Leadership Academy

“Is it time to make our learning intersectional?”

Posted by: Bobbie Petford - Posted on:

Bobbie Petford is a regional trainee support manager for the Graduate Management Training Scheme. In her blog, Bobbie tells us why we need to diversify our thinking to truly engage in lifelong learning.

The need for lifelong learning is something I anticipate very few of us would disagree with. Health is a constantly developing field and regardless of which area we practise, we have a duty to keep up with new developments. It’s likely that most of us will claim that we engage in lifelong learning. But do we really? What and who are we really willing to learn from?

Some of our learning is highly structured; classroom based and formally assessed. However, a great deal more of it is informal and self-designed; we undertake coaching or mentoring, read articles and converse on social media.

Might we end up creating echo chambers, filled with the voices of our familiars, our allies, and those we follow on Twitter because we agree with them? Have you ever found yourself reading the views of someone you respected when they spoke on one topic, and deciding they must be correct on this subject too, without fact-checking or comparing with a contrasting opinion? Should we all make a concerted effort to diversify the sources of our knowledge?

If, as much psychology literature suggests, there’s an even distribution of the five big personality traits (extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness) across the population, then what are the implications for how we learn across our lifespan? What might our preferences and biases mean for how we learn and how we facilitate the learning of others?

I’m sure most of us have been in meetings where competitive extraverts dominate the airspace to the exclusion of quieter people. Or where those who insist on detailed data do so at the expense of the bigger picture.

What can we do to be inclusive of different personality types? How should we conduct meetings and sessions to make sure everyone’s voice is heard? Is this important for our own learning but also that of our teams and organisations?

David Marquet, in his book ‘Turn the Ship Around’ advocates involving the whole team in decisions, as each member has a contribution to make from their unique viewpoint. He also suggests we should listen to the outliers because being in a minority doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong. In fact, outliers may have the bright new idea or crucial piece of intelligence that could make or break the decision at hand.


How do we counter our own biases that risk limiting our learning? Should we be more curious and open to other viewpoints? I had a recent experience of being coached by someone thirty years my junior. I admit to being sceptical, but in fact it was amazing. They were able to illuminate some flaws in my approach and practise that really helped me to move forward and achieve my objective. This was made possible by our differences and not our similarities.

So is it time to make our learning intergenerational and intersectional, and from diverse and challenging sources? Consider asking this of yourself, your team and the system. You never know, you might just learn something.

At the NHS Leadership Academy, we aim to lead on making inclusion a reality within the NHS. We do this through investment in excellent, knowledgeable and capable leadership.


Find out more about our work around inclusion, equality and diversity.

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