80 senior leaders from across National Healthcare Group (NHG) convened at the bi-annual NHG Leadership Moments held on 23 April 2019. Organised by NHG College at the newly-opened Centre for Healthcare Innovation, the session was a collective conversation on how leadership can unlock barriers to learning, which affects NHG on an organisational systemic level.

Associate Professor Nicholas Chew, Group Chief Education Officer, NHG, shared a story of his own barrier to learning in his opening address. A/Prof Chew recounted a past interaction with a retired Swedish school principal, who quizzed him to identify a long slender bone. "Fibula," he answered confidently, only to be told that he was wrong, and that it was the "penile bone of a walrus". A/Prof Chew dismissed the claim and insisted that "there is no such thing as penile bone" – only to realise his mistake after consulting "Google". "(By) assuming that the (medical) knowledge that I had is applicable to everything else, blinded me to what I actually did not know, so that was my barrier to learning," he said.

Mr Tong Yee, Director from the Thought Collective, guest speaker for this year’s Leadership Moments, started the session by facilitating the group of senior leaders in identifying their top barriers to learning. Noting that "I don’t have time" as one of the top common barriers to learning amongst the group, he elaborated that it is not the struggle to find time to complete a specific task, but rather the level of priority given to it.

"When you are in love with a person, a hobby, a job… your learning curve is very high… everything is possible," Mr Tong said. "(And) when you are in love, do you say that you have no time?" he added, sparking a burst of laughter in the room. "Leadership has a huge influence over the learning habits of the organisation," said Mr Tong, and he stressed that as leaders, developing the awareness and ability to identify the top barriers to learning would help increase the learning curve of the organisation.

In the second segment, Mr Tong introduced the concept of covert processes or behavioural dynamics within the organisation. "Sometimes (during a meeting) you agree to do something, but it never gets done… and something else will happen as opposed to what you agreed," said Mr Tong to the laughter in the room. "If that phenomenon is happening, then you are dealing with covert processes."

Mr Tong explained that leaders (or systems) will only be able to intervene if covert processes are "brought to the table" for conversations, and this applies to the barriers of learning in the organisation. "The person (leader or employee) who is unaware or not willing to bring these (covert processes) onto the table, is not able to learn," said Mr Tong. "The system is only as strong as what we can bring to the table."