Elevate Your Learning Agility Game: Unleash the Untapped Potential of This Powerful Strategy

For many years, I taught a business creativity course to adult undergraduate students at DePaul University. In addition to learning various creativity theories, I devoted half the class time to improvisation games and eventually fully improvised scenes. The class allowed students to develop a pre-defined competence of “Can apply the theory and practice of improvisation to enhance workplace creativity.”

These sessions first taught me the importance of naming and sharing your learning goals and, more importantly, the value of holding your goals lightly and leaving some room for surprises.

The Value to Naming and Sharing Your Learning Goals

Research shows that committing to specific goals AND sharing them with others greatly enhances your likelihood of achieving them. Your chances of success are even greater if you share those results with someone whose status or authority you respect (e.g., a manager, mentor, or colleague you admire). This is particularly valuable when venturing into new territory demanding learning agility. For workplace learning, it can be especially effective to:

  • Draft and share your learning goals.
  • Keep a learning journal or other record of your experiences and lessons learned throughout your endeavor.
  • Share your progress and learning outcomes with a trusted friend, colleague, or mentor and, ideally, with a broader community, such as your team, or at your next Lunch & Learn session.

To get started, draft a short competence statement before you embark on your new learning adventure. You can download a competence statement template and example in the Summer of Learning Framework.

Distinguish Between Process and Performance Goals

As important as drafting learning goals is recognizing the learning that happens along the way to developing competence. These include expanding your network, becoming more comfortable learning in a new way, and even discovering talents you didn’t know you had.

In contrast, performance goals are the projected outcomes and impact of your learning. For example, will your new skills and knowledge help you increase sales, improve teamwork, or reduce time to market? In other words, “How will your new competence generate value for you and your stakeholders?”

Leave Room for Surprises

The growth that happens on our way to developing new competency is sometimes hard to predict, and these surprises can be the best part! Over the years teaching my creativity course, I witnessed and heard so many stories of transformation that I centered my doctoral research on the question, “What happens for people as they learn to improvise?” The findings inspired my book,  From Workplace to Playspace: Innovating, Learning and Changing Through Dynamic Engagement.

Success Story: How Starshine Got Her Groove Back

One woman’s journey stood out as especially surprising. In her first learning journal (which she permitted me to quote from using her nickname “Starshine”), she wondered why she had even registered for a class that included improvisation in the description. She described herself as “shy” and someone “who gets nervous in front of people” and “rarely speaks in class.” She lived into this identity for the first few weeks of class while still dutifully participating in all the class exercises, however uncomfortable they were. Then, one day, about halfway into the quarter, she was in a scene with two classmates, one well over a foot taller than she was. The improvisation scenario was a robbery taking place within a shoe store. Starshine, astonishing herself and her classmates, leaped into the scene with an imaginary gun and pulled the much taller male “shoe salesperson” into a playful headlock. The short scene quickly unfolded to peels of laughter as the formerly retiring Starshine took total control of the scene and “robbed” the improvised store of all of the latest styles in footwear.

 

In her journal that night, she described feeling “physically and mentally open for anything to come my way” and leaving the class with “a feeling of sureness, freedom, and optimism about me.”

In the following weeks and months, Starshine’s confidence within and beyond the classroom only grew. She later reported that she was now speaking up and sharing ideas more freely at work. She had joined Toastmasters and was even standing up to speak to her large congregation on Sundays, something she couldn’t have previously imagined.

Why It’s Important to Hold Your Learning Goals Lightly

While Starshine demonstrated the pre-defined course competence, I share her story as a reminder of the value of setting learning goals; we should hold those goals lightly. By that, I mean that if we only focus on our pre-defined destination, we might miss all the additional ways we are learning and growing along the way.

In addition to “enhancing her workplace creativity,” Starshine deepened her relationships with her learning colleagues by becoming willing to share more of her playful self, encouraging them to do the same. She became a valuable faith community member by speaking up and inspiring others. And perhaps most importantly, she found her voice and developed confidence in her ability to think on her feet and contribute positively even in unfamiliar settings.

It wasn’t an explicit learning goal, yet the most valuable aspect of Starshine’s experience was the confidence she developed in her ability to learn and adapt to new and changing circumstances: her LEARNING AGILITY.

Pro Tip: This is an important reminder for my talent development colleagues as they measure the impact of their L&D strategies: Be sure your evaluations include open questions to discover the unexpected aspects of the learning experience. They may end up being even more impactful than your planned outcomes!

Bonus Resources

Here are a few resources to help you craft and refine your learning goals:

Summer of Learning Week 2: From Wonder to Wisdom—Ask the Right Questions to Accelerate Your Learning

When I returned to alpine ski racing after a few decades of hiatus, I was instore for a big surprise. For starters, I was nervous that I would be one of the oldest racers on the hill. It turned out I was one of the youngest! Many of the racers out there were still going strong well into their 60s, 70s, and even 80s. That’s me on the left in the photo with my friend, Karl Landl, still racing at age 87.

This discovery sparked my curiosity. I wondered what kept these hardy souls coming out weekend after weekend, year after year, in all conditions to compete on our tiny Wisconsin race hill and countless others around the country. As you likely know by now, this curiosity led me to a years-long inquiry, and the discoveries I made resulted in my latest book, Staying in the Game.

Leading with Curiosity

From interviewing masters ski racers and other business leaders who embody agility, I soon discovered that the starting point of any successful and sustainable learning endeavor is to Lead with Curiosity.

Whether they are curious about how to increase their edge angles on steep turns or how to better navigate the twists and turns of a volatile market, the motivation is the same: continuous improvement and expanded understanding.

If your fast-paced life has crowded out space in your brain for wonder, this might be an excellent opportunity to slow down enough to ponder what you are curious about. Give yourself room to consider what is truly meaningful to you rather than everything you think you “should” be learning.

Curiosity is the secret sauce that helps all Embodied Agile Leaders stay motivated and relevant throughout their careers.

One of my favorite examples of curiosity from Staying in the Game is the career of renowned theater and film director Peter Brook. The New York Times called him “the greatest innovator of his generation” who pursued his passion with “relentless curiosity” throughout his life.

Brook led with curiosity starting at age seven, staging a four-hour production of Hamlet in his toy theater. This quest continued to his final production, aptly titled, “Why?” which opened in the fall of 2019, just months before the COVID-19 shut-down and less than two years before his death at 97.

The secret to his success?

It’s simple, he shared, “Never stop asking questions.”

Here are a few questions to get your curiosity wheels turning

  • Think about recent conversations, articles, shows, or podcasts you’ve been engaged with. What has stood out to you? What piqued your curiosity?
  • What new trends are getting your attention?
  • What are you hearing or reading about that you want to learn more about?
  • What challenges and opportunities are your customers grappling with?
  • What other questions do you have?
Use your answers to refine your learning focus in the coming months, with the Summer of Learning Framework as your guide.

Here’s where my curiosity has led me so far:

I promised to share my SoL process with you, hoping it keeps you engaged, but also to hold myself accountable.

Because I work with leaders and teams in various industries, from pharma to finance and beyond, I’m curious about how AI trends affect their businesses and how they work.

In addition to reading countless articles, participating in numerous webinars, and listening to more podcasts than is legally allowed, I am taking my inquiry to where it matters most: my clients.

In our conversations, I’m asking: “How is AI affecting your organization and team and your customers? How is it impacting you, personally? How are you using it? What are you learning? The answers I hear are as varied as the organization, specific team, and individual.

However, two themes are emerging:
  1. Almost every business is integrating AI into their products and services to improve efficiency and customization, particularly for their customers. Some are much further along than others.
  2. Employees are increasingly using AI to augment their work processes, but they must do so within strict company guidelines and follow necessary security protocols.

