INSEAD Participant Interview

Engage on both a professional and personal level with the Transition to General Management programme

Nadia Levin

CEO & Managing Director
Research Australia
Australia

"It was a standout course, in both my life and career. I can’t imagine not having done it. It was so incredibly profound. Before attending, I knew it was going to be valuable, but I didn’t realise the sheer depth of knowledge and impact it would have...In a professional sense, it helped me achieve where I wanted to be. The programme has been instrumental in enabling me to achieve a goal of becoming a CEO earlier rather than later in my career. "  

What has been your career path to date?  

It’s been somewhat of a non-linear path. I am a journalist by training and started in broadcast current affairs in radio and television in South Africa. I then moved to Australia and continued in that space for a while. 

My interest in current affairs and politics saw me move into a political advisor role to a government minister and from there I moved into a public policy and communications role around defense. I then turned to infrastructure and transport and finally into the nuclear sector. It was at that point that I attended INSEAD.  

Currently, I am the CEO of a national health and medical research organisation. It is a complex area because healthcare is a big issue for any country and the investment necessary for quality health and medical research and the infrastructure to go with it, is considerable.  

Why did you apply to the Transition to General Management programme?  

I was asked to apply for a role in my organisation that involved taking on international competencies. The Transition to General Management programme was a way of exposing me to an international audience and further developing my leadership growth.  

It was a standout course, in both my life and career. I can’t imagine not having done it. It was so incredibly profound. Before attending, I knew it was going to be valuable, but I didn’t realise the sheer depth of knowledge and impact it would have.  

Speaking of the 360 feedback, what did you think of this? 

The course engages on both a professional and personal level and that is what makes it powerful. The supported 360-degree feedback process and the MBTI were staging points for discussions throughout the course and frankly, beyond in many cases. The way we worked together in smaller groups created a safe space to be vulnerable with each other and really explore areas of strength and challenge and importantly it provided the groundwork to build yourself up with insight. 

For me personally, this was an interesting one. The group dissected the 360 very differently to how I had perceived it which was a huge surprise. Here was a group of senior professionals with no knowledge of an issue that I was facing in my workplace picking it up immediately and calling it out. They collectively challenged one of the threads of feedback and helped me identify a professional issue that belonged to the feedback giver in this case rather than myself. Through this process I began to appreciate my own worth and value as an individual and a leader and gain deeper insight into others – what an amazing journey that was.  

What did you take away from the programme? 

I reference my knowledge from it all the time. From an EQ point of view, I use it to critically assess situations I am dealing with to work through points of difference or leverage potential opportunities. Here's an example from the course. One member of my group and I did not seem to connect at all and we really had difficulties working together on a particular exercise. Later that week, we had to pick someone in our group to buddy up with and forge the beginnings of what could potentially become an enduring connection outside of INSEAD. I decided to pick him because out of group he was the one person I had not clicked with. It turns out he had picked me too.  

Today, that person is one of my closest connections.  

What the exercise did was allow us both to get insights into our completely different personalities and characters and how we perceive others and in turn are perceived by them. This is representative of the personalities and characters of the people we meet in our lives all the time. It was one of the most incredible learning and self-insight opportunities and as an inspirer of others, it has been invaluable opportunity to enable me to be a strong leader regardless of who I am dealing with.  

From an IQ point of view, it allowed me to look at an organisation holistically – in other words from across the span of operations and see how they all should link and enable each other, in theory anyway! Importantly, it also helped me deal with an area of skill that I felt less confident in.  

What were your key programme learnings?  

Being able to validate what I intuitively knew was fantastic. Recognising that I am a content functional expert and that I can confidently own that and that I have a broader skill set that I can apply beyond that area of expertise. It enabled me to feel confident in my ability as an example setter for others and convince them to join me in support of a declared goal and vision.  

One area I was not as confident with, was finance. This has changed completely. Today, I have the confidence and ability to interrogate numbers in the financials. I am equipped with the tools to understand the principles and I know what questions to ask. Before INSEAD, I understood the basic business principles. After INSEAD I had a better understanding of how those business principles translate into value creation and destruction – it's quite significant to be able to spot this so easily now. Getting others to see this quite so easily is now the challenge!    

The Transition to General Management programme also changed how I deal with my professional and personal relationships. One has an image of how you think people see you, but it’s often not true. There are many ways people see you. Being able to be aware of that, tune into it and apply different behavioural sets to your audience accordingly is incredibly important. It enables you to build pathos so much faster. It’s a form of subliminal negotiation. It’s an incredible advantage.  

The programme provided me with filters of myself to engage. There are different ways to engage and you have to adapt accordingly. This becomes more important the higher you go.  

What was the participant mix like on the programme and how did it help with the learning? 

