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Leadership is an evolution

Nicolas de La Giroday

For VP General Manager with General Mills, Nicolas de La Giroday, self-awareness is the key to unlock genuine leadership. The LEAP: Leadership Excellence through Awareness and Practice programme gave him insights and frameworks that will also help him become a better version of himself.

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Leadership is an evolution. To have a positive impact around you, evolve yourself first.

When you reach the very top echelons of senior management, you may find an unexpected challenge waiting for you. According to Nicolas de La Giroday, VP General Manager of General Mills Yoplait in Southern Europe, that challenge is a shift in mindset.

“Very senior managers face an imperative: to move from a knowing to a learning dynamic. And core to that is building your self-awareness.”

This is the same imperative that brought de La Giroday to INSEAD’s Leadership Excellence through Awareness and Practice (LEAP) programme in 2020. A seven-month learning journey, LEAP was also an opportunity to step outside of the day-to-day and to “carve out some valuable time for myself.”

“I’ve been on the front line for many years, working in very senior management roles with large, multinational organisations for the last two decades. As you progress up through your career, there are plenty of development opportunities, but these tend to thin out when you get to the very top of your company. I was looking for something very special – a chance to truly reflect and to develop that self-awareness I needed to continue pivoting, to continue foster my learning mindset.”

INSEAD was a natural choice, says de La Giroday, partly because of the school’s international reputation; but also because the LEAP programme was “uniquely matched” to the specific senior leadership needs he felt. As a learning experience, it also struck him as “essentially pragmatic.”

“When you open yourself up to a deep, self-learning journey like this, you are going to want a learning partner that you absolutely trust. During my time in Singapore, I’d heard great things about INSEAD. My own experience has confirmed this reputation, a mix of quality and pragmatism about learning that opens your mind.”

This positive impact was apparent, says de La Giroday, even though Covid restrictions meant that the programme was delivered 100% virtually via synchronous online channels. And despite the loss of the face-to-face, social dimensions of on-campus learning, the experience was so well put together, that it yielded some other, unexpected benefits.

“You are aware from the start that there will be no direct human contact, but even so, LEAP is just beautifully organised. The content and the trust and engagement-building is just incredibly well done. And going in as a leader of remote teams myself, I was really curious to see how they would do this – and to learn new practices in online collaboration that I could apply in my own work context. The programme is testimony to the fact that done well, online can work incredibly effectively.”

LEAP delivered all the positive impact of a transformative learning experience, he stresses, with none of the jet lag. Small groups, shorter days, more breaks and much of the preparation work undertaken outside of interactive class sessions meant that the learning processes were more “efficient.”

“The entire programme remained steadfastly disciplined across the seven month. The programme director Professor Narayan Pant and the quality of faculty guiding our discussion, as well as the quality of the peers themselves, kept us totally on track to the kinds of break-through thinking we were all looking for.”

“LEAP gave me a chance to confront my own personal story. It’s a journey that brings you face-to-face with the truth about yourself. You come away from an experience like this understanding that nothing is truly fixed – nothing is black or white. Rather, your leadership (like your life) is a constant evolution.” The ability to evolve and build new positive habits is giving me the opportunity to become the “best version of myself”.

“I think for anyone looking to have a long lasting positive impact, there’s a real imperative to step back, to take that time away and to create the opportunity to fine-tune yourself. And to be at your most effective – to be the very best version of yourself – you really need to know who you are. For me, in this world and these critically uncertain times, that isn’t just a ‘nice to have.’ It’s a necessity.”

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