Edison; Madame Marie Curie; Winston Churchill; Vladimir Lenin; General George Marshall; and Steve Jobs.
This was the fourth consecutive summer I had the privilege of being a participant in a forum offered by UNC-Wilmington’s OLLI. Again, this year, I was invited to give a presentation on Learning Agility at the opening session. The idea was that, armed with an understanding of learning agility, my classmates and I could then use it as a lens through which to view each of the leaders we discussed.
Let’s start with some results. The class rated Churchill, Lenin and Jobs as high in Performance Risk Taking. Maybe more surprisingly, five of the six leaders we studied were ranked as low in Feedback Seeking.
Learning Agility is considered closely linked to leadership potential. Most simply put learning agility involves finding yourself in a situation in which you have never been before, not knowing what to do, then figuring it out.
Whether it was Curie’s discovery of Plutonium or Jobs’ introduction of the iPhone, these were unchartered waters and required some form of learning agility. But did they all have all the learning agility dimensions? Did they all use the right dimension in the right situation?
E•A•S•I-Consult® has been working with Warner Burke, Ph.D., a professor and researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University. Burke created and validated a test that measures Learning Agility, appropriately called the Burke Learning Agility Inventory® (Burke LAI®).
As mentioned in previous articles, there are nine dimensions to the Burke LAI: Flexibility; Speed; Experimenting; Performance Risk Taking; Interpersonal Risk Taking; Collaborating; Information Gathering; Feedback Seeking; and Reflecting.
These dimensions differentiate people who are more learning agile from those who are less so. The more learning agile someone is, the more options they will be able to draw upon to solve a problem.
Below is a summary of the OLLI Forum’s unscientific impressions of six world leaders using the Burke LAI.
One of our biggest surprises was with Gen. Marshall, in particular, how he: got from Virginia Military Institute (VMI) into the Army by meeting with President McKinley; publicly disagreed with Gen. Pershing, which led to him joining his staff; and disagreed with Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. In each case, he was respectful but firm in stating his position.
In learning agility, we call this Interpersonal Risk Taking. He also demonstrated Performance Risk Taking when he changed how the Army trained its officers at Fort Benning. He was author of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. Now that was Performance Risk Taking.
Gen. Marshall was the only person we studied that several participants saw as having no learning agility weaknesses.
Not getting along with others (or maybe not caring about it) was characteristic of both Jobs and Edison. This showed up as not collaborating well with others and not being interested in other’s perceptions of their actions (i.e. Feedback Seeking). Jobs didn’t acknowledge a child born out of wedlock, and Edison, who was married twice, basically ignored the children from his first marriage.
The capability that ran through all those we studied was either Performance Risk Taking or Experimenting. All these people had a singular focus to achieve the things that they set out to achieve. There were unfettered by failure; they knew it would take them one step closer to their goals.
It has been fun to dissect the careers of some of the people in history whose efforts have changed our lives. The Burke LAI has given us a language to describe some of the behaviors these people demonstrated.
I have already signed up to lead the discussion at OLLI next summer on Nelson Mandela.
David Hoff is the chief operation officer and executive vice president for leadership development at E•A•S•I-Consult®. E•A•S•I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E•A•S•I-Consult specialties include individual assessment, online 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 E•A•S•I-Consult, visit https://easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.