If you are interested in this topic, here are just two resources that I recommend:

  1. A recent Harvard Business Review panel, “Answering the Generative AI Skills Challenge”.
  2. Another great resource, especially if your work includes learning and development or coaching, is the Training Magazine Network. It has been offering several excellent webinars on AI learning trends and strategies.

In addition to learning about AI trends and resources, I have been experimenting with various AI features in the platforms and applications I already use. Here are two short insights from this past week and one lesson learned:

  • 1.  So far, my favorite feature is the Zoom Workplace AI Meeting Summary. Just turn it on, and it emails you a summary of your discussion, along with your agreed-upon action steps.
  • 2.  After several experiments with ChatGPT this past year, and more recently with Google Gemini I’ve concluded that, as a writer, I’m just not comfortable having someone or something else put words in my mouth. While sometimes more efficient, the results don’t sound like me and often bear little resemblance to what I was trying to say. At the same time, I am finding they help generating things like subject lines and headers and even to create summaries for longer pieces. You can also have some fun with it by doing things like playing the improv game, “One Word Story.” I’m also experimenting with Google Gemini’s image generator, which, so far, is less than impressive and doesn’t compete with Canva’s.
  • NOTE: Review the privacy statements on any AI app you use. With all AI products, it is wise to avoid entering any personal, proprietary, or confidential information. Many enterprise security systems have a firewall for GenAI sites.

Lessons Re-Learned: Progress, Not Perfection

I have been teaching and writing about this for years: Learning can be uncomfortable, messy, and sometimes even challenge our sense of ourselves as competent, capable people—especially in the workplace where the pressure to appear competent and in control can deter us from enthusiastically venturing into new territories.

Embodied Agile Leaders (EALs) model learning agility by courageously embodying the learning process. They don’t wait until they have attained a level of mastery to share their learning. Just because I know the discomfort of new learning in my bones doesn’t mean I’m immune to the temptation to defend myself against it.

One of the biggest challenges I am experiencing as I play with GenAI tools and new digital engagement strategies is not the actual technical learning or the “how-to” aspect. It’s that venturing into new territory in a more visible way feels a bit vulnerable and challenges my identity as someone who is fluent in all that is latest and greatest. This is an uncomfortable and wonderful experience to have as it is essentially what I ask the leaders I work with to do as they develop their agility capability. I’m learning to give myself some grace to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable in my own learning process, and I hope you do, too.

 

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Spotlight on Leading and Learning with Agility: Bryan Davis, Executive Vice President and head of VIU by HUB

Image of Bryan Davis, Executive Vice President and head of VIU by HUB

In Staying in the Game: Leading and Learning with Agility for a Dynamic Future, I share the lessons I learned from some of the world’s most agile leaders across sectors. Based on this work, I introduced a new type of leadership: Embodied Agile Leadership. Embodied Agile Leaders (EALs) embody the values and practices of agile leadership and are attuned to their bodies and environment as a source of agile learning feedback, energy, and resiliency.

In this month’s spotlight, I’m honored to shine a light on Bryan Davis, ChFC, CPCU, an inspiring leader who is constantly innovating within the constraints of a highly regulated industry. In this spotlight I draw from a few brief excerpts from Staying in the Game and share some fresh inspiration from our recent conversation.

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Leaders who stay agile and innovative are keenly attuned to the market’s needs and the competition’s activities and offerings. However, even more than attuning to external threats, Embodied Agile Leaders (EALs) consider themselves their most formidable competitor. Bryan Davis, ChFC, CPCU, Executive Vice President and head of VIU by HUB, an innovative digital insurance platform, is this kind of leader. His passion for continuous improvement and innovation makes him a top leader in the highly competitive insurance industry and beyond. Among top honors awarded throughout his career, Bryan was named to Savoy’s 2024 list of Most Influential Executives in Corporate America.

Never resting on past achievements EALs like Bryan Davis are motivated to do just a little better each time out of the gate.

Even in a highly competitive business, such as financial services, when progress can be measured in relation to others, EALs stay in the game by raising the bar even higher. No stranger to the constraints and competition in a highly regulated industry, Bryan Davis learned to set the bar high early in life when he quarterbacked teams to success from grade school through college. He shared the philosophy that guides him:

I want first to play my best, and in the process, I want to win at the same time. My perspective is that you never want to base your standards on the environment you’re in. Your standards must be higher and bigger than that. And to me, that’s what I do in leadership. That’s what I do in sports. That’s what I do in business. Set your standards high because you can sit here and say, “Hey, I’m at organization X. They used to be mediocre.” So I can come in here, be a little bit better than mediocre, and be great. That’s why I’m always trying to push myself to higher standards, if possible.

Tapping the Power of Intrinsic Motivation

When your most worthy competition is your past performance, coupled with the innate pleasure you derive from continuous learning and improvement, you are propelled by an infinite energy source: intrinsic motivation. Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, psychologists and social scientists at the University of Rochester renowned for founding self-determination theory (SDT), discovered the power of this magic combination when they expanded on their initial research with their colleague Christopher Niemiec.

Looking for factors that support sustained engagement, they studied college students in their first year after graduation. They discovered that recent grads who measured their success solely based on the achievement of extrinsic goals reported overall poorer psychological well-being. In comparison, those whose goals were intrinsically focused reported better psychological well-being.[1]

Similar studies in populations of all ages in business[2],[3] and education[4],[5] reinforce the value of finding a sustaining intrinsic aspiration to motivate you to stay in the game. Of course, you don’t need to be a psychologist to know the importance of finding intrinsic motivation for continuous improvement; you have experience to guide you. If you have ever used achieving a specific goal or reward (e.g., losing fifteen pounds by your high school reunion or winning the top sales award) as your motivation, you’ve likely experienced that motivation wane soon after the goal was achieved. When our primary focus is the external reward, our source of energy and engagement is also largely out of our control. A variety of factors can impact your performance on any given day. If you are motivated to continue only if you consistently step on the podium, you will soon be derailed by the inevitable setbacks.

Competing for Learning

The intrinsic value of learning and improvement is at the heart of Bryan Davis’s practice of Embodied Agile Leadership. He shared that “this is where the great leaders separate themselves from the average or even subpar. I would say to my

Bryan Davis was named to Savoy’s 2024 list of Most Influential Executives in Corporate America.

organization at this stage, ‘we’re not failing enough.’ And so, when I do performance reviews, everybody will tell you what they did well.” To shift the focus, Bryan starts his performance reviews by asking his leaders to “tell me what you messed up. Because if you haven’t really disrupted anything and had setbacks in something, you’re probably not trying hard enough.” At the same time, he emphasized that this doesn’t mean, “Okay, well, I don’t have to have any accountability. I can just go mess up something. We’re all kumbaya, and this is not a big deal.”

Throughout his impressive career, Bryan has observed and studied many leaders. He discovered, “The great leaders know how to find that balance between one extreme and the other. As a leader, you promote this environment of ‘How do we find the positivity and accountability in failures?’ And accountability could be like, ‘Man, what should I learn to do differently?'” It takes both courage and humility to model the continuous learning of Embodied Agile Leadership. EALs know this because they don’t expect or invite their colleagues to venture into new territory they don’t explore themselves.

Leading with Intentionality and Patience

Two years into launching their innovative new division, I asked Bryan what new lessons he was learning. While operating as a startup within a long-established organization, his team were early adopters of agile ways of working. Bryan shared two critical insights relevant to leaders across industries who are guiding agile organizations:

More than the Agile techniques, success depends on an agile mindset. This takes an intentionality. It is not something that is natural for some people. You have to be so intentional about calling out the small things to create the environment and culture that you want. And that’s something that I’ve observed now, two years in, that it’s so easy to creep back into a waterfall [traditional project management] mindset. And so the leadership challenge is not necessarily saying, “Hey, we want to be agile.” The leadership challenge is being able to see the small things that create the end game that you’re shooting for.