You learn as much from the participants as from the faculty and the curriculum.  

It was a culturally and professionally diverse group, which, depending on where they were from, reacted in different ways to situation. It helped highlight particular things in some cases and enabled the learning in a really practical way. It was also great to test your own theories and approaches to things with professionals from different sectors. 

Has the programme influenced decisions you have made? 

Definitely. It opened practical doors in terms of content. It also opened EQ and IQ doors to be able to develop self-awareness, as well as awareness of interactions with others, my own and through observing others. It also gave me practical confidence and know how to be able to address the broader spectrum of business skills and engage usefully and confidently with anyone.  

What surprised you about the programme? 

I arrived with a completely open and curious mind but what was unexpected was the level of the connections that we made.  

Following the programme, I was put forward (along with two dear friends), as alumni co-president of the group. I felt validated and privileged to be recognised by people who until quite recently, had been strangers. Their endorsement of me was completely unexpected but wonderful. In essence, INSEAD gave me the opportunity to stand up and confidently take my place in the professional sense. 

The friendships I have formed from the programme are incredible and I value them highly. 

Tell us more about the group that you have been part of since the programme?  

They are connections and people you want to stay connected with. Over the years they have provided further career advice and development. I have been coach and been coached and have individual connections with several of the cohort. These groups are a form of mentorship and lifelong coaching and importantly, friendship.  

We meet regularly via social media or email to discuss professional and personal challenges. These groups are a safe space to explore ideas and allows us to use our professional expertise to help each other: what our next steps career should be, our challenges, celebrating milestones etc. 

On our large Transition to General Management programme 3/12 Whatsapp group, we use it to stay in touch as the large group and share things from our reunions. People chime in all the time and share holiday happenings or major career announcements which is great. We have spikes throughout the year and it reminds us of the strong bond that has been created. Given our geographical differences, it’s hard to get everyone together. Yet, when a reunion does happen, we all say that we’ll be back next year and we look forward to it because we have such an awesome time!  

So, there is still a strong bond between you and your fellow participants?   

It’s a special group. We come from many time zones: Australia, India, UAE and Europe and we still keep in touch despite the challenge of geography and time. For many of us, our reunions are self-funded as well so the value and connection are strong.   

What I’ve found over the years is that the group dynamics have moved out of the professional space and into the personal career development space. I think this not only reflects the commitment to keeping in touch and the bonds that have been created, but is also testament to the value we feel about the connections. The annual reunions remind and reinforce that value for us and sometimes when life intervenes and you can't attend a reunion, you really feel as you are missing out on something incredible.  

So, the programme has had a far reaching impact. The programme was the starting point. In terms of the programme itself, I found the material and content incredibly valuable. It helped validate the contribution I was making in my roles, it tested my theories and abilities and it gave me a refresher into leadership and management. In areas I was less confident about, it gave me the tools and the logical ability to feel more confident.  

Overall though, again it was the starting point for many friendships that have endured since.  

Has the advice given in the group helped you in your career? 

One area I needed to work on was asking for help as I was never very good at it. I’m happy to give others space to tell me about their world, but probably less the other way around. Connecting with my INSEAD group allowed me to talk more openly and talk through ideas and decisions that have life impact including when to leave or change roles or change an approach to a particular challenge.  

Looking back, how did the programme make you feel? 

Utterly and thoroughly energised. It set my brain on fire with new knowledge and approaches and it also opened other pathways for different and further knowledge quests.  

In a professional sense, it helped me achieve where I wanted to be. The programme has been instrumental in enabling me to achieve a goal of becoming a CEO earlier rather than later in my career. 

The Transition to General Management programme provided me with more data points for my career choices. It changed my approach to how I work and allowed me to better occupy myself in the professional sense. It gave me insights into, and confidence in, my performance. It allowed me to self-validate in a much stronger way; to validate my skillset and gave me the confidence to achieve competence in areas that were not my natural strength.  

It really was a turning point in my professional and personal life and I absolutely loved it. 

How would you describe the programme to someone?  

Significant and profound. Like with any kind of learning and development programme, you’d be mad not to take the opportunity. The experience is profound and the learning and knowledge gain so amazing. Why wouldn’t you make that sort of investment in yourself?  

The way the course is designed allows it to cover both EQ and IQ and today you can’t be truly successful without strong insight, understanding and competency in both of them. The Transition to General Management programme provides that platform. 

It helps you ask the right questions. I came back from INSEAD with a deeper self-insight and confidence in my skillset and ability to inspire others by my example and leadership. It really accelerated my career growth and I can easily map that growth today and see how I can use it into the future. The value of that is immeasurable. 

Visit the website to learn more about the Transition to General Management programme

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