Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Role of Learning Agility in Executive Career Success: The Results of Two Field Studies

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Role of Learning Agility in Executive Career Success: The Results of Two Field Studies

Article excerpt

The contemporary business environment is one of constant change due to extensive globalization, dynamic economic conditions, the increased usage of virtual interaction and social media, and rapid advancements in technology. This new environment renders leadership and managerial skills that once created organizational success insufficient for continued success (Joiner, 2009). There is a growing recognition that today's organizational leaders must develop agility as a core capability, so they can respond effectively to the uncertainty and ambiguity of the modern marketplace (Yukl and Mahsud, 2010).

Recent employment selection research reflects this trend. Van Iddekinge and Ployhart (2008) observed that job performance criteria have expanded outside traditional job-specific task requirements to include adaptive performance. This expanded performance domain has changed people's concept with regard to what individual attributes should be used to predict executive effectiveness. A key component of contemporary strategic employee selection is to identify talent who has the potential to adapt in this volatile business environment. As Silzer and Church asserted, "This is a significant mind shift from short-term selection to long-term prediction, often over a three to ten year period or more. The prediction process is not to match an individual to specific known positions and responsibilities, but rather to predict how much potential an individual has, with additional growth and development, to be a candidate in the future for a group of possible positions" (2009: 378-379).

Within this context, researchers have begun to identify individual attributes that are related to long-term potential. To be adaptive, it requires one to learn new ways of coping with unforeseen problems and opportunities. Learning and skill development plays an important role in an individual's long-term effectiveness and career success (Silzer and Church, 2009; Tannenbaum, 1997). During the past decade, learning agility has been used increasingly as an assessment for high potential talent (De Meuse et al., 2010; Lombardo and Eichinger, 2000). Despite its increasing usage in the practitioner world, there is little scholarly research examining the empirical relationship of learning agility to leadership effectiveness (DeRue et al., 2012). Drawing on the findings of the executive leadership research as well as the career success literature, two field studies were conducted to investigate how learning agility contributes to executive success.


Learning Agility and Executive Leadership.

Lombardo and Eichinger (2000) initially coined the term learning agility. They defined it as the ability and willingness to learn from experience and subsequently apply those lessons to perform successfully in new or first-time situations. The genesis of this construct can be traced back to a series of executive research studies conducted during the late-1980s at the Center for Creative Leadership (e.g., Lombardo et al., 1988; McCall and Lombardo, 1983; McCall et al, 1988). In these studies, corporate executives were interviewed to describe the key events in their careers that shaped the development of their leadership skills. Based on a content analysis, the 616 events described by the interview participants were categorized into different types of career experiences such as first supervisory jobs, line-to-staff switches, starting from scratch assignments, turning around businesses, dealing with career setbacks, and handling business mistakes (McCall et al., 1988). The authors found that successful executives tended to have more diverse experiences during their careers than unsuccessful (or derailed) ones. "In the first place, derailed executives had a series of successes, but usually in similar kinds of situations ... By contrast, the arrivers (successful executives) had more diversity in their successes" (McCall and Lombardo, 1983: 30). …

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