Bryan’s insights are particularly relevant for the majority of companies that adopt Agile frameworks or undergo enterprise-wide agile transformations and are driven by the promise of improved speed and efficiency. This is because those who focus solely on speed rarely achieve the true benefit of becoming more agile: maximizing stakeholder value. Achieving this result requires something that is seldom talked about in Agile circles: patience. It takes a seasoned and visionary leader like Bryan to practice it. He reflected that,

It takes a lot of patience because you have to let some things burn. You have to let some things burn to get to the overall place you’re trying to get to. You lose some battles to win the war, and you can have a team fighting it out, and they’re fighting for their lines in the sands of waterfall silos. That’s what they’re fighting for. So, I can be the parent that goes and puts the pacifier in their mouth and babysits them, but then we never grow and mature. So, I might’ve put that fire out, but it’s going to be another fire. It’s going to be a forest fire. The fire’s going to keep getting bigger.

Bryan added that he takes inspiration from the Navy Seal credo that “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” He shared the paradox of this approach, “It is patience in the beginning so that you can go fast.” There is no prescription for the intentionality and patience of Agile leadership, Bryan reflected, “That’s the art. That’s the art. That’s my day job, honestly.”

References

[1] Christopher P. Niemiec, Richard M. Ryan, and Edward L. Deci, “The Path Taken: Consequences of Attaining Intrinsic and Extrinsic Aspirations in Post-College Life” Journal of Research in Personality 43, no. 3 (June 1, 2009): 291–306, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2008.09.001.

[2] Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2011).

[3] Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2018).

[4] Carol Dweck, Mindset – Updated Edition: Changing The Way You Think To Fulfill Your Potential. (New York: Hachette, 2017).

[5] Angela L. Duckworth, Christopher Peterson, Michael R. Matthews, and Dennis D. Kelly, 2007. “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92 no. 6 (2007): 1087–1101. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1087.

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DISCOVER MORE lessons from Bryan Davis and other Embodied Agile Leaders from from across industries in Staying in the Game: Leading and Learning with Agility for a Dynamic Future. Now Available on Audible!

Summer of Learning Kick-Off

Stylized ice cream cone with a cloud for ice cream, pink cone and blue background with the text "what are you learning this summer?"A friend shared that she and her team have dubbed the season their “Summer of Learning.”

She works in an industry that is typically slower in the summer months. Rather than simply using their extra time to catch up and get ready for the fall season, they are taking advantage of this opportunity to understand the latest industry trends, learn new technology, develop new skills, and—most importantly—share their discoveries with their colleagues and deepen their culture of learning.

Invitation to Join the Summer of Learning

As we kick off the official start of summer in the northern hemisphere, my friend inspired me to embark on my own Summer of Learning, and I want to invite you to join me!

If you are like me, you may have at least a few new trends you’ve meant to explore more deeply, skills you’d like to build or refresh, books you want to read, and likely relationships that need some time and attention, all of these can be part of your Summer of Learning!

In this spirit of furthering my journey of learning:

  • I’ve begun a deeper dive into AI resources and trends, especially as they relate to leadership agility and talent development.
  • I’ve also blocked out time each week to reconnect with friendships that went into hibernation over the winter.
  • And, I am planning to brush up on my Spanish with 10-20 minutes of Duolingo daily.

My Summer of Learning also includes exploring ways to improve the value and engagement of this newsletter for you and your team by sharing more fresh ideas for you to share with your team as you tackle increasingly complex issues and prepare for an increasingly dynamic future.

Commitment

In this endeavor, I am learning the same lesson the Embodied Agile Leaders I wrote about in Staying in the Game taught me: good intentions don’t always translate into action. It takes Commitment.

If you want this summer to be different from all of your past summers, which went by too fast, I hope you’ll join me. I could use some learning buddies!

Get Started with the Summer of Learning Framework

It’s simple to get started. Just download and review the four-stage Summer of Learning Framework Worksheet inspired by my 20+ years teaching in the innovative competency-based program at DePaul University.

To maximize your impact and chances of success, I encourage you to share it with your team members, colleagues, and friends. It will be a great springboard for future conversations and help you stay accountable.

If you haven’t already, please sign up for my Summer of Learning email series HERE to receive regular prompts and ideas to spur your learning and imagination throughout the summer;

 

Spotlight on Leading and Learning with Agility: Abbie More, Product Group Manager, Friesland Campina Ingredients

Spotlight on Leading and Learning with Agility: Abbie More, Product Group Manager, Friesland Campina Ingredients

Abbie More, Product Group Manager, Friesland Campina and Level 3 PSIA Ski Instructor

In Staying in the Game: Leading and Learning with Agility for a Dynamic Future, I share the lessons I learned from some of the world’s most agile leaders across sectors. Based on this work, I introduced a new type of leadership: Embodied Agile Leadership. Embodied Agile Leaders (EALs) embody the values and practices of agile leadership and are attuned to their bodies and environment as a source of agile learning feedback, energy, and resiliency.

In this month’s spotlight, I shine a light on Abbie More, a leader in another dynamic industry that depends on Embodied Agile Leaders at all levels to adapt and innovate in response to constant change. I also draw from a few brief excerpts from Staying in the Game while sharing some of Abbie’s inspiring, actionable insights. I’ve been lucky to learn from Abbie’s wisdom on and off the mountain over the last several years. Through countless conversations on chairlifts and après ski beverages, training camp meetings, and Zoom calls, we have explored how the mountain is sometimes more than just a metaphor for the unpredictable terrain in business.

To be effective in an ever-changing landscape and ready for a dynamic future, EALs have learned to shift from planning to preparing.

As Product Group Manager at Netherlands-based FrieslandCampina Ingredients, Abbie More has made this shift throughout her career. In addition to leading a cross-functional team of scientists and product specialists in an ever-evolving arena, Abbie taps her experience moving through to the highest ranks of professional ski instructing and race coaching. The goal in both, she discovered, is not to ignore or be without fear when the stakes are high. She shared, “I have had several instances in my ski life when I’ve been terrified.”

The key is to realistically assess the barrier and transform it into an opportunity. Abbie had a breakthrough at the top of a particularly challenging run that has guided her success ever since. While trying out for the Development Team of the Professional Ski Instructors of America, the next level for advanced instructors, she shared: “I saw a catwalk, and I thought,

“I could just bail. This is too scary. This is too hard for me. What if I can’t ski? What if I can’t turn my feet? Let me just do that. Let me just take the easy way down, and we’ll forget this ever happened.” Then I said, “Yeah, right, and you look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow morning, and you’ll be really disappointed. Just stop it and do it.” I did, and nothing bad happened to me. I had an awesome run. I felt great about it. I got really good feedback, so I try and remind myself of challenging points like that when something was scary to me. It was a risk. Yeah, I had to put myself out there that day. Seven or eight examiners had their little cards in their hands, and they were watching me and taking notes. They were watching my every move, and I had to challenge myself to make a shift. Your head wants to say, “They’re going to watch for mistakes.” But I was able to turn that around and say, “They’re going to watch for your good movements.”

Assessing the situation through embodied reflection and shifting her mindset has translated into Abbie’s leadership role. For example, when she delivers her quarterly report to the global organization, Abbie reminds herself, “You got this. You know what you’re doing. They’re not looking to you for mistakes. They’re looking to you for information to help the organization. Just drawing from those experiences, turning my mindset around has really, really helped me get through some hard things, some challenging things.”

