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The Top Two Compensators: Listening & Learning Agility


Guest articles > The Top Two Compensators: Listening & Learning Agility


by: Deb Calvert


No one is proficient in everything. No one has, can or will master every competency needed to single-handedly lead every group in every situation. But we all know people who seem to be super-proficient and it seems that they can do it all.

What’s their secret?

Research tells us that some skills serve as excellent compensators or “fill ins” for our skills gaps. The first of these is listening. People who are highly effective in actively listening to others truly do have an advantage. We give them grace for what they cannot do and patience while they learn. And because they can listen well, they do learn faster and focus sooner on what’s important to learn.

If you are interested in understand more about the benefits of active listening, or would like to get started on developing this compensator skill, take a look at our previous blog post Are Speaking Skills More Valued Than Listening Skills? or check out our podcast Listen Up!

There’s a second compensator that has become increasingly important due to rapid change. Leaders who continually excel, people who move up rapidly in organizations, individuals who innovate and entrepreneurs who start new companies show a learning agility that those who get left behind are often lacking.

Learning agility is defined as the ability and willingness to learn from experience and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions.

Those who are agile learners sift through many diverse lessons and identify the right ones to apply in the new situation. It’s not related to IQ and doesn’t come from traditional learning. Learning agility describes an ability to apply what was happening in a past experience to something dissimilar in the future.

Some of the indicators of learning agility include:

  • Able to learn entirely new functions
  • Quick and clever at solving problems
  • Able to deal with complex and ambiguous situations
  • Thrive in times of change
  • Performs well in new, first time conditions.

Conventional business wisdom says that past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior. But research from the Center for Creative Leadership says that the primary reason executives fail is that they over-rely on past experience and “more of the same.” The past experience is a great well to draw from, but the new reality is that the water in any one well is no longer sufficient for growth.

If you’d like to develop learning agility and take advantage of this compensator to accelerate your career or to improve your effectiveness, you can start by focusing in these areas:

  • Develop an openness to learning. Be curious, interested and accepting of new information, ideas, and opinions. Probe to understand what doesn’t make sense.
  • Understand yourself. Be reflective and introspective about your own strengths and the areas where you are not as strong.
  • Connect with others, especially those who are different from you. Ask for the opinions of others and value personalities, culture and skills that are unlike your own.
  • Accept change. Look at change before it’s already happening. Ask “what if?” and “why not?” to challenge the status quo and to create new possibilities.
  • Always take time for “lessons learned.” At the end of a project, even one with a successful outcome, conduct a debrief to get others’ input. What can you do different next time? What worked? Why?


Deb Calvert is President, People First Productivity Solutions


Contributor: Deb Calvert

Published here on: 07-Oct-12

Classification: Development



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