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. 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.
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.
 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.