Abbie More Practices Continuous Improvement on and Off the Mountain

Embodied Awareness and Reflection

For EALs like Abbie, embodied reflection means going beyond cognitive awareness and understanding. It is rooted in attunement to what is happening in the body and discerning the messages found there. For this reason, embodied reflection starts with embodied awareness. With awareness, we can learn and adapt to our current reality, often in the present moment. For example, if you have ever presented in front of a group and become aware of your mouth getting dry, your face flushing, and perhaps speaking so quickly you are running out of breath, you have experienced embodied awareness. With embodied reflection, you might have chosen to pause, catch your breath, and take a sip of water to regroup and reconnect with yourself and your audience. Without embodied awareness or reflection, you might have found yourself ignoring these signals and motoring on, missing the opportunity to make intentional shifts.

Embodied reflection can be especially helpful for EALs who are leading with learning and have an intention or outcome in mind. Intentionality provides a focus so they can translate their embodied reflection into specific action, whether it be going faster, engaging an audience, or improving business results.

Agility and Action Through Embodied Awareness

Abbie’s experience on the mountain and leading her team demonstrates that we don’t need to be hijacked by our nervous system’s well-meaning but clumsy attempts to preserve our safety. With self-awareness, we can recognize the signs of negativity bias and intentionally shift to overcome it. The first step is being mindful of and understanding our embodied experience in high-stress situations or even as we anticipate venturing from the safety of our familiar surroundings for a new challenge or opportunity. Persevering also means not waiting for someone else to inspire or motivate you. Abbie More shared, “In business, you have to take responsibility. If you have a challenge in business, if there’s an account you just can’t get into, take ownership of it. Don’t sit back and say, ‘Well, they won’t take my calls.’ Figure out how to make it happen.”

Embodying an Agile Mindset

Mindset plays a critical role in fostering and inspiring strength and resiliency. Abbie shared how she carries her agile mindset and mental toughness from her regular morning workouts into her workplace for strength and resiliency.

Two of my workouts are circuit classes with ten stations set up, and we do five rounds. It’s 30 seconds of work at each station and 30 seconds of rest. I have a friend who comes to these who’s a retired state trooper. He will typically be at the station right next to me, so either I follow him or he follows me. Besides all the banter back and forth, it’s funny because we’ll get to a station, and maybe there’s a burpee station or another tough station. Whatever the station is, he approaches it like, “Ugh, I gotta go do this one.” I’m like, “Really? That’s my favorite!” I remember one the first times we did this. He’d get to each station and say, “Oh, I have to go to this station.” I was like, “That’s my favorite!” All the way around. Suddenly he looked at me, and says, “I know what you’re doing.” I said, “You have to make each of them your favorite. You have to look at them as, ‘I’m going to have fun here. I have to have fun for only 30 seconds, and I’m going to make the best of it.’” Let’s face it, do you really think burpees are fun? Nobody does, but if you tell yourself, “This is my favorite. I am going to have fun with it,” then you can find something positive about it. It’s the same with work. “Hey, I have a challenging issue ahead of me. It’s stuff I really don’t like dealing with. It’s not sexy. It’s not fun. But it’s necessary. I’m going to make it my favorite, too.

Abbie describes the kind of intentional mindset shifting as the hallmark of EALs who can stay strong and resilient. Rather than give in to the first impulse to resist tough challenges or simply “get through them,” EALs actively choose a positive mindset and find the opportunity within them. By doing so, they find and create energy rather than become unnecessarily depleted. This is why people love working with (and working out next to) EALs! And who knows, maybe you will learn to love the burpees in your day, too.

The Value of Holding Your Goals Lightly

I recently caught up with Abbie on the slopes of Colorado to hear her latest insights. In our first conversation, she shared lessons she has learned about holding your goals lightly — on and off the mountain:

With an agile mindset and a readiness to adapt to improve results and generate more value, leaders like Abbie More inspire us to lead and learn with agility when conditions change.

READ MORE ways Abbie More and other Embodied Agile Leaders from across industries lead and learn with agility for a dynamic future in Staying in the Game: Leading and Learning with Agility for a Dynamic Future. Now Available on Audible!

Staying in the Game wins 2023 BIBA award!

FOLLOW Pamela on LinkedIn and read the original post here.

Agile Leadership Development in an AI World: Why You Still Need Living, Breathing Learning Professionals

Or Eight Ways GenAI Can (and Cannot) Enhance Your Leadership Development Strategies 

Generative AI (GenAI) has revolutionized everything from customer service to software development. Referring to platforms, apps, and other new tech that can generate images, text, and even write code, GenAI enables businesses to be nimbler, more responsive, and offer greater customized solutions than ever.

Slowing Down to Go Fast in the World of AI

Before you start downsizing your learning and development team or abandoning your mentoring and coaching programs, this article will help you slow down and assess the value and limitations of GenAI strategies for learning and leadership development.

One of my favorite questions to ask the leaders I have worked with over the last twenty-plus years is, “Think of an experience that changed you in a significant way.”

In response to this prompt, I have heard stories that include a leader who received the challenging feedback they needed to hear from a mentor at just the right time, a leader who gave a stagnating team member a new stretch assignment, a former professor who helped a CEO sort through a complex ethical dilemma, and a friend who was a sounding board in a way that helped her decide in a high-stakes situation with competing priorities.

Other emerging leaders have described being thrown into new situations where they discovered or developed a talent or capability they didn’t know they had or a breakthrough that emerged in a safe yet challenging learning environment. I have also witnessed leaders who were able to rise to the occasion and effectively respond to the unexpected and unplanned by connecting with a critical resource via a trusted partner who generously engaged their network.

These stories of impactful and transformative experiences share a common thread: they were relational, not transactional, just like leadership. Transformation and growth do not happen in a vacuum; they occur over time, through iterations of experimentation and feedback, and in relationship with colleagues, trusted advisors, and within the context and culture of their organizations and wider business ecosystem.

Technology cannot replace the relational interactions at the heart of leadership development and effectiveness.

If you work in learning and leadership development, I don’t have to remind you that:

  • Leadership is Relational, Not Transactional
  • Leadership Development is Iterative and Happens Over Time
  • Leadership Development is Contextual and Cultural

For example, in my work with leaders, we start from the premise that learning about Embodied Agile Leadership (EAL) is not the same as embodying agile leadership. Leadership development requires active engagement in what I call the Three C’s: Competence development, Confidence-building, and the Capacity to perform effectively in a wide range of unexpected and unplanned situations.

In the excitement over GenAI’s capabilities and benefits for learning and leadership development, we mustn’t lose sight of the role and value of human interactions at the heart of leadership growth and development. These same interactions and the trust and understanding they foster are also at the heart of how we make sense of complex situations, get things done, and ultimately generate and deliver value for customers and stakeholders.

Be Responsive, Not Reactive

It’s good news that technology will continue to evolve and become even better at recognizing patterns, analyzing data, and generating content. As learning leaders, we are responsible for evolving with the technology and guiding our colleagues and clients on GenAI’s value and limitations in supporting leadership impact and success.

Rather than react out of our initial excitement or existential fear, we can respond in a way that engages and partners with all available resources to support leaders’ success. With this in mind, here is my high-level overview of some ways learning leaders can tap generative AI and along with insights into ways your role as a living, breathing, relational human being is more important than ever. I began this reflection by asking ChatGPT: How Can Generative AI Enhance Agile Leadership Development?

