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Change leaders are strategic learners. The best ones don’t just gather random bits of information, but prioritize the most valuable knowledge to obtain. 

Because change–whether it’s a departmental reorganization, a new software system, or a shuffling of people into new roles–is so unsettling to many people, those leading it need to ensure they’re implementing the right changes at the right time.  And to do that, change leaders can’t just rely on what’s worked in the past or turn to their proverbial, well-tuned “gut.” 

Instead, successful change leaders invest the time to zero in on the best two to three ideas for changes that could benefit their organization, including its employees, customers, and bottom line. This process of narrowing down helps cement the “why” behind the pending change implementation, and will improve the leader’s agility to make quick adjustments as needed.

Busy leader? I don’t care whether you need to “find the time’ to do this while on an airplane, during a break between meetings, or during a long commute while listening to a helpful podcast. Create the time, because prioritizing your own learning will show up in clear strategy and confidence when it’s time to take action and begin dialogue with your people about the pending change.

As McKinsey & Company notes in this article, this type of ongoing learning is going to become “increasingly central to your job: maximizing the value and impact of your organization…In the future, more and more of your people will need to use complex cognitive skills for more and more of their time. Some are already comfortable with this; some are not. As stewards of your company’s value, you need to understand how to get your people ready—not because it’s a nice thing to do but because the competitive advantage of early adopters of advanced algorithms and robotics will rapidly diminish.”

Many professionals, especially executives, don’t invest time in their own focused learning. They’re too busy leading others, solving problems, managing balance sheets, and getting things done. Focused learning–especially driven by a thoughtful strategy on what’s most important to learn right now–is viewed as a luxury, not a necessity.

This alternative, road-less-traveled assertion that change leaders are strategic learners involves a learning agility habit. Learning agility is the practice of regularly seeking new experiences, applying feedback, and reflecting on lessons learned, to keep growing professionally and personally.

And for many leaders, investing the time to gather the most valuable knowledge before acting is a “new experience” in and of itself.

Furthermore, this specific habit doesn’t just empower more knowledgeable change leaders. It also sharpens strategy toward–as referred to in the McKinsey article–being early adopters of disruptions. McKinsey cited algorithms and robotics, which are closely linked to artificial intelligence (AI), Organizations in all industries can more fully leverage AI to make real-time customer experience snapshots and solve customer pain points; increase efficiency; and drive more research and development. 

I write stories you can read in less than five minutes, featuring diverse professionals whose tips on applying mindfulness, learning agility, and storytelling will help you love your career and enhance your quality of life. 

Get started today with building these three habits and growing them into strengths. Start with this blog, check out my books, and join our learning community to receive exclusive content each month.

John M. DeMarco is a writer, strategist, and executive coach based in Nashville, Tennessee.
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