Kaya Consulting

Part 3: Learning Agility in Leadership Selection and Development

Less than half of Australian and New Zealand leaders consider their organisation to have high quality leadership whilst globally, whilst only 17{be38fd1e2c946a347db4d7316b241dce4b842100e7b38236661610f0dce6def9} of organisations believe they have a strong supply of leaders ready to step in to fill vital roles.

Why, despite all our knowledge and investment, is there is dissatisfaction with our current and future leaders?


Selection based on past performance

One reason could be the way in which leaders are identified and chosen. Many selection, promotion or talent identification decisions use current performance as a key selection criterion, assuming that high performers will perform equally well in another role. This is not the case.

Using current performance to determine suitability for roles requiring fundamentally different skills is unlikely to give optimal decisions.

What is needed is a measure of potential – how well an individual can perform in a new and unfamiliar role.


Selection based on potential

Individuals with high learning agility are six times more likely to be identified as having leadership potential compared to high performers. Learning agility not only has a strong relationship with leadership potential, but also with leadership performance, far stronger than the link between intelligence and leadership performance.2,3

Identifying high leadership potential is a good investment in any leadership development plan.

Learning agility and leadership development

It takes more than potential to make a great leader. Effective leaders are highly capable and possess sound judgment¾attributes that develop over time through honing skills, deepening knowledge and learning through experience. Developmental activities like these prepare current and potential leaders for their future roles.

Over $50 billion per year is spent globally on leadership development4, yet research shows that leaders differ in how and what they learn from their experiences. Is there a way to maximise the return on investment in leadership development?

The desired outcome of any development activity is change¾leaders altering their approach to perform better in the future. People with greater self-insight, feedback responsiveness and openness to change, all facets of learning agility, may gain more from development opportunities.


“What got you here won’t get you there” (Marshall Goldsmith)


As people construct their careers they need to move away from being the technical expert to leading technical experts. A successful transition up the leadership pipeline requires development of a number of competencies related to learning agility. The seven facets of learning agility provide a framework for leadership development program. Tailoring development around identified needs is a time and cost-effective way to maximise leadership outcomes.


The importance of role alignment

It is not uncommon for an individual to be promoted to a role managing others based on their strong performance in a technical role. Roles requiring deep understanding, quality, consistency or attention to detail, such as doctors, engineers or lawyers, are accomplished more effectively with a strong technical focus. Individuals with strong technical focus and those with strong leadership focus are essential¾both add value to organisations. However, individuals add maximal value when they are in a role that matches their personal preferences.

Learning agility, by indicating the extent to which a person has a technical or leadership focus, can be used to check whether the right person is going into the right role. Poor alignment, such as a person with a strong technical focus being promoted to a role managing others, can damage the performance and wellbeing of both the leader, and those they lead.

Less effective leaders lack the skills to get the best performance out of their teams, and may increase the stress and psychological strain experienced by their staff.

Greater alignment between person and role has significant outcomes in terms of job satisfaction, wellbeing, employee turnover, organisational commitment, productivity and performance.

How can learning agility be used in my organisation?

Learning agility is an objective, validated measure that has a strong relationship with leadership potential and leadership performance. As an indicator of leadership potential and person/role alignment, it can enhance the quality of personnel decisions such as:

  • selection,
  • promotion,
  • talent identification and
  • leadership development

Better quality decisions save money – reducing turnover, optimising the time and cost of leadership development, and safeguarding wellbeing and performance.


Further information

The TALENTx7 Assessment® is a comprehensive measure of learning agility. For more information on the TALENTx7 and how it can benefit your organisation, contact Stephen Macdonald for an informal discussion (Stephen@thekayagroup.com).



1  DDI (2015). Ready-now Leaders: Meeting tomorrow’s business challenges. Global leadership forecast 2014-2015.http://www.ddiworld.com/DDI/media/trend-research/au/global-leadership-forecast-2014-AU-NZ_cr_ddi.pdf?ext=.pdf

2  De Meuse, K. P. (2017). Learning agility: Its evolution as a psychological construct and its empirical relationship to leader success. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(4), 267.

3  Judge, T. A., Colbert, A. E., & Ilies, R. (2004). Intelligence and leadership: a quantitative review and test of theoretical propositions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(3), 542.

4  Kellerman, B. (2012), The End of Leadership, New York, HarperCollins.