Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Learning (not) to be different: The value of vulnerability in trusted and safe identity work spaces

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Sandra Corlett, Professor Sharon MavinORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


This paper explores how senior executives learn (not) to be different in Action Learning Set spaces (ALSS) as part of a business school Executive Education programme. We take a relational social constructionist approach in an empirical study and analyse senior executives’ narratives. This illuminates how executives co-construct action learning set spaces of openness, honesty, confidentiality and challenge and engage in relational processes of learning, vulnerability and identity work. In doing so executives learn to be different in relation to dominant discourses and norms of what it means to be a leader or manager which is personified through claims of vulnerability in the education context. Executives make sense of and work through learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, practising learning over time in a ‘safe enough’ space. We offer insights into identity work spaces, as leaders reconceptualise vulnerability as positive and as strength and how claiming vulnerability can defuse the power of fear and negative connotations often associated with vulnerability. With agency, executives express feeling better equipped to decide how and when to be different (vulnerability) or not be different (invulnerability) in their organisations. Practically we extend consciousness to the value of vulnerability for leader and manager identity and learning

Publication metadata

Author(s): Corlett S, Ruane M, Mavin S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Management Learning

Year: 2021

Volume: 52

Issue: 4

Pages: 424-441

Print publication date: 01/09/2021

Online publication date: 27/02/2021

Acceptance date: 09/01/2021

Date deposited: 02/03/2021

ISSN (print): 1350-5076

ISSN (electronic): 1461-7307

Publisher: Sage


DOI: 10.1177/1350507621995816


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric