INSEAD Participant Interview
Come with an open mind and leave with a toolkit for general management
CARE International UK and Hope and Healing International
"What the TGM programme focused on was building that toolkit to give us more things to work with and also creating a huge group of people we can still go to years later and ask: ‘Does anyone have experience with this? Has anyone worked in x country?"
Can you please introduce yourself?
I’m a Canadian who has been living in Africa for almost 15 years and working across social sectors, first in education and now more in healthcare with NGOs, monitoring and evaluation organisations and some corporates. I’m now doing some consultancy work - essentially trying to improve the lives of Africans through development initiatives. So far, I’ve lived in Senegal, South Africa, Ghana, Egypt and now Tanzania.
So how did you hear about the Transition to General Management (TGM) programme?
Tanzania has a very lively expat community and we have had some of our friends leave to go do MBAs at INSEAD and other places. I was mulling about doing an MBA, but I already have two Bachelors and a Masters Degree.
I did feel that I had leveled out in my organisation and that I wasn’t able to get the mentorship or professional development that I wanted for myself to grow. So, I started looking into programmes after discussing it with the CEO of my organisation at the time. After a few back and forths with people at INSEAD I decided to enroll on the TGM.
A couple of things drew me to INSEAD. One was being able to attend courses in multiple locations – and the other the very high rankings and INSEAD’s global reputation.
Getting more exposure to different cultures in different working environments and different people is something I have tried to do my whole life and I think more people should do that. I’m Canadian. I went to University in the US. I’ve had professional experiences in the US, Canada and Africa. On the programme there were lots of participants from Europe, Asia and other parts of the world – so I had the opportunity to learn from and hear their stories. I think that was really was my rationale in the end; expanding my world view and global business knowledge.
What were your expectations of the programme?
I came with an open mind and I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was serving as my CEO’s right-hand woman, without the title, and was younger than the other participants. Given my senior position within the organisation and my age, I wanted to figure out how to get people to see me as leadership material, not just a good doer or manager. I wanted to be leading people and building camaraderie at work as well as drive change and improvements across systems.
Coming onto the programme, I wanted to learn from other people who had made the leap into leadership and learn best practices from across industries.
The NGO sector is a super challenging one. Often, you are not confronted with the usual business decisions such as hiring people to corporate finance. There can be lives on the line. We have serious decisions to make. I wanted to understand how I could be a better part of a system that was working quite well, but also manage change, make improvements to myself, for my staff and my other colleagues across the organisation in the long-run so that they could improve the lives of Tanzanians.
It sounds like the programme came along at the right time…
For me, it was what I needed at the time. It helped me think through my communication techniques and the way I manage. The 360 review was extremely revealing, challenging and amazing all at once. I think the in-classroom experience, the group work, the one-on-one discussion and out of class experiences were all great. It could have been a whole year-long course, but you cram it into several weeks. I was very nervous about “going back to school”, but it was an incredible experience and definitely worth it. I’ve since been considering more courses to get the Certificate in Global Management.
Did you quickly feel comfortable on the programme?
I definitely felt thrown into deep end, but right from the start, the programme team (programme advisors, professors, programme coordinators) were totally open and upfront. I am one of those people who will ask questions until they are blue in the face and everyone was always willing to take the time to talk to me. At the very beginning I was still very engaged in work. They made me put my foot down and focus on the course and myself.
All the course participants, as well as the professors, were amazing and supportive. They helped make it a comfortable environment. They made you feel: ‘Wow, I can do this. I can focus on what I want to get out of this and help others get through it too.’ Because you really do go through the programme as a team and everyone has to be there for everyone else.
Do you feel the programme gave you confidence?
In general, yes. When we did the speaking half day in Singapore, I raised my hand first to volunteer and critique what I said. I wanted to build my confidence with public speaking. I consistently challenged myself in the areas I was not comfortable in the course. I had such a good group of people around me from whom I wanted to learn from and engage with. I didn’t mind throwing myself into the deep end.
I left feeling different. Whether that meant more confident or different in that I knew I could challenge myself and succeed, I don’t know, but I think it all adds up to being a better professional.
Speaking of networking, what was that like on the programme and how has it been since?
We have a WhatsApp group and have had one reunion. We’re all available to one another. I’ve lived in Africa for a long time. There was a huge variety of participants from tons of places in Europe a few other people from Africa, Australia and Asia too. I think just one from Latin America! All from different sectors, different ages, different experiences. We all listened to one another, all got on, engaged, interacted and learned. The nice thing is that even if I don’t know who to go to from my TGM group about a question, I can just ask the whole group. Someone will always chat to you. We just worked and clicked. I think it was really incredible how well we all got along and the different perspectives we brought to the table. I know that we will continue to engage with each other and learn from one another.
Were they any surprises?
Well I was surprised how much we drank and ate!
I was surprised and impressed by how conversant a lot of the professors were with what each of them had spoken about. It spoke to how coordinated they are with one another. It all flowed. I thought that was super impressive.
They have the knowledge, the expertise, but were also relatable. And available for questions. They were just like a well-honed machine. They could sense the mood in the room and could shift the conversation when needed because it wasn’t getting to the point they wanted it to. It was probably the best display of teaching I’ve seen in my academic life and I’ve spent a lot of time in school!!
What was it like coming from an NGO and being in a room with others from the corporate world?
A lot of the soft skills and many hard skills are the same in public and private sectors. That being said, both have a lot to learn from each other. That was kind of my perspective going into the programme. I’ve worked in non-profit for a long time, most of professional career. I wanted to learn from the other side.
In the end, it felt very natural. Some of the topics were very familiar to me, such as cross-cultural issues. Others not so much, but those instances were so far and few between. It made me stop and think that the two sectors are not very different at all. Why is it that we build that separation when so many of the skills need to make each work are the same?
My background maybe did take some of the other participants by surprise. Not just because I worked for an NGO, also because I was the youngest participant but had a lengthy career in Africa already. However, given my propensity to ask questions and the way the course was set-up to engage everyone all the time, the barriers melted away. We were all learning things together for ourselves and our organisations. We were all there to explore and discuss bigger issues in management styles, in leadership etc…
What is the right mindset to go into the TGM with?
I got a lot out of the programme so I can tell you what I did: go in with an open mind!
I wanted to enroll on the programme to help me work on myself. I wanted to work on my communication skills. I wanted to work on understanding private sector solutions to x y z problems.
I had my calls with the INSEAD team, my CEO, colleagues, family, friends (some of whom had been to INSEAD). So yes, I went in with an open mind and also with a few nerves! It helped me perform and helped show me who I was right from the start: I was the girl who was going to ask a lot of questions because I wanted to make sure I was getting as much out of the experience as I could. I felt that I was thrown into a room with peers and professionals who I didn’t want to let down.
My last piece of advice: do the pre-reading!
How important is lifelong learning?
Lifelong learning is definitely about constantly thinking about things from a different angle, reading, following-up, being inquisitive, engaging with people who have different opinions and experiences. I’ve never been one to keep my opinion to myself, but sometimes as a leader you have to let other people speak and see how that goes. You have to be ready to see what happens, adjust, support and catch people if they fall. There is no hard and fast rule: you will be successful if you do this or unsuccessful if you don’t. It’s more nuanced than that…
What the TGM programme focused on was building that toolkit to give us more things to work with and also creating a huge group of people we can still go to years later and ask: ‘Does anyone have experience with this? Has anyone worked in x country?’ We still have this amazing network with whom I message almost every day.
Visit the website to learn more about the Transition to General Management programme.