Lessons from Lady Gaga

Forget the glitz—her Super Bowl performance offers surprising insights on agility for business professionals.

Agility may well be the best predictor of corporate success—and will only become more crucial as workforces and the economy change. Yet studies show only a fraction the global workforce is considered highly agile. In a new column, Michael Distefano, chief marketing officer and president of the Korn Ferry Institute, will explore the concept of agility: what has it, who doesn’t, what is it and what companies can do to mold it.

As so many of us who saw the game know, it wasn’t just the comeback that made Super Bowl LI so special. Sure, the game-winning drive engineered by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will go down as a historic moment—and will forever offer lessons on strong and brave leadership. But who wasn’t glued to the TV as well by the halftime show by performer Lady Gaga? Look beyond the political undertones and messages of inclusion, and there may be even more lessons on human achievement there.

Kids and senior citizens alike couldn’t look away because she connected to everyone on their terms. 

Millions of other tweets shared the same sentiment.

Gaga, of course, knows how to use her singing and dancing talents to create a sensation. But on Sunday, it was her ability to read the room and a global audience that was most impressive. And her ability to do that while peppering her performance with subtle social and political messages is a testament to her agility.

At Korn Ferry we define learning agility as the ability to solve complex problems, easily adapt in a constantly changing world and thrive on change. Gaga’s entire career up to this point has epitomized that concept. No one would dispute that she is adept at dealing with ambiguity, is open to new and different experiences and seeks out broad and diverse perspectives. Her various career transformations—from pop-goth avante garde artist to soulful crooner—show she is iterative, self-aware and has a high tolerance for risk. Jumping off the roof at the beginning of her halftime performance and diving for the football at the end of it served as nice bookends for the latter attribute. 

As Gaga herself noted in a Tiffany commercial that ran before she landed on stage, “I always want to be challenging the status quo. I love to change. It makes me feel alive.”

Gaga’s core competencies are precisely what business professionals should be looking for in their next generation of leaders. The number one predictor of overall career success in today’s digital world is agility. For instance, Korn Ferry research finds that individuals with high learning agility are promoted twice as fast as individuals with low learning agility. Executives with high levels of learning agility, tolerance for ambiguity, empathy and social fluidity are five times more likely to be highly engaged. Moreover, companies with highly agile executives have 25% higher profit margins than their peer group. Yet only15% of the global workforce is considered highly agile. 

As we move deeper into a gig economy, where much fewer people are actually inside an organization and more work is outsourced to contingent employees and automation, it’s clear that there needs to be an acceptance that not all talent is created equal. If there’s one lesson business leaders can take from this year’s Super Bowl, it’s that when it comes to their future workforce, only the agile will survive. 

For more on agility and how to assess and develop it, please visit KornFerryInstitute.com and search for: agility.