Spencer Stuart: Why Senior Leaders Need to Rethink Learning Intelligence

Today’s environment of rapid change and disruption demands executives who learn fast and apply that learning in order to succeed. While learning is a commonly discussed topic at many organizations, most theories and constructs do not provide a pragmatic description of the kind of learning that makes senior leaders successful — and could potentially predict their future performance. Most executives do not reach the top levels of an organization without being able to swiftly grasp vast amounts of material. But how strongly does this type of learning inform an executive’s success, and, by extension, influence the organization’s performance?

Spencer Stuart have found that the characteristic of learning intelligence has a great impact on executive success by enabling leaders to respond appropriately to situations, and thus, produce better results for the business. Learning intelligence is more than agility or the ability to absorb and apply new information. It is the ability to:

  • look critically at one’s own thinking, unconscious biases and actions;
  • be open to, actively seek out and listen to new and contrasting perspectives;
  • recognize how another viewpoint is better;
  • change one’s own perspective and actions in response (e.g., whether to abandon a struggling initiative despite significant sunk costs or to pursue new, untested avenues for growth); and
  • know when to stand one’s ground even in the face of contrary opinions.

Yet, most organizations cannot accurately identify and develop learning intelligence because they do not have the tools to precisely evaluate it. Often, organizations rely on self-reporting tools, which inherently lack objectivity. Or they focus exclusively on results rather than the underlying thinking that led to them — a much better indicator of future performance, but much more difficult to assess.

Explore some common assumptions about learning, how learning intelligence can be recognized and assessed, and how it can be cultivated in the full article.

To read the full report by Spencer Stuart, visit


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