INSEAD Participant Interview
Bringing down internal bias
José Lucia van Hal
The Strategic Decision Making for Leaders programme gave José Lucia van Hal, International Sales Director at Fissler GmbH, more than an affirmation on complex decision making. It gave her tools to overcome the hidden traps that can hamper better outcomes.
Lucia, what brought you to INSEAD and the Strategic Decision Making for Leaders programme?
I’ve long been fascinated by the dynamics of decision making; how reaching the best decisions means engaging both the rational, result-driven part of the brain and the more nuanced, psychological and emotional process that govern the way we think. I am moving up to greater responsibility in my career and simultaneously engaging more with a broader, multi-cultural network of clients, so I wanted support to develop my own decision making and take it to a higher level.
I had already found this programme before the pandemic, and the decision was solidified when our new, in-coming CEO completely bought into it. He is a huge fan of INSEAD, having taking programmes here himself. The programme just made a lot of sense. It was an opportunity to explore the complex processes and dynamics of decision making, and to do so within a rich and diverse cohort of other leaders from around the world – a connect with peers outside my own industry and to broaden my network while potentially making new business contacts.
You mention the pandemic. Taking an Executive Education programme during the COVID-19 crisis obviously meant learning virtually. Was that a concern for you?
I felt it was a shame to have to forego the social aspect. One of the great things about learning is the interaction with other human beings – it’s the cream and cherry on the cake, so to speak. But in fact, I found that the virtual learning experience was very rich.
During the programme, we had a lot of breakout sessions with fellow participants where we would work together in small teams to solve different cases. Under “normal” circumstances, these would be face-to-face meetings for networking and story-telling – a chance to exchange business cards. However, even though all this happened virtually, after four days we were still able to forge real, meaningful bonds with each other.
What did you think of your peer cohort?
We were an incredibly diverse set of men and women from all over the world. That was part of the beauty of the programme. It brought together leaders and decision-makers from so many sectors and geographies and cultures – Nordic, Asian, Mediterranean, Muslim cultures; executives, accountants, entrepreneurs even surgeons, and a really broad demographic and age range.
In our interactive sessions, it was fascinating to explore this diversity of experience and the interexchange of perspectives – it mirrored interplay you have in the real-world business context. It was also great to able to switch screens so easily – to see everyone’s faces and switch to the presentation or the professor at will.
Did you find the faculty engaging?
Our professor was fantastic. Not only was he an extraordinary presenter, he brought a great deal of humour and fun to the learning experience. I found the programme incredibly well structured and delivered. A lot of the learning – the exploration of decision making – was geared around real-world cases in which you see all these complex dynamics laid bare. And the cases themselves were exciting. We looked at a trek to Mount Everest and case where the protagonists were lost at sea, so there was an inherent drama and a feeling of sheer adrenalin surrounding each discussion that gave the learning a forward momentum while delivering insights and meaning for each participant. It was genuinely exciting.
What kinds of insights were you able to draw around your own decision making?
I think I came into the programme with a fairly developed understanding of these dual dimensions: the rational side and the more emotional or intuitive part of the process and the need for both. I’ve worked in marketing and sales throughout my entire career, so you become very people-focused in a sense. You develop a greater consciousness of these two worlds that determine how you make choices – your rational and intuitive leadership competencies, if you like.
The programme was very empowering for me in the sense that it provided an affirmation of these principles, as well as a confirmation that leadership as we understand it is really evolving – that emotional intelligence of EQ needs to be an integral part of your decision making and the way that you interact with and manage other people.
Did you come away with any concrete takeaways?
One of the things we discussed a lot was the fact that success is not just about coming up with a killer strategy and executing it. You won’t get the results you need unless you have the right buy-in from your people. Your team needs to understand, embrace and engage with your strategy and your leadership. Without that you’re really lost at sea!
Part of driving that engagement and really taking care of the interests of your team, is to be able to make solid decisions; decisions that draw on the rational and the intuitive parts of your brain, but that are also as free as possible from bias. And this is the really hard part actually.
We are all prone to internal biases. Our biases are like hidden traps that can derail our individual and group decision making at any point. One of the absolutely critical takeaways for me was learning how to identify and overcome internal bias. The programme equipped me with the tools and frameworks – tricks to organise and deal with this and to get a fair process in place. Leaders have this responsibility and should take ownership and accountability for it. We need to prioritise consciousness. Far too often, you see unconscious behaviours getting in the way of acting in the best interest of all stakeholders.
On reflection then, was it a good decision to take the programme, even during the lockdown?
It was a great decision. And one that I would definitely take again.