I was listening to a Podcast recently from 2019 in which Steve Stein, CEO of Multi-Health Systems (MHS), was being interviewed.  He predicted early in the 2016 primaries that Donald Trump would be elected President and why. He also talked about the positive impact that Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, was having. He spoke about a fundamental change to the partnership model and the positive impact that was having on the Microsoft environment. He spoke about Ginny Rometty’s work at IBM and how caring about the people and the culture impacted the strategy and their results.

Steve and I met in 2019 at what was then a Talent Management Alliance (TMA) Conference (now HRO Today Forum Events). He was presenting, and I was a sponsor talking about our Burke Learning Agility Assessments, Dr. Warner Burke, and my first book, Learning Agility-The Key to Leader Potential. Our discussion highlighted the interest we both had in research examining the relationship between learning agility and emotional intelligence. The interest is still there, but the opportunity to fund a study hasn’t yet materialized.

So, what are learning agility and emotional intelligence, and why might combining these two concepts help us identify and develop present and future leaders? Before I go there, let me discuss why that might be important.  Many companies make selection decisions based on “a gut feeling.” More sophisticated organizations use assessments of Cognitive Ability and Personality, and a structured interview of what has been determined as key competencies for that position. The data shows that the results of that process are a little better than 50% successful, equivalent to the toss of a coin. Those results are not good enough.  How do we increase the odds of selection decisions resulting in effective performance? Some would say that the missing piece is a person’s ability to learn and judge how effective they are at appraising their ability to learn. That is what learning agility and emotional intelligence are all about.  Learning agility involves finding yourself in a new or ambiguous situation where you have never been before, not knowing what to do, and figuring it out.  There are nine dimensions measured by the Burke Learning Agility Assessments, and they are each underpinned by 4 or 5 behavioral descriptors. The nine dimensions are: 1) Speed; 2) Flexibility; 3) Experimenting; 4) Performance Risk-Taking; 5) Interpersonal Risk-Taking; 6) Collaborating; 7) Feedback Seeking;8) Information Gathering; 9) Reflecting. Stein uses five dimensions to measure Emotional Intelligence in his EQI 2.0.  They are: 1) Self Perception; 2) Self Expression; 3) Interpersonal Skills; 4) Decision Making; 5) Manage Stress.

 Dr. Burke and I have discussed the fact that the Burke Assessments do not measure Self Perception (how do I see myself). When we assess someone with one of the Burke Assessments, and we define the nine dimensions, we show them an example of what their report will look like. We then ask them to make a prediction. Will their overall learning agility be low, medium, or high?  What will their two highest dimensions and two lowest dimensions be? Then we hand people their report. The person receiving the feedback now needs to reconcile the difference (if any) between their prediction of the results and what their report says. If prediction and report are the same, then the person can move directly to using existing strengths and identifying areas they want to strengthen. There are often differences, and step 1 is understanding why the differences exist. Once that is completed, someone can move into “What I want to keep doing and in what areas do I want to improve?” An element that the EQI 2.0 would provide is a score on Self Perception.  How self-aware am I?  In the Burke multi-rater assessment (180 and 360) there is a part of the feedback report that looks at the differences between how others see me and how I see myself. These are described as either Unrecognized Strengths (other people rating me higher than I rate myself) or Blind Spots (where I rate myself higher than others rate me. Having Stein’s Self Perception measure would give us more evidence to support my awareness of how I come across to others.  E.A.S.I-Consult® has conducted three criterion validity studies where a person rates themselves on learning agility and independently their supervisor rates their performance. The two variables are then correlated. In each case, the higher someone’s learning agility, the higher their performance was rated.  One could conclude that in these studies, learning agility predicts performance.

One of the dimensions measured by the EQI 2.0 is a person’s ability to manage stress. Stein says that the item behind this dimension looks at flexibility, stress tolerance, and optimism. The Burke also measures Flexibility; in fact, it is described as one of the two drivers of learning agility. While the Burke does not measure optimism, we would say two things: 1) Learning agile people do fail or do not do something well initially, it is their willingness to persevere in the face of adversity that is like optimism; 2) People who are more learning agile have a lot of learning energy and a broader repertoire of things they say and do that makes them successful more often. While not precisely optimism, likely a relationship between the two concepts. More reason for the research. A more recent extension of Stress in Stein’s work is Hardiness. He defines this as going through bad times and coming out stronger. The items behind this are 1) Commitment; 2) Control; 3) Challenge. Commitment to one’s goals and purpose in life. Control, being clear about what we can and can’t. Challenge is the ability to deal with a stressful event and look at the upside of the experience. While Burke does not assess for Hardiness, there are parts of Interpersonal and Performance Risk-Taking that capture aspects of Hardiness.  Being optimistic, I believe we will get the opportunity to do this research on learning agility and emotional intelligence.  It will increase our ability to make better selection decisions beyond the odds of a coin toss. How far beyond? We will wait for the data to answer that question.

About the Author  

David Hoff is the COO and EVP of Leadership Development for 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’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 advisement. 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 www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.