Learning agile leaders are required to navigate challenging times

Recently, Both the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Secret Service have experienced major public perception crises testing the strength and capabilities of their leadership. These situations, no matter how challenging, are those for which learning agile leaders are built to handle.  Learning agile leaders know what to do when they don’t know what to do.

The recent headlines involving GSA and the Secret Service have created a lot of controversy for their brands. The reputations and motives of federal agencies and the federal workforce are often undeservingly questioned, and these incidents have tainted them more so  (most of us have likely formed lasting opinions of these two agencies, even if we had no prior knowledge of them).  However, work cannot stop at these agencies under the taint of scandal; they must continue to fulfill their duties.

Leaders at both GSA and the Secret Service are now entrusted with managing a damaged brand and instilling faith in their respective agencies to ensure the American public does not perceive that the malpractices of a few represent the entire agency. Followers in these agencies need and expect their leaders to lead intentionally. If the leadership is learning agile, that is, if they step confidently into this unexpected yet manageable situation, they can begin to restore the American public’s faith in these reputable organizations.

A learning agile leader displays behaviors closely associated with five different facets:

  • Mental Agility—ability to examine problems in unique and unusual ways
  • People Agility—skilled communicator who can work with diverse types of people
  • Change Agility—likes to experiment and is comfortable with change
  • Results Agility—delivers results in challenging first-time situations
  • Self-awareness—extent to which an individual knows his or her true strengths and weaknesses

Strong and agile leadership will foster the trust, support, and backing that is currently in question amongst the workforce, executive team, Congressional overseers, and the American public. High learning agile leaders thrive during unpredictable events, and in balancing the five components of learning agility, GSA and Secret Service leaders will be leveraging the necessary skills to rebuild their agencies’ images and show the American public their ability to successfully and responsibly execute the important missions that support our nation.

I’m confident that the senior leaders entrusted with the missions of these agencies will be nimble enough to make sense of these events.


  • Bernadine Karunaratne

    Former President, U.S. Government Consulting Services