Picture: THE NEW YORK TIMES/TONY CENICOLA
Picture: THE NEW YORK TIMES/TONY CENICOLA

LEADERS who think and act with the same assumptions and behaviors they’ve used for years are prone to stagnate, underperform or derail. To sustain success, you must develop learning agility.

Learning agility is the capacity for rapid, continuous learning from experience. Agile learners are good at making connections across experiences, and they’re able to let go of perspectives or approaches that are no longer useful. Here are ways you can develop your learning agility.

1. Ask for feedback. Think of one or more people who interacted with you or observed your performance on a given task. Tell them you’d value their perspective on how you did, and ask what you could do differently the next time. To maximise learning from their feedback, restrain any urge to defend yourself.

2. Experiment with new approaches or behaviors. Conduct thought experiments, unearthing possibilities from trying out a different point of view. For example, one woman was concerned about leading a new team of highly talented managers. With some reflection, she realised that she had gotten stuck in the perspective that in order to be seen as credible, she had to know more than they did. By letting go of the assumption that she had to be the subject-matter expert and adopting the perspective that she could add greater value as a facilitator, she was able to design and carry out a meeting at which creative ideas flowed freely.

3. Look for connections across seemingly unrelated areas. Choose a domain you have expertise in but that’s unrelated to your work and ask yourself how you might apply that knowledge to your current challenge.

4. Make time for reflection. A growing body of research shows that systematically reflecting on work experiences boosts learning significantly. To ensure continuous progress, get into the habit of asking yourself questions like "What have I learned from this experience?" and "What turned out differently than I expected?"

(Adapted from "4 Ways to Become a Better Learner" at HBR.org.)

© 2015 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp