Learning Agility: A Crucial Virtue for Developing a New Wave of Leaders

Christian Burgos
November 4, 2022

What do great leaders like Steve Jobs, Muhammad Ali, and Marcus Aurelius have in common? Stick around and learn how to neurohack your brain into becoming the leader people always look up to! In this article, we'll discuss how learning agility marks the distinction between a leader and a great leader in our ever-changing world. 

What is Learning Agility? 

Investigators created the concept of "learning agility" to aid companies in finding and developing leaders who are ready for the complexities of everyday work challenges. [1] Early research shows that learning agility is a vital predictor for identifying potential leaders, success, and performance. [2 

People described as agile learners are known to learn, adapt, forget, and relearn to keep up with the changes the world post to a company daily. [2] Although it may sound like a simple set of skill sets, the reality is that most people fail to implement them in their jobs. 

According to Harvard scholars, 40% of leaders fail to flourish, and only 30% of high performers have the necessary critical skills to succeed in their current roles. [4] Further, research also suggests that 50% of leaders are considered ineffective and incompetent by their subordinates. [5]

So, why are leaders failing to be successful? In brief, people are not adequately trained to be successful leaders. Most employees are trained to learn effectively; however, if someone wishes to succeed as a leader, they must be trained in the five dimensions that make up an agile learner. 

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5 Dimensions You Should Work on To Improve Your Learning Agility

To become an agile learner, a person should master its five dimensions, which include: [1][6][7]

1. Mental agility
2. People agility 
3. Change agility
4. Results agility
5. Self-awareness

What Is Mental Agility?

Mental agility refers to how a person embraces complex situations, evaluates the challenges from an unusual perspective, and creates connections between different concepts.

Mentally agile people are self-determined and self-reflective. They intentionally put themselves out of their comfort zone to solve their work and life demands and overcome challenges through mental toughness. [8] 

Moreover, these individuals increase their knowledge and create opportunities through curiosity, research, and exploration. Their ability to adapt how they think about a problem gives them the "ability to pick up on things easily." 

Another key characteristic of mentally agile people is a high emotional IQ. Mental agile people easily recognize their emotions when they engage in novel situations. 

According to research, recognizing one's emotions during critical moments reduces autonomic and emotional arousal. Recognizing one's emotions activates brain regions such as the ventral lateral prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. As a result, the autonomic flight-or-fight response gets deactivated. [9][10] 

Does this sound like a description of yourself? If you're not proficient in all aspects discussed above, don't panic. Instead, try some brain hacks to become a mentally agile leader!

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How to Neurohack your Mental Agility: Identify and Label Emotions

As noted above, mentally agile people are known to have a high emotional IQ. However, if this is one of your weaknesses, you should perform these three neurohacks to boost your emotional IQ. 

Neurohack #1: Keep track of you emotions

The first thing a person must master to become mentally agile is to recognize their emotions. An excellent way to improve this skill is to monitor and label emotions throughout a work session. It is often recommended to start a journal and rate one's stress levels every hour throughout the day.

Further, a person should try to identify the emotions associated with their stress level with one or more words. They also need to evaluate whether their words have a positive or negative tone. 

Neurohack #2: Practice reflective questioning

Reflective questioning refers to taking a moment to look within and ask yourself, "How much will this matter next year?" and "What's the worst thing that could happen?" 

A lot of the stress in today's human life comes from actual non-threatening situations. However, our brain has yet to catch up entirely due to society's rapid evolution. As a result, our brains are quite deficient in recognizing a life-threatening situation from a challenging day at work. [11] 

By regularly reflecting upon oneself, a person can gain the ability to differentiate an actual threat from a stressful work situation.

Neurohack #3: Reinterpret and distance yourself from stressors

People already capable of recognizing their emotions can hack their brains by purposely distancing themselves from undesired outcomes. To accomplish this, a person needs to focus and be mindful that the worst scenario is improbable. 

Further, they need to understand that even if an outcome doesn't fulfill their expectations, it likely occurred due to the complexity of the situation rather than due to their skill set. According to research, this neurohack allows people to reduce their flight-or-fight response and increase their reasoning thinking, and cognitive control. [12]

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How to Neurohack your Mental Agility: Microbreaks 

As stated previously, another key characteristic of mentally agile people is their ability to learn and adapt using several neural networks. [13] Mental agile individuals can accomplish this by processing information by alternating focus and diffuse thinking. 

During focus-based thinking, people activate their dorsal attention networks, which helps them prioritize valuable information while avoiding distractions. Meanwhile, diffuse thinking starts the default mode network, which creates a sense of introspection. This network is highly activated during routine activities that allow the mind to wander (e.g., walking in the park, looking at the landscape through the window, etc.).   

The combination of these thinking processes increases memory consolidation due to the strengthening of multiple neural pathways. [13] But how can people alternate these neural pathways during a work session?

Neurohack #4: Time for a microbreak!

One of the best ways to alternate between focus and diffuse thinking is to schedule several microbreaks in a workday. According to a study in 2022, frequent microbreaks during a workday increased the energy levels of workers as well as their performance. [14] 

Research also shows that implementing microbreaks involving physical activity has an additional neuroprotective effect on striatal dopamine receptors, which enhances the brain's prefrontal executive functions. [15] 


Whether you are transitioning to a job promotion or simply increasing your responsibilities as a manager, leaders today are expected to grow and adapt to a company's growing needs. Leaders, in particular, benefit from enhancing their learning agility since it helps them to thrive in volatile, complex, high-pressure situations. In addition, by enhancing your agility to learn, you can improve your relationship with your clients, teams, and organizations. 

But what about the other four dimensions of an agile learner? Sign up for our newsletter today, and don't miss out on our neurohacks to boost your learning agility by targeting its other dimensions. 

Further, if you want to get ahead of the competition, and become a great leader, reserve your spot and sign up for our WOLF Leadership Program!  

What's going to be your next step to become a leadership guru?


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[1] Williams, J. S., & Nowack, K. M. (2022). Neuroscience hacks to enhance learning agility in leaders.Consulting Psychology Journal, 74(3), 291–310. https://doi.org/10.1037/cpb0000231

[2] De Meuse, K.P. (2019). A Meta-Analysis of the Relationship between Learning Agility and Leader Success. Journal of Organizational Psychology.

[3] De Meuse, K. P. (2017). Learning agility: Its evolution as a psychological construct and its empirical relationship to leader success. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(4), 267–295. https://doi.org/10.1037/cpb0000100

[4] Martin, J., & Schmidt, C. (2010). How to keep your top talent. Harvard business review, 88(5), 54-61.

[5] Hogan, J., Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R. B. (2011). Management derailment. In S. Zedeck (Ed.), APA handbook of industrial and organizational psychology, Vol. 3. Maintaining, expanding, and contracting the organization (pp. 555–575). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/12171-015

[6] De Meuse, K. P. (2022). Learning agility: Could it become the g-factor of leadership? Consulting Psychology Journal, 74(3), 215–236. https://doi.org/10.1037/cpb0000216

[7] De Meuse, K. P., Dai, G., Eichinger, R. W., Page, R. C., Clark, L. P., & Zewdie, S. (2011, January). The development and validation of a self assessment of learning agility. In Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Conference, Chicago, Illinois.

[8] Ruparel, N. (2020). Mental toughness: Promising new paradigms for the workplace. Cogent Psychology, 7(1), 1722354.

[9] Kircanski, K., Lieberman, M. D., & Craske, M. G. (2012). Feelings Into Words: Contributions of Language to Exposure Therapy. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1086–1091. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612443830

[10] Torre, J. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2018). Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling as Implicit Emotion Regulation. Emotion Review, 10(2), 116–124. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073917742706

[11] McEwen, B. S. (2022). Protective and damaging effects of stress mediators: central role of the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience.

[12] Tabibnia, G., & Radecki, D. (2018). Resilience training that can change the brain. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 70(1), 59–88. https://doi.org/10.1037/cpb0000110

[13] Oakley, B., Sejnowski, T., & McConville, A. (2018). Learning how to learn: How to succeed in school without spending all your time studying; a guide for kids and teens. Penguin.

[14] Kim, S., Cho, S., & Park, Y. (2022). Daily microbreaks in a self-regulatory resources lens: Perceived health climate as a contextual moderator via microbreak autonomy. Journal of Applied Psychology, 107(1), 60–77. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000891

[15] Tabibnia, G. (2020). An affective neuroscience model of boosting resilience in adults. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 115, 321-350.