Abstract Purpose – To contribute to the literature on managerial learning and illustrate the most importantbarriers to participation in learning for mid-career managers. To provide recommendations on how to eliminate such barriers. Design/methodology/approach – From a larger sample of 61 managers, 22 were selected for further in-depth analysis of their interview transcripts, due to the severity of barriers experienced. Using a grounded theory approach, they were categorised according to whether they had intrinsic (perceptual, emotional, motivational, cognitive) or extrinsic (organisational culture, management development culture or physical pressures) barriers to learning.Findings – Three distinct groupings emerged when the managers were plotted on a chart according to the barriers experienced. Solutions were then proposed for eliminating barriers for each group of managers. The most important recommendations were that the support of top management was necessary to encourage continued development and that line managers had a critical role to play in developing tailored development packages.Research limitations/implications – For future research, it would be useful to test whether or not these findings could be replicated across other sectors and managerial types. It is suggested that widening the sample would also be beneficial to eliminate issues inherent with a small population. Practical implications – Leadership programmes for managers, focussing on understanding motivation at the individual level. In addition, top management should be involved in the evaluation of training and development so that they can lead their managerial teams effectively.Originality/value – This paper is original in that it focuses on managers with severe barriers to learning and offers practical advice on what organisations should do in relation to these issues.