What follows are eight headlines inspired by the AI-generated list, along with my human-generated response, inspired by several conversations with learning colleagues and clients about the role that learning leaders, including peers, mentors, coaches, and learning and development professionals, can and must play to ensure leadership success, particularly in a fast-paced, uncertain present and for a dynamic future:

Eight Ways Gen AI Can (and Cannot) Enhance Your Leadership Development Strategies

  1. Creation of Personalized Learning Plans
  • GenAI can analyze individual leadership styles, strengths, and areas for improvement based on performance data.
  • It can also generate personalized learning plans that cater to each leader’s specific needs and preferences, ensuring a more targeted and effective development journey.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners: can understand the nuance and complexity of each leader’s role and current context in a way that data analytics simply cannot. Ideally, leaders partner with a coach or mentor who can serve as a sounding board and guide to interpret assessment results and collaborate to refine AI-generated learning plans. This way, the leader has a learning and action plan relevant to their current context and business goals. Additionally, they have a human being with whom they can interact to brainstorm, troubleshoot, and reflect on their progress with accountability. Leaders seeking to develop leadership agility need a trusted partner to help them stretch and adapt as conditions change.

  1. Simulation and Scenario Training
  • Through generative AI, realistic leadership scenarios can be simulated, providing leaders with a safe environment to practice decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Leaders can engage in virtual scenarios that mimic real-world challenges, helping them develop agile thinking and decision-making skills.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners can help refine and maximize the value of scenario-based training, which can be highly effective in assisting leaders in building their confidence in VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) situations. To make the most of these experiences, leaders can partner with a coach, mentor, or peer to refine their agile leadership development goals before the learning experience. After participating in the scenario, leaders can partner again to reflect on their experience, including what they did well and areas for improvement. Leaving this to AI removes an important aspect of leadership development critical to building competence and confidence. Learning professionals and trusted peers can also help leaders make connections between their scenario-based learning and the high stakes of their current reality, resulting in actionable insights.

  1. Continuous Feedback and Coaching
  • GenAI can offer real-time feedback on leadership behaviors, communication styles, and decision-making processes.
  • Automated coaching systems can provide constructive insights and suggestions for improvement, enabling leaders to iterate and adapt their approach in real time.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners are critical in understanding the complexity of the leaders’ current context and adapting any AI-generated suggestions. A learning partner can also be a sounding board to help leaders prioritize actions that will make the best use of available resources and deliver the greatest value to their stakeholders. Learning leaders can grasp the subtleties of organizational culture, industry-specific challenges, and individual nuances that are challenging for AI to comprehend fully. They can also suggest more learning and development resources based on their in-depth knowledge of the organization and industry. Trust is crucial in leadership development, and the human element plays a significant role in establishing and maintaining it.

Coaches can build this trust with leaders, creating a supportive and confidential space for discussions.

  1. Data-Driven Decision Making
  • GenAI can identify trends, patterns, and correlations related to leadership effectiveness by analyzing large datasets.
  • Leaders can leverage these insights for data-driven decision-making, enhancing their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners help leaders make sense of data analytics within the organizational context and culture and can support ethical decision-making. In a fast-paced environment, starting with AI-generated suggestions based on large-scale industry trends or other benchmarks can be helpful. These suggestions, however, are only a starting point. As leaders engage with these suggestions, they must prioritize growth strategies based on their current capacity, available resources, and most pressing goals and accountabilities. In partnership with a peer, mentor, or coach, this process is an opportunity to increase self-awareness and identify biases and blind spots in the decision-making process. Relational decision-making also fosters accountability, the formation of trusting relationships to draw on to make sense of complex situations and competing priorities, and the reduction of uncertainty.

  1. Adaptive Leadership Development Programs
  • GenAI can continuously assess leaders’ progress and adapt the development program based on their evolving needs and the changing business environment.
  • This adaptability ensures that leadership development remains relevant and aligned with the organization’s goals and challenges.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners can help foster the learning agility at the core of sustained leadership agility. GenAI platforms can learn your leaders’ priorities and refine and adapt their suggestions and guidance. However, trusted learning partners with a deep understanding and relational ties across your organization and business ecosystem are best positioned to help leaders identify and engage their networks to identify the stretch opportunities best suited to develop learning agility.

  1. Natural Language Processing for Communication Enhancement
  • GenAI, particularly using natural language processing, can assist leaders in improving their communication skills.
  • It can analyze written and spoken communication, offering suggestions for clearer and more effective messaging and fostering better collaboration within agile teams.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners know that only humans who have lived the experiences and have gained their wisdom through mileage can inspire through authentic personal stories. They are also adept at weaving their unique narratives into one-on-ones and coaching sessions to create genuine connections and foster trust. Situationally, they can also understand and respond to the complexity of human interaction and nuances in tone, body language, and emotion that are essential for effective communication. By incorporating authenticity and personal stories, learning professionals and partners create a safe space for individuals to explore their communication styles, address challenges, and develop strategies for more impactful interactions. This human touch adds another layer of empathy and understanding to foster meaningful communication and build strong, collaborative relationships.

  1. Predictive Analytics for Leadership Success
  • Generative AI can use predictive analytics to identify potential leadership success factors and areas of improvement.
  • AI can analyze historical leadership data and success metrics to provide insights into the traits and behaviors contributing to effective leadership in an agile environment.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners can ensure that AI-generated prescriptive approaches and assessment results are held lightly. The best AI metrics can do is describe various behaviors that correlate with a range of outcomes. It is important to remember that these benchmarks do not necessarily prescribe one-size-fits-all solutions for any single leader or the complexities and competing priorities of their context and accountabilities. For this, leaders need a trusted thinking partner, coach, or mentor who can serve as a sounding board.

  1. Customized Content Creation
  • GenAI can automate and customize the creation of learning materials, generating content such as quizzes, case studies, and simulations.
  • This accelerates the content creation, ensuring a constant supply of fresh and relevant materials.

Living Learning Professionals and Partners understand the difference between providing content that helps leaders learn about something and developing the Competence, Confidence, and Capacity to draw on new learning in high-stakes and complex business environments. To develop these Three C’s, leaders need humans adept at facilitating group discussions, fostering collaboration, and managing group dynamics. Live experts can create a safe and interactive learning environment, encouraging open communication and collaboration among leaders. In addition, agile leadership development often requires real-time adjustments to learning strategies and interventions. Learning professionals can quickly adapt their real-time guidance in response to team dynamics, emerging situations, or learning opportunities. Live facilitators can also key into individual needs to inspire and motivate leaders, fostering a positive mindset and a commitment to continuous improvement. These interactions provide meaningful encouragement through shared stories, personal experiences, and role modeling, which even the most sophisticated AI platform is challenged to replicate authentically.

While AI can enhance many aspects of leadership development, combining AI resources and live learning experts creates a more holistic and effective approach. As you continue to evolve your leadership development strategies, the key is to engage technology for data-driven insights and efficiency while preserving the human touch for the complex interpersonal dynamics and individualized and critical context-specific elements of agile leadership development.

Link to the Original Article on LinkedIn

Spotlight on Leading and Learning with Agility: Chris Mikulski, Head of HR for H&M Americas

Chris Mikulski

Chris Mikulski, Head of HR for H&M Americas

In Staying in the Game: Leading and Learning with Agility for a Dynamic Future, I share the lessons I learned from some of the world’s most agile leaders across sectors. Based on this work, I introduced a new type of leadership, Embodied Agile Leadership. Embodied Agile Leaders (EALs) embody the values and practices of agile leadership and are attuned to their body as a source of agile learning feedback, energy, and resiliency.

In this spotlight, I shine a light on Chris Mikulski, a leader in an industry that depends on Embodied Agile Leaders at all levels to adapt and innovate in response to constant change. I also draw from a few brief excerpts from Staying in the Game while sharing some inspiring, actionable insights.

A key role EALs play in fostering engagement and agility is to create a workplace environment where everyone feels they can bring their whole self to work and are part of something meaningful and bigger than themselves. Belonging is the foundation of high performance.

Creating Space for Belonging

Few people understand the value of creating environments of acceptance and belonging in business more than Chris Mikulski, the Head of H.R. Americas for H&M Clothing. He has spent his entire work life in retail and shared that “some of the best times in my career were working in a store because of the diverse community you

“It’s really about the culture of a great workplace” —Chris Mikulski

become a part of.” When I asked Chris to tell me more about the value of creating such spaces in the rapidly changing and highly competitive fashion business, he shared,

[Community] gets you through the challenges and the hard times. And it impacts our ability to be competitive because we inspire each other to do better. We inspire each other to show up. If there’s a connection at the other end of your decision, I think you’re more likely to make that decision with that connection in mind. So whether it’s your favorite person who is closing the store tonight or somebody who you’ve built a bond with is working…you will be more inclined to make a decision that supports their success and to persevere past doubts or obstacles that we sometimes set for ourselves.

At times when companies have scrambled to fill jobs with talented, engaged people at all levels of the organization, H&M has leaned into its “Be Yourself & More”[1] recruiting and career development initiatives, which are more relevant than ever. Seventy-six percent of job seekers and employees reported that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.[2] Companies that truly value diversity don’t just stop at the head count; they ensure the heads count. Chris described how important this is to him personally and what it means well beyond “words on paper.”

I think naturally, as humans, we seek a sense of belonging in everything we do, even if it’s subconsciously. And I think [H&M] works really hard to build that for people. And even myself, being a proud gay man, being so accepted for that here is never questioned. I never have to have two different versions of myself. Even as a leader, that has unlocked my potential to a magnitude I could not have imagined. So that’s also why I believe so much in this sense of community, sense of belonging, and safety in those things. Because I’ve experienced it, and now I can use my platform to create that experience for others, whatever their unique self is.

EALs, such as Chris, understand that fostering Community requires consistent attention and participation. The business impact is significant because when people experience a true sense of belonging in which their Meaningful Identities are seen and valued, they tend to want to stick around. However, the dynamic of Community doesn’t happen by chance, as Chris emphasized.

It takes work and an ongoing commitment to that ideal because I think it’s easy to look at the world around you and sometimes feel out of lockstep with it. We feel very proud to be these pioneers. I think that’s why people want to stay. I’ve met many people who have been with H&M 10, 15, 20, even 30 years, and then go outside the United States, and it’s 30 or 40 years with H&M. It’s because they’re celebrated as themselves and they feel like they can really contribute authentically. And that’s an amazing feeling.

Commitment to creating space for belonging by EALs like Chris at companies like H&M is critical as the workforce continues to diversify. Chris shared more about what this looks like in action:

If you have blue hair, we want to know what color blue because we love it. If you choose to express yourself through artistic creations and tattoos on your skin, we love that. Whatever brings you joy, I think we seek to intersect with that, not to challenge it or go against it. We want to learn from each person. And I think that’s really the celebration of the multidimensional beings that we all are.

Actively valuing each other’s presence and participation in Community directly inspires everyone to stay in the game. The promise of engagement aligned with purpose starts during the recruiting process. At H&M, the long-time commitment to sustainable fashion is an essential differentiator for customers and prospective employees alike. Chris shared, “If we can get you on the phone for your first interview, then you usually want to join our company because we are values-driven, taking our responsibilities and commitment to people and planet very seriously, pioneering the future of the fashion industry. These are great things that people want to be a part of.”

Embodying an Agile Mindset

The theme of agility and relevancy echoes across sectors led by EALs. For example, in the fashion industry, success depends on staying relevant to customers’ ever-changing tastes. In practice, this means leading with an agile mindset that, once again, values listening, learning, and adapting over planning and control. Chris shared how he and his team embody an agile mindset, “We never get too comfortable with our strategies. We’re agile and changing all the time, minute to minute. We set off on an idea, we test things, we measure outcomes, and when we see a big opportunity, we shift. We constantly shift.”

Staying relevant to constantly changing conditions and to customer and stakeholder needs is the specialty of EALs. They know that to stay in the game they must keep up with the changing rules, players, and emerging technology and trends.

It’s really about the culture of a great workplace” —Chris Mikulski

When Chris and I caught up more than a year and a half after our original interview, I was curious to hear what had changed. Since we first spoke, the pandemic was largely in the rearview mirror, the economy was rebounding, and jobs reports were healthy. At the same time, some companies and other institutions that have invested heavily in programs and initiatives that promote a diverse workforce and foster cultures of belonging were experiencing a backlash.

I shared with Chris that as an educator and consultant who moves through many of these organizations and is also LGBTQ, I have felt disheartened and even scared that we may be heading backward after so much progress. I was interested to hear how or if this outside pressure was affecting H&M’s approach to diversity and inclusion. Chris’s response gave me hope and lights a path for other organizations grappling with these issues. He began by telling me that he and his colleagues were paying close attention to what was happening in the external environment and at the same time, that it had not shaken H&M’s commitment to their work because:

The strategic steps we’ve taken these past couple of years specifically have been foundational moves. Our commitment goes beyond a celebration for a holiday or a particular event. It’s been in our culture. So now, when there are things like this happening, there are places for our people to go to discuss them and forums for us to utilize as a company to have discussions around these topics. In addition, we’ve been very overt about proactively sharing messages with our colleagues about what they may be seeing in the market and the media about this. Because we want them to know we’re in it forever, we’re really in it forever.

Chris’s response and the work being done by leaders at all levels of organizations like H&M remind us that, while trends may come and go, investing in an inclusive Community and the agility and resiliency it fosters will always stay in style.

[1] “Explore Careers in Fashion at H&M | H&M Careers United States.” H&M Careers United States, Accessed August 13, 2022, https://career. hm.com/us-en.

[2] “Glassdoor’s Diversity and Inclusion Workplace Survey.” Glassdoor Blog, last modified September 29, 2020, https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/glassdoors-diversity-and-inclusion-workplace-survey/.

Link to the original article on LinkedIn


Staying in the Game book coverREAD MORE ways Chris Mikulski and other Embodied Agile Leaders from across industries lead and learn with agility for a dynamic future in Staying in the Game.

AUTHOR PAMELA MEYER, Ph.D. works with leaders and teams who need to be agile and resilient and want to increase their impact for success.

 

 

 

 

 

Leading and Learning with Agility: Spotlight on Dr. Tiffany Dotson

Headshot of Dr. Tiffany Dotson

In Staying in the Game: Leading and Learning with Agility for a Dynamic Future, I share the lessons I learned from some of the world’s most agile leaders across sectors. Based on this work, I introduced a new type of leadership, Embodied Agile Leadership. Embodied Agile Leaders (EALs) embody the values and practices of agile leadership and are attuned to their body as a source of agile learning feedback, energy, and resiliency.

Dr. Tiffany Dotson is one of the EALs who has inspired me for over a decade. I have seen her up close as she sparked engagement in a small group of learning colleagues at a university-hosted professional development event and ignited innovative strategic approaches to global leadership in Fortune 500 companies.

In this spotlight, I draw from a few brief excerpts from Staying in the Game and share her latest insights to help you prepare to lead and learn with agility in 2024.


I first met the now Dr. Dotson at an event I facilitated for area learning professionals at DePaul University. She somehow made time for new learning and relationship-building while working at a major corporation in Chicago and finishing her doctorate at Columbia University, each more than a full-time endeavor.

Over the next few years, I stayed in touch with Dr. Dotson as she moved into leadership roles at Pfizer, JP Morgan Chase, and Liberty Mutual Insurance, where she is currently the Global Learning Officer. Dr. Dotson was aggressively recruited because of her reputation for developing innovative learning programs that deliver business results. In this role, she oversees learning and development for commercial insurance business acumen, culture transformation, and executive development. Dr. Dotson leads by embodying a relentless commitment to continuous learning.

Leading with Learning Agility

Leading in a large, complex, growing organization requires more than learning; it requires learning agility, or the ability to continuously learn, adapt, and perform effectively in unfamiliar situations. Studying the career arcs of executives across domains, researchers Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo found that learning agility was a better predictor of promotability and success after a promotion than other indicators, including IQ.[1] They found that those without learning agility, up to 70% of even those identified as having high potential, can be successful within their comfort zone but soon derail when thrown into new situations for which they have no prior experience. In contrast, learning agile leaders like Dr. Dotson have developed a Meaningful Identity, a purpose, and values that give their life and work meaning. They are intrinsically motivated to lead with ongoing curiosity, intentional learning, and adaptation.

During her formative years in Chicago, Dr. Dotson shared that she quickly discovered her values and value through experiences and contexts that validated her Meaningful Identity:

I experienced my power in front of a group as early as kindergarten, giving a speech in front of the room and later on in the debate team and cheerleading squad. I loved performing and the positive feedback I received. It felt good. And I had good grades, too. So, I had early evidence of my value.

Many leaders who generously shared their stories and insights with me for Staying in the Game trace their passion and purpose to their formative years. Whether or not they were aware of the impact at the time, as adults, they all embrace their early experiences as an essential part of their leadership narrative. Dr. Dotson’s purpose has been crystal clear ever since she can remember:

It’s been my mission in life: helping people think better to design their own lives as opposed to living by default. When I show up at a meeting and say to my staff, ‘Here’s what I’m learning,’ it puts them at ease and helps them get in the same mindset. Our goal isn’t perfection; it’s continuous learning and growth.

Image of Dr. Tiffany Dotson sitting on a couch wearing a pink jacket

“I’m not done; I’m not done learning. I want to keep getting better!”

Ask “What Are You Learning?”

When I checked in with Dr. Dotson toward the end of 2023, I asked her one of her favorite questions to ask her team, “What are you learning?” I wasn’t surprised that her response once again demonstrated her commitment to continuous learning and growth:

I’ve become fascinated with Adam Grant’s work—especially his idea of re-thinking. For me, it means, “I know what I know, but I’m not married to it.” In practice, I’m becoming much more intentional in my own learning. I’ll gather a team together who I can trust to poke holes in my work. For example, I no longer ask people for their “feedback” because it has such negative associations. I ask them for their insights. I’ve coached my team to the point where this is now the language of our world. My team asks for insights from me and each other and trusts each other to be honest, to hold up the mirror.

Developing a growth culture doesn’t happen overnight. Dr. Dotson shared how she embodies the learning values she espouses:

I have also found that I need to give people permission to tell me the truth. It does mean setting aside the ego. It’s wonderful to hear “you were awesome,” but I need news I can use. Tell me what I can do more of or less of. Give me direct, observable behavior. Even if it’s all positive, make it specific.

Dr. Dotson knows she is having an impact when she sees others sharing her commitment to growth through their behavior, “My boss emailed me recently after I gave a high-profile talk and said, “You were awesome! Call me at 3:30 pm and I’ll tell you specifically what was awesome.”

In increasingly dynamic environments, many leaders at all levels of organizations are developing or demonstrating their ability to lead and learn with agility. They are discovering what Dr. Dotson and other Embodied Agile Leaders have—that modeling continuous learning and improvement instills in their colleagues the confidence to perform at their best in all conditions.


[1] Robert W. Eichinger and Michael V. Lombardo, “Learning Agility as a Prime Indicator of Potential.” Human Resource Planning 27, no. 4 (December 1, 2004): 12, https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-126653494/learning-agility-as-a-prime-indicator-of-potential.


READ MORE ways Dr. Tiffany Dotson and other Embodied Agile Leaders from across industries lead and learn with agility for a dynamic future in Staying in the Game.

Image of book cover for Staying in the Game

Ten ways to Lead and Learn with Agility in 2024

2024 image with fireworks

While 2024 still has that “new car” smell, it’s a great time to get energized for success in a fast-paced and dynamic business landscape. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for any organization or leadership team, here are ten ideas worth exploring or leaning into to help you and your team members lead and learn with agility throughout the new year:

1. Embrace Continuous Learning

– Foster a culture of continuous learning within your team and organization.

– Encourage employees to seek new knowledge, stay updated on industry trends, and regularly engage in professional development opportunities. Create regular forums and spaces for colleagues to share their lessons learned, new insights, and resources.

2. Cultivate a Growth Mindset

– Foster an agile growth mindset among team members by modeling and reinforcing the value of reflecting on and learning from experience.

– Demonstrate a positive attitude toward experimentation and improvement.

3. Promote Cross-Functional Collaboration

– Encourage collaboration and knowledge-sharing between leaders and across different departments, functional areas, and teams.

– Foster a multidisciplinary approach to issue and opportunity-framing, leveraging diverse skills and perspectives.

4. Adopt or Learn the Best Practices of Agile Frameworks

– You don’t have to formally adopt agile methodologies to benefit from some of their best practices in your leadership approach and organizational processes.

– Learn how to use iterative and flexible methods to adapt to changing circumstances and priorities quickly.

5. Build Adaptive Leadership Skills

– Develop leadership skills adaptable to various situations, challenges, and opportunities.

– Focus on honing skills like emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and effective communication and collaboration in dynamic environments.

6. Leverage Technology for Learning

– Discover how emerging technologies like AI, VR, and AR can enhance learning experiences.

– Utilize online platforms and other tech-driven resources for efficient and interactive learning.

7. Encourage Experimentation

– Create a safe environment for experimentation and innovation.

– Support and celebrate initiatives that involve trying new approaches, even with the risk of failure.

8. Enable Flexible Work

– Align your team’s way of working with the value they deliver to your stakeholders rather than a ridged time and place for how work gets done. This may mean establishing parameters for remote work, flexible schedules, and leveraging technology to support effective communication and collaboration.

– Recognize the importance of work-life balance and integration in fostering agility.

9. Prioritize Well-being

– Recognize and prioritize the well-being of your team members. Check-in regularly to gauge engagement, satisfaction, and workload manageability.

– Provide resources and support for mental health and create a work environment that promotes a healthy work-life balance.

10. Use Data and Other Success Indicators for Informed Decision-Making

– Embrace data-driven decision-making processes. Be sure to include qualitative indicators when relevant.

– Leverage analytics and insights to inform your leadership decisions and adapt strategies based on real-time data.


 to tell us about your 2024 agile leadership development goals and learn how we can help you reach them.

Or get started on developing your leadership agility today and:

We look forward to supporting your agile leadership and team success in the coming year!

 

Finding Our Stories and Rediscovering our Meaningful Identity

This is Mostly a Personal Reflection on Recent Travels

However, in my new book, Staying in the Game: Leading and Learning with Agility for a Dynamic Future, I wrote about several themes that contribute to successful leaders’ ability to continue to learn and adapt. A key aspect of this capability is a clear sense of their Meaningful Identity, or what values and experiences give meaning to their lives and work. I wasn’t expecting to discover more about my own Meaningful Identity on a recent trip to Norway. Read on if you are interested to learn more!

Our time in the Laerdal area of Norway this fall has opened up a new dimension of Meaningful Identity that I wasn’t expecting. While I was excited to spend time in the land of “my people,” I had no big agenda about tracking down relatives, searching local records, or walking graveyards. I’m no genealogist, and while I find it interesting, I don’t have the patience for doing a lot of roll up your sleeves kind of research. That all changed when I mentioned to the owner, Knut Lindstrom, of the Lindstrom Hotel where we stayed in Laerdal, that my great-grandfather was from the area.

Me and Knut Lindstrom with the Laerdal Bygdebok

He said I might be interested in a book he had that could be helpful, the “Bygdebok.” I learned that in Norway, family names are the names of the farm(s) the family is from; every area has one of these books (more on this here). They are records of who lived at which farm in locations across Norway. He brought out the book and said I was welcome to borrow it, so I spent half the night pouring over it and identifying the farms where both my great and great-great grandparents (on my dad’s side) lived.

Interestingly, because my great-great-grandfather began on the Trave farm but later moved the family to the Voldum farm, the name they came to America in 1885 (settling in Decorah, Iowa, where I was born) with was Woldum (how it was pronounced and written down by the immigration folks, and became the family name for evermore in the US).

My Family’s Norwegian Ancestors

My great-great grandparents Halvor Olsson Woldum Huso (1806-1864) and Rannveig Monsdatter Voldum (Gram) brought their one daughter and five sons, including my great-grandfather Ole Halvardson Woldum over in 1885. According to the records in the Laerdal Bygdebok, Hallvard and Rannvieg had “1 horse, 3 cows, and 16 small animals.” The Google translation may be wanting here, but it also says, “There was little pasture, and the farm was used for rustling [what is that?!]. On the other hand, there was enough forest for domestic use. The garden was well cultivated and lightly used by the standards of the time. In  1875, the tally was: 1 horse, 4 cows, 3 young cattle, 20 sheep, and 20 goats. Then, you could harvest 4 barrels of barley and 5 barrels of potatoes. In 1876 Hallvard sold the farm and moved the family to Voldo.”

They don’t look so dangerous now, but get them backed into a corner stomping at you . . .

We located two of the family farms (Trave (Trao)/Atti-Trave and Voldum) thanks to Knut Lindstrom. We hiked up to them with guidance from the church visitor center, crossing a few active farms and their resident sheep.

We had a comical run-in with four of the sheep, whom we accidentally cornered between fences and in front of the gate we needed to pass through. These sheep had big horns and were clearly agitated at our presence. One came to the front of their little pack and stomped (trying to scare us off?). I was a little worried that they might try to rush us, so we backed off and hung out down the road, hoping they would find their way past us. Instead, they just lay down on the path. After about 20 minutes of this, I called the church visitor center and described our embarrassing standoff. He laughed and said the sheep were probably more afraid of us than we were of them, and it would be fine to walk through them. As we started moving, they got up and began hurrying past with terror in their eyes. I felt so bad for all of them and hope they quickly got back to enjoying their quiet lives munching on the mountainside. This is what happens when two “tough” city girls head into the mountains of Norway!

The family farms of Trave and Atti-Trave are just above the Borgund Stave Church. When my family lived there, apparently, the vicar of the church also lived on the property.

Borgund Stave Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trao/Trave Farm

Pamela at Atti-Trave Farm

 

Adding even more delight to this discovery process, when we came upon the Atti-Trao/Trave farm and the inviting note to enjoy the picnic table (see photo) and view, we saw a couple already taking up the invitation. This is where my great-great-great grandfather, Ola Hallvardson Trave lived in the early to mid 1800s, and where my great-great-grandfather lived before moving to the Voldum farm. We were hesitant to interrupt their quiet conversation, but they were both so warm and welcoming when we did. We learned that they were from Holland and had recently sold their home, quit their jobs, bought a camper van, and were traveling around Europe, taking advantage of the time to explore and discover their “what’s next.” They were really interested to hear about my family’s connection to the farm, too. We talked a bit longer,

Pamela, Bart, and Carol

shared our travel plans and tips for the next few days, including taking the scenic Flamsbana train out of Flam. We kicked ourselves that we did not exchange more information, as it was such a lovely connection. The universe took care of us a few days later when, after settling into our hotel in Bergen, we were walking through the Fish Market, deciding where to eat dinner, when a tall blonde man jumped in front of us and said, “Hello!” It was one of the men we met at the Atti-Trao farm! It turned out he took us up on our suggestion to ride the train (and had even seen us through the window passing the other direction back to Flam the day before) and had continued on his own for a few days to explore Bergen while his partner stayed back at the camper van. He had just sat down for dinner and happened to look up as we were passing by. We didn’t delay introducing ourselves this time and invited ourselves to join him. As we sat together, we were all in awe of the mystery of the universe putting us in each other’s paths during such important times in our lives. How I was searching for family roots, thinking about my family’s story of transition, while Bart and his partner were on an adventure and embracing this time of transition in their lives—discovering how their story is unfolding (you can follow their adventures on Insta here).

Pamela at Voldo Farm, home of Gunda, Ole, and their children before migrating to the US

What a wonderful new connection as I continue to digest what it means to spend time here in Norway. I am so grateful to immerse myself in the natural beauty of the area and the culture. I feel enlivened in a way I don’t fully understand and can’t yet describe. On one level, this exploration and the hike to the family farms have connected me to my roots I didn’t even know I was missing and some ineffable essence of who I am. On another level, with only the facts and without the stories of the family members who lived here, I am left with so much more to wonder about.

For example, I find it interesting that Norwegians derived their family names (their identity, literally their identifiers) from a place, while other cultures derived them from their profession. Perhaps because, for Norwegians, they were one and the same—where you lived dictated what you did.

I may do more digging, and I don’t know that more facts are important to me. This experience and exploration have me thinking about what endures after all who knew our stories are gone. What endures after our personal artifacts have faded and only the facts are left (where we lived, what we did, who gave birth to us, how many chickens and sheep we owned or didn’t)? And what will those facts mean to anyone with enough curiosity and means to discover them? And what is finding home? Is it hiking up to the family farm that your great-great-grandparents worked? Is it discovering the place where you feel comfort, love, and meaning? Is it finding and constructing a story from the facts, relationships, and experiences of our lives?

I am wondering about what prompted the family’s big transitions—first from one farm to another and later to a new country altogether. One possibility is that the regular avalanches up in the higher elevations of the Trave/Atti-Trave farms prompted the first move. Or perhaps because Voldo farm had more arable land to grow crops, which was not possible on the steep rocky terrain of the other farms. Some of the locals I talked to said that the terrain simply could not sustain many of the larger families (reports vary that between 2 and 7% of the country is arable).

I also wonder about the stories they heard about coming to America and what promise the new life held for them. What did it take for an entire family to pack up and leave all they had known, their relationships, and their ties to the land—knowing they would likely never return? And this is prompting me to think about all of the immigrant stories we have in our lives. Anytime we ponder a transition from the known to the unknown, we risk losing comfort and stability; even if it is untenable in some way, it is known to us. What story do we construct about the possible new life that might await—in new learning, moving to a new town, job, relationship, or other significant life transitions—both planned and unplanned?

I am thinking anew, too, about the work of the Albany Park Theater Project  (the youth arts organization I have long championed) and the stories they collect, explore, and share, and the importance of not only the sharing but the process of remembering, reconstructing, and telling these stories. With all of the new immigrants crossing our borders, the focus for those of us who have been here for some time is often on the concern for our communities’ ability to accommodate so many newcomers, the potential strain on resources, or even a fear of “the other”  (and we have grappled with these issues in the US from our earliest days). As we continue to debate and respond to these issues, we must do it humanely and in a way that honors all of our stories and quest for Meaningful Identity. Whether our migrations happened generations ago or more recently, they were prompted by shared compelling forces, risks, fears, sacrifices, hopes, and